Cupping therapy used by Michael Phelps is effective treatment
Ancient medical practices have been rediscovered by modern day athletes as potential tools to speed injury recovery. Among these is the practice of cupping that was recently in the headlines because of its adoption by the most decorated Olympic athlete, Michael Phelps.
Cupping therapy involves placing of cups that are made of a variety of materials over affected areas. These cups are then used to create a suction that draws increased circulation to the region. The goal is to diminish inflammation, reduce pain and provide relaxation through deep tissue massage.
To better understand how cupping works, it is important to know what happens after an injury. The earliest descriptions of acute inflammation use the terms tumor (swelling), rubor (redness), calor (warmth) and dolor (pain).
Swelling appears immediately to physically restrict the affected area from moving and potentially doing more damage. The redness and warmth are reflective of increased circulation. Pain is an important factor that limits activity of the injured muscle or joint.
Inflammation involves an intense cellular response and a cascade of chemical events at the site of injury. Specialized white blood cells called macrophages are responsible for the cleanup of tissue debris during the healing phase after an acute injury. Increasing circulation to an injured area increases the availability of macrophages.
“In various forms, cupping provides a stimulus that reduces tension in muscle, stretches connective tissue, increases blood flow to superficial tissue and may relieve pain,” states Dr. Craig Denegar, professor and department head of kinesiology at UConn. “As with many traditional treatments there is little research quantifying the benefits however, when properly administered, cupping appears to be safe.”
Cupping may be a good complementary treatment along with standard therapy for injured athletes.
Dr. Alessi is a neurologist in Norwich and serves as an on-air contributor for ESPN. He is director of UConn NeuroSport and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org