Wow! Chinese medicine on the Olympic podium. How exciting!
It's difficult to avoid speculation on this ancient therapeutic technique when you turn on the news these days. But what is cupping? What is it used for? Is it effective? What else does Chinese medicine have to offer in regards to tools for athletic recovery?
News articles are presenting a mixed view of cupping. Of course, most of the articles I've seen are simply recycling information from other articles online that were written maybe only hours before. Or authors are doing what most of you do when you're curious about something in 2016-- Googling it. I'll throw in my two cents here as someone that has extensive training in cupping therapy and uses in the clinic nearly daily.
Cupping generally consists, as you've all heard by now, of creating a vacuum inside a small cup and using that vacuum to draw tissue away from the body and into the cup. The cups are generally made of glass or plastic, though some practitioners use bamboo or ceramic cups as well. The old method of cupping is referred to as the "fire twinkling" method. Fire is used to heat the air inside the cup, creating a pressure differential that facilitates the vacuum. A more modern method uses a suction pump to create an easily controllable level of vacuum pressure.
Cupping shines where stagnation creates poor fluid exchange. Stagnation develops in response to tissue breakdown and exposure to inflammatory processes. Healing and tissue repair slow dramatically. By applying cups we can literally move stagnant blood (think of the bruises you're seeing on TV) and create space for fresh blood and fluids to flush the area. The result is increased efficiency of tissue repair. Put simply: cupping aids recovery from both athletic pursuit and from injury or trauma.
There are many ways to utilize cupping therapy. Stationary isolated techniques, techniques utilizing specific patterns, running cups, and bleeding cups are all indicated based on type of injury and desired outcomes. And cupping even has usefulness in treating digestive complaints, hypertension, common colds, and more.
So is there anything else in Chinese medicine that can help with performance and recovery? Absolutely! Acupuncture, herbal medicines (both topical and internal applications), moxabustion and gua sha all have very specific applications in aiding recovery from athletic pursuit as well as from trauma and injury. Here's hoping, by next Olympic Games, these modalities will be household names already!
As always, if y'all have any questions we can answer, don't hesitate to contact us!