Does Cupping Improve Training Recovery?
Social media was abuzz about cupping earlier this year when Michael Phelps was walking around with what appeared to be hickeys from a Cyclops. As social media was flooded with guesses of what these huge red skin polka-dots could be, ‘cupping’ became a new buzz word.
But cupping isn’t new—at all.
Cupping is an Ancient Therapy
Cupping is actually an ancient form of therapy that dates back to Middle Eastern, Chinese and Egyptian cultures, documented as early as 1550 B.C. It purportedly assists with pain, blood flow, inflammation and relaxation.
So how does it work?
Remember in science when your teacher would light a match, drop it in a bottle and then stick an egg over the top of the bottle. Yeah you do. You sat on the edge of your seat with anticipation to watch magic unfold
Then WHUUMP, as the egg was mysteriously sucked into the smaller opening of the bottle– your mind: BLOWN.
A similar technique is used to perform cupping.
The therapist, or ‘cupper’, uses various methods to ‘heat’ the inside of a cup or employs a pump to create a suction. When using heat, the cup is flipped over and put on the area of the body where pain or inflammation is reported.
Like the egg experiment, the skin is sucked upward into the cup.
Why? Science, of course.
Cupping Uses Science to Pull Skin Into the Cup
Before heating the cup, the air pressure inside the cup matches the air pressure around it. When the temperature of the air inside the cup is increased, it causes the air to heat up and expand.
Next, when the cup is placed on the skin, the air inside begins to cool. As the air cools, it contracts and pulls on the skin because vacuum is created from the reduction in air pressure. The resulting pulled skin draws blood to the skin’s surface as blood vessels expand. Some cuppers use other methods to heat up the cup, but the results are the same: pulled skin and increased blood flow to a targeted area.
The cups are left in place for a few minutes and when they are removed, some therapists make small incisions to draw out blood. The reason behind the skin slicing is to allegedly draw out toxins and promote healing. While ‘blood letting’ is also an old therapy, it has no scientific research to back up its effectiveness.
Improved Recovery, Pain Relief and Muscle Stimulation
So what are the main benefits these athletes tout cupping delivers? Improved recovery, pain relief and muscle stimulation. There are studies that support cupping relieves pain. So-while it may be an exhumed ‘trend’, it seems there is a valid reason cupping has persisted for thousands of years.
If you’re into trying new things, like putting heated cups on your back, check out some alternative medicine doctors in your area to see if cupping is right for you. If you want to skip back hickeys but want to improve training recovery; check out these supplements with scientifically backed nutrients proven to increase muscle repair and recovery time.