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  • Writer's pictureDavid Crews

How Does Cupping Therapy Encourage Healing?


Cupping therapy has seen a recent surge in popularity among physical therapists. Professional athletes have also called attention to this treatment for its healing properties. Most prominently, Michael Phelps relying on this therapy for muscle tension relief during the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Although cupping has many benefits, this type of manual therapy is not for all people or injuries. Learn what this treatment entails and how it encourages the body’s healing response.

What Is Cupping?

Cupping is a type of decompressive therapy that uses a vacuum-like suction motion. Cups placed on the skin are typically made of silicone, glass, plastic or bamboo and sit in place for 5 to 20 minutes. Suctioning helps improve energy and blood flow to the area being targeted, which further assists with healing and muscle repair.

While cupping is now used by modern-day physical therapists, its origins go back to ancient Chinese, Korean, Tibetan, Unani and Egyptian medicine practices. Modern Chinese medicine claims the suction motion improves movement within the body to balance and improve “negative” and “positive” elements.

At Integrated Rehab, our physical therapists utilize dry cupping with suction only to improve blood flow, assist with pain management and help the body better fight off pathogens.

Benefits of Dry Cupping

Those suffering from a musculoskeletal condition like tendonitis, osteoarthritis or a ligament strain can benefit from cupping therapy. Along with traditional physical therapy, cupping:

  • Increases circulation and blood flow to an area of the body, which can help lessen muscle tension, encourage cellular repair and connective tissue formation.

  • Can help loosen stiff muscles contributing to pain, muscle spasms and poor circulation.

  • Can address the nervous system’s pain signal loop by creating a secondary source of irritation that diverts the body’s attention.

  • Helps the body release nitric oxide, which helps improve blood circulation further.

  • Can stimulate the immune system by creating an artificial source of inflammation.

  • Improves the lymphatic system’s circulation and drainage.

  • Can help decrease levels of uric acid.

Long term, these factors can help improve blood flow to the targeted muscle group, repairing damaged tissue and stimulating the area’s anerobic metabolism for better pain and inflammation management.

To deliver these results, cupping activates Heme oxygenase 1, a gene that helps the body control vascular inflammation and provides a source of deep tissue stimulation. Along with addressing back pain, sore muscles and spasms, it can help manage issues related to chronic fatigue, migraines and rheumatism.

What to Expect During Treatment

A physical therapist will ask about the location and severity of your symptoms to determine if dynamic or static cupping techniques are needed. With dynamic cupping, the cups are moved along the skin with light, medium or strong pressure; static cupping is more effective for deeper muscles.

The cups will be placed on the affected area of your body to suction the skin and start the healing process. The most common areas include the back, chest, abdominal region, legs and buttocks.

Depending on the severity of your pain and inflammation, the cups are usually removed after an average of 10 minutes. You may notice red marks on the skin following treatment, but these are only a result of the capillaries breaking around the suction points.

Your physical therapist may recommend cupping as a supplementary treatment for:


  • Neck pain

  • Shoulder pain

  • Lower back pain

  • Knee pain

  • Migraines and headaches

  • Disc herniation

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome

  • Rheumatoid arthritis

  • Cervical spondylosis

  • Breathing issues

  • Gastrointestinal conditions


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