Cupping To Heal Sports Injuries

Source: Jamaica Gleaner
August 17, 2016
by Tracey-Ann Brown

rio 2016 logoWith the ongoing Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro has come an increased interest in the ancient Chinese practice of cupping and its use in treating and preventing sports injury. Cupping is a type of therapy used in traditional Chinese medicine to assist in the treatment of a number of health ailments, namely pain management and sports injuries. Several athletes have been using this practice, most notably Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time with 28 medals.

michael phelps.jpg

Swimmer Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian, shows the marks of a recent cupping treatment during the ongoing Olympics in Rio, Brazil.

In this treatment, the cup is applied to the surface of the skin, allowing the skin and the superficial muscles just below it to be lifted and held in the cup as the pressure in the cup is reduced in order to create a suction.

This is done by using a small suction pump attached to a valve at the top of the cup, which allows the practitioner to suction out as much air as is desired. The cup may be placed on specific acupuncture points and left in place (stationary cupping), or moved along the skin, before which oil is applied to the skin to prevent abrasion (sliding cupping).

Traditional cupping involved the use of heated cups to create the desired suction instead of a suction pump. By heating the inside of the cup, hot air is created which has a low density. The cup is then placed on the skin, and as the cup cools, the pressure inside the cup reduces, creating a suction, which pulls the skin into the cup.

Cupping is often a part of a treatment which includes acupuncture. Acupuncture is the insertion and gentle manipulation of very thin needles at specific acupuncture points in what is typically a comfortable experience. There are close to 1,000 acupuncture points on the body, ears and face, which, when stimulated, are used to treat and manage a number of disorders.


Cupping is primarily used in the treatment of pain and is especially effective in relieving muscular tightness and/or spasms. In these cases, sliding cupping is often applied for five to 10 minutes, or up to 15 minutes if stationary. Though it is primarily the superficial musculature being manipulated, cupping has the ability to relieve pain which is deep in the muscles. Fleshy areas are easily cupped, such as the back (upper, mid, lower), upper arms, posterior thighs and calves. In addition to muscular pain related to soft tissue injury, cupping therapy is appropriate and especially helpful in the treatment of headaches and migraines.


Cupping, with the use of small cups, is often part of the acupuncture facial rejuvenation protocol, which is used to reduce the appearance of fine lines and improve skin elasticity, giving the face a supple and youthful appearance.


Stationary cupping may also be used to enhance the stimulation of acupuncture points used to treat gastrointestinal disorders, respiratory disorders and facial paralysis. The cups are usually left in place for 10-15 minutes.

Respiratory diseases

– Chronic coughs

– Asthma

Typically using acupuncture points on the upper back, slightly lateral to the spine.

Gastrointestinal diseases

– Gastritis

– Diarrhoea

Often using acupuncture points around the navel.


Stationary cupping and acupuncture is done on acupuncture points on the face.


Stationary cupping and acupuncture is done on acupuncture points on the abdomen to relieve uterine cramps.


It may also come as a surprise to know that cupping may also be used to smooth the appearance of cellulite.,

Dr Tracey-Ann Brown is a Jamaican oriental medicine practitioner, herbalist and doctor of acupuncture. Email:

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