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Dry Cupping Therapy: Does It Really Help?

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therapist places cups on patient's back

You may have noticed athletes with circular bruise-like marks or raised circles on their backs or shoulders. These marks are likely from dry cupping therapy. Dry cupping is a complementary healing modality rooted in traditional Chinese medicine.

Proponents of this modality say cupping can treat pain and restore order in the body by unblocking disturbances in the circulation, energy channels and pathways of the body. Cupping has been used for nearly 2,000 years in traditional Chinese medicine.

Cupping is Controversial

However, the use of cupping is controversial, with detractors saying it has little real therapeutic value, or at best, works due to the placebo effect. Placebo effect is when you experience a benefit from an inactive substance or treatment that has no known medical effect.

While more scientific research is needed to quantify the positive, neutral or negative effects of cupping, it remains a treatment that many physical therapists use because, for some patients, it seems to get results.

A 2012 review of studies suggests that cupping therapy’s effectiveness may be more than just a placebo effect. However, the authors acknowledge that most of the 135 studies they reviewed contain a high level of bias, and that more studies are needed to assess the true effectiveness of cupping.

How Cupping Works

People use cupping in addition to traditional treatments and therapies.

With dry cupping, a plastic or glass cup is placed on the skin, then the air inside the cup is suctioned or vacuumed out. The cups can be used at rest or with movement and application time usually ranges from five to 10 minutes.

Cupping increases blood circulation at the point of the injury. Proponents say the increased circulation reduces tension and spasms, and can promote cell repair through improved blood flow.  People who use cupping also report that it can reduce pain and disability and increase range of motion. Proponents also say that cupping is helpful for chronic low back and neck pain.

One negative side effect of cupping can be a significant bruise in the shape of the cup, which usually reduces in 48 hours.

Sara Pesut, PT, DPT, is a physical therapist who sees patients at UH Wellpointe Pavillon in Broadview Heights.

References:

Cao, H, Li X., Yan X., Wang, N., Bensoussan, A., Liu, J. Cupping therapy for acute and chronic pain management: a systemic review of randomized clinical trials. Jour Trad Chinese Medical Sciences. 1:1, ( 2014). 49-61

Stahl, S., Ball, S., Muntner N. Sthals Illustrated Chronic Pain and Fibromyalgia. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (2009). 1-10.

Sun, PI. The treatment of pain with Chinese Herbs and Acupuncture, Churchill Livingstone Elsevier, Edinburgh (2011). 18-20.

Chirali, IZ. Traditional Chinese Medicine Cupping Therapy. Churchill Livingstone, London. (2007). 100.

Wood, S., Fryer, G., Tan, L., Cleary, C. Dry cupping for musculoskeletal pain and range of motion: a systemic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies. 24:4 (2020), 503-518.

RELATED LINKS

Interested in cupping therapy? The physical therapy staff at UH Wellpointe Pavillon, UH Parma Medical Center MAC1, Warrensville Outpatient Rehab, and UH Sheffield provide this service to their patients. Call to schedule an appointment: 216-286-7342 (REHAB)

 

 

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