Part of your treatment session may include some cupping, are you familiar?!
Cupping exists in many forms, but at its most basic it involves the use of cups placed under suction on the skin to create a vacuum effect. There are different kinds of cups, such as silicone vs. glass, some are self suctioning while others require pump to help suction out the air. This technique is based on principles from traditional Chinese medicine, where similar to acupuncture it is believed that cups can help improve flow of energy and blood in the body.
In physical therapy, we primarily use cupping to target the fascia and improve fascial glide. The fascia is connective tissue that wraps throughout our entire body, connecting different muscle groups and even our organs. The fascia is part of why our patients often hear us say “it’s all connected” - because it kind of is! Suction created by cups helps lift the skin to create some more space between the skin, fascia, and muscular tissues. When we are feeling particularly tight and sore, this suction and separation effect can do a few nice things for us:
Increase blood flow
Release muscle tension
Which then leads to…
Improved range of motion
I tend to describe it to people this way - think about plastic wrap. It’s smooth when it comes off the roll, it can give you a nice tight seal over a container you’re covering to put in the fridge, but how annoying is it when the plastic wrap gets stuck in all the wrong places to itself?! When we have pain, limited mobility from an injury, or even scars, that fascia becomes stuck in bundles like that balled up plastic wrap. But through the use of manual therapy techniques, such as cupping, we’re able to calm the nervous system and create a little bit more space that way that fascia/plastic wrap can start to unwind itself and glide more smoothly again.
Here at Core we use silicone self-suctioning cups, and we tend to use the cups in a few ways.
Some of our cups are able to glide over the skin, which can feel really nice over the muscles in your back, hamstrings, or over some larger scars. We also will use the cups with movement, meaning we place the cups for example around your shoulder, and then have patients perform different shoulder movements. That way we are able to work on loosening up the tissues through varying lengths and ranges of motion, bonus if it makes a painful motion feel better!
Will you bruise? Maybe. Though it is never our intention to leave someone with purple circular bruises across their back, sometimes it does just happen because of the force of the suction from the cup, especially to those with fairer skin. We don’t tend to leave the cups in place for more than a few minutes, but if you don’t want to potentially have some some marks on your skin for a few days especially during these summer months, you may want to hold off on cupping!
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