Cupping therapy: Ancient technique offers Olympic-level pain relief

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Ancient technique offers Olympic-level pain relief.

By Richard Sedillo

If you were glued to the TV during the 2016 Olympics in Rio, at some point you probably saw a few athletes, swimmers in particular, with clear plastic cups stuck on their backs. The cups were pulling up their skin into various-sized bumps, the way a throw rug gets if you get the vacuum cleaner hose caught on it.

You were probably wondering what the heck was going on. Was this a new method of drug testing? Was it some sort of fashion statement? Were they trying to prevent disease given the questionable quality of the water and facilities in and around Rio?

Actually, it was none of the above. Instead, those elite athletes were receiving a combination pain relief/performance enhancement treatment called cupping therapy. It’s a drug-free way of relieving aches and soreness, speeding the recovery of over-taxed muscles, and helping people to feel their best day in and day out.

Ancient origins

If you first saw it during the Olympics you may have thought that this is another marvel of modern medicine. But the reality is cupping therapy has actually been around for a long time. There are records of it being used by Chinese, Hindu, and Egyptian healers as early as 3000 B.C. The ancient Greeks used it to heal wounds beginning at least in 400 B.C.

It has been a staple of Chinese medicine, and at one time gained popularity in Western medicine as well. But then, with the introduction of fast-acting pain relief drugs it fell out of favor here–– until recently.

Cupping therapy is now enjoying a resurgence, especially as concerns mount over problems such as the growing epidemic of addiction to opioid painkillers in America and the many side effects of certain medications that often seem far worse for your long-term health than the pain they’re meant to treat.

How cupping therapy works

Rather than introducing something new and foreign into your body, cupping therapy works with your body’s own natural healing capabilities to reduce pain and reinvigorate muscles. The plastic cups are placed over and around the affected areas, such as your back or neck, and then connected to a vacuum pump which sucks all the air out, pulling the skin partway into the cup. This activity stimulates the production of lactic acids in the muscle, which are essential to recovery from fatigue and stress.

Essentially, cupping therapy kick-starts your body’s own natural healing process to help you recover faster, whether that means making pain go away or making tired muscles feel refreshed. You can see why Olympic athletes, especially those who have to perform at their best for prolonged periods such as swimmers and runners, would be so into it.

Bottom line––it works

This is not just a theoretical view point. It works for sore shoulders, the back, to the ankles––and everything in between. Cupping provides tension on deep structures that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to treat/mobilize and helps relieve the tight areas. Because cupping creates a mild form of local anesthesia, it’s particularly useful in treating trigger points and is also an excellent way to help heal surgical scars.

If you have temporary soreness, such as a muscle strain due to overuse, you feel better instantly, and make a complete recovery faster. If you have a deeper underlying problem, the pain relief is fast and the condition becomes more manageable. Although you’ll still probably need to get the underlying condition addressed, at least you will feel better until you do––without the risks that come with prescription painkillers.

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