Michael Phelps and Cupping – Does it Work?
One of Chinese medicine’s therapeutic modalities, cupping, was thrust into the spotlight this week when Michael Phelps, and other swimmers, were seen with odd circular marks on their skin. Ever since then, I’ve been talking to my clients about “The Michael Phelps Treatment.”
I was even contacted by Chip Franklin to be on his radio show to discuss acupuncture, cupping, and how they work.
Cupping – What is It and How Does it Work?
Cupping therapy has been found in ancient records dating back 3500 years. The practice uses glass, plastic, or in some cases, bamboo cups to pull on skin and muscle tissue.
Through suction, the cups draw blood out of muscle tissue, release scar tissue and adhesions in the fascia, and stimulate known acupuncture points for therapeutic benefit. This gets blood flowing through the muscles, draws out stagnated blood as well as any toxic buildup, which can then be metabolized through the cardiovascular and lymphatic systems. The stimulation of acupuncture points activates the the nervous system and communication between the treated area and the brain.
In my practice, I use “fire cups,” which means I use heat to change the air pressure inside the cup, which creates the suction. There are plastic cups which use a pumping action to draw the skin and muscle into the cups.
But… Does it Work?
Of course it works. But what do we mean when we say that?
From personal experience, in my practice, I have seen wonderful outcomes from cupping.
I primarily use cupping to treat diseases of the respiratory system. Placing cups on the upper back and around the rib cage provides stimulation to the lungs and heart. I have seen patients with asthma dramatically reduce their reliance on inhalers with regular cupping treatment. Patients with COPD report having a much easier time breathing. Those coming in with beginning stage cold/flu say that the cupping helps them fight the sickness. And just about every time someone gets “cupped,” they either fall asleep or go into a deep state of relaxation… leading to reduced stress and tension in the neck, jaw, and head.
I also use cupping like Michael Phelps uses it – for tired, stiff, painful muscles. However, I find that acupuncture is far more effective for those issues and I tend to use that first.
So, this is anecdotal, clinical evidence. We do not have any large scale scientific studies that affirm or deny the efficacy of cupping. Some say that means there is no scientific proof. I say that we have the proof in thousands of clinics around the world, every day of the year. We cannot rely solely on science to decide what works and what doesn’t. Some things are simply difficult to test… for example, it would be tough to have a control group in a cupping study because it’s pretty obvious is you’re being cupped or not.
We also have some astonishingly talented athletes, at the top of their game – people who are probably most in touch with what helps and hinders their own performance – using cupping as part of their healing regimen.
I’d say that’s a pretty weighty endorsement.