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Cupping: What is it? What does it do?

Cupping, made popular by Mr. Michael Phelps at the last olympic games. Though its been around since about 3000 BC, its popularity has increased recently. It's pretty easy to tell when someones been cupped...they look like they were attacked by an octopus! The extent that most people know about cupping is that its when suction cups on placed on your body, they leave round little marks, and they make you feel better.

What is cupping?

Cupping goes by a few names...cupping, myofascial decompression, microcirculation therapy, and vacuum therapy are just to name a few. The technique utilizes negative pressure within the cup to lift the tissue below it. This is one of the only therapy techniques which is able to create a lift of the tissues, instead of a compression of the tissues below it. There are a few different cupping methods. The first being wet cupping and the second being dry cupping. Wet cupping is a form of blood-letting where a small incision is made on the skin, and then the cup is placed over top of it to draw out the persons blood. In ancient medicine, this was considered to be drawing out the impurities of the body. This is not what many clinicians use today. The method most commonly used today is called dry cupping. Its when a cup is placed on the skin and negative pressure is created within the cup to form a suction effect. This can be done by heat(with a match or cotton ball lit on fire) or a small air pump.

What does it do?

The theory behind cupping is blood is brought to the area by the negative pressure. When the blood is there, the body has two options...clear the blood drawn to the area, or keep the blood in the area because it is not efficient in clearing the blood. The body will then adapt to the stresses placed on it.

The body recognizes the need to clear the blood so it creates more microcirculation that that area. This ultimately helps increase blood flow to that tissue. This aids in healing and increases the health of the tissues in that area. In addition, we can use this thought process for interpretation of the circular marks left from the cup. If the bruise dissipates quickly then we know there is more micro circulation to that area and its a healthier tissue. If the bruise stays for a long time...then the tissue is not as healthy and has poor microcirculation.

The negative pressure also creates lift of the tissues. This helps to mobilize the different fascial layers, increase the ease at which the tissues move over each other. When we increase the movement of tissues locally, we are able to increase your gross body movement and mobility. We also cannot forget about the neurological response as well, the sensory input helps to create a neurological response and helps us gain more motion.

There are three different ways in which we can use cupping. The first is a static cup on a static body. Meaning the cup just sits there and you lie still. The second is a static cup on a dynamic body. This is when you actively move your body while the cup is on. The third is a dynamic cup on a static body. This is when we use a lubricant and slide the cup on your static body. Different techniques are used for different situations. All are effective.


There you have it. Thats the basics of cupping. IF you are on blood thinners or have fragile skin prone to tearing, I would not recommend seeking this treatment. For the majority of others; Its an effective treatment to help decrease pain, increase recover of an injury, and aid in improving your mobility.

If you wish to try cupping for yourself, or for more information about cupping feel free to send me an email at . I will be happy to answer any questions that you may have.

Dr. Michael Tancini, DPT

Ground to Overhead Physical Therapy


Address: 201 S Estes Dr, Chapel Hill, NC 27514


Instagram @groundtooverheadpt

Chapel Hill, North Carolina , Physical Therapy, Crossfit, Sports Therapy, Recovery, Rehabilitation , Movement Specialist, Knee pain, Back Pain, Hip pain, Shoulder pain

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