Cupping: An Alternative Way to Stay in the Game

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Athletes will go to great lengths to take care of their bodies. Some, like Olympic Gold Medalist Michal Phelps and New England Patriots linebacker James Harrison, turn to alternative medicine techniques like cupping to help them recover from the rigors of competition.

Cupping therapy dates back to ancient Chinese, Egyptian, and Middle Eastern culture as a way to treat pain, muscle stiffness, and other physical ailments. The therapy works on the myofascial system of the body, a thin film between the skin and muscles, and involves placing cups on the skin and using either a pump or heat to create suction. The purpose of cupping is to enhance circulation, help relieve pain and remove toxins within body tissue. The suction causes blood vessels near the surface of the skin to rupture and leave a bruise, which is often purple or deep red.

“The intent of cupping is to decompress tissue and help improve blood flow,” said Stefanie Bourassa the Sports Medicine Clinical Program Director for the Center for Musculoskeletal Health at Hartford HealthCare’s Bone & Joint Institute. “It’s a very effective way to treat the myofascial system.”

While there are some potential side effects that can accompany the treatment, including skin irritation, nausea and swelling, Bourassa, who is certified in cupping therapy, believes that it can be very beneficial.

“I’ve personally seen fantastic results with this therapy,” she said. “People I have treated have seen increased range of motion, improved blood flow and, overall, they are able to move better.”

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