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What Is Dry Cupping?


What exactly is dry cupping?

With the first few warm days of the season underway in Melbourne, you may have noticed a number of beach-goers sporting the unmistakable circular bruises in various shades of pink and purple. These are a side effect of cupping therapy, made popular by the likes of Michael Phelps at the 2016 Olympics.

Why is it useful?

Cupping can be a useful technique to treat muscle pain, soreness and tightness. It is great for muscle recovery for optimising athlete performance. It is also useful for some tendinopathies when the muscle is chronically very hypertonic and tender.

Who is this technique best for?

Sporting athletes are the ideal population for cupping therapy. Their fast healing makes them the perfect candidates, plus they are more likely consider the performance benefits of the treatment to outweigh the bruise marks! People who may not be ideal for cupping include people with compromised immune system, impaired healing, open wounds, varicose veins or other vascular problems, or the senior population.

How is it performed?

Dry cupping is performed when the practitioner places specialized plastic cups on a specific site of the skin. An air pump is then used to create a vacuum within these cups, causing the skin to pull upward away from the underlying muscles. The cups are left on the skin for up to five minutes, and you may be asked to perform some movements with them still attached.

What does it do?

This vacuum sensation creates a kind of 3D myofascial release (easing the tension between the muscle and connective tissues), which also increases circulation and blood flow to the area to help reduce muscle pain and soreness, as well as speed up the recovery of overworked muscles.

Where’s the evidence?

Despite it’s ancient origins, evidence for dry cupping is still emerging with recent studies finding a significant decrease in stiffness of upper back muscles (Gozubuyuk et al., 2018), improved function and pain reduction in patients with plantar fasciitis (AlKhadhrawi & Alshami, 2019), and significant pain relief in patients with chronic, non-specific neck pain (Lauche et al., 2010).

Does it hurt?

Typically, dry cupping is no more painful than firm massage (when applied for up to 5 minutes). The bruises are not like the traumatic bruising you get from a knock or fall, they are more superficial and typically less aching. Often, people forget they have bruising until pointed out to them.

Are there other options?

Absolutely! You always have the final say in your proposed treatment plan. One of the many wonderful things about osteopathy is that we have many “tools in the tool bag” – and treatment must always be within your comfort limits.

Cupping is performed by Dr Jess Davies at Middle Park Osteopathic Clinic. You can book a consultation with her to determine if cupping, or other treatment modalities are right for you.

Please note that this is NOT the type of wet cupping (Hijama), which involves breaking of the skin, and no heat is used in the type of cupping used by Jess.


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This post was written by Dr Jess Davies.

You can find out more about Jess here or book an appointment with her here.

Alternatively, you can call the clinic on 9908 2844.

Image accessed at AL Bello/Getty Images

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