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Valmont & Foothills


Boulder Medical Center



North Boulder Physical Therapy Sports Rehabilitation


What Is Cupping?

Cupping has recently experienced exposure in the media due to the Olympics. The swimmers, in particular, were treated with this technique to assist resolution of overuse muscular injury issues between races. The reddened skin rings were a curiosity to people watching the Olympic events, and many of our clients at North Boulder Physical Therapy inquired about this practice.


Cupping therapy is an ancient medical treatment that relies upon creating a local suction to mobilize soft tissues, blood and lymph flow in order to promote healing. Dry cupping is used specifically in Physical Therapy as a form of soft tissue mobilization by using myofascial decompression to release tissue restrictions in skin and muscle. It is thought to promote local circulation in the cupped region.


Purpose During Treatment

Cupping is not used by itself as a treatment. It is just one method which may be used by Physical Therapists in the overall rehabilitation of musculo-skeletal conditions. Ultimately, the goal is improved mobility, stability, and movement patterns of the body.


For example, an area in the shoulder blade region may be tight, fibrotic or chronically irritated resulting in painful and restricted shoulder or neck motion. The shoulder blade area can be treated with cupping, but manual therapy and exercise will also be used to restore motion throughout the painful region.


A Short List Of Conditions For Which Cupping May Be Used



At North Boulder Physical Therapy, the procedure is performed by trained therapists. Dry cupping is relatively straightforward and very safe. It is also expected to be comfortable and enjoyable.

A mild suction is created using a cup and a pump on the selected treatment area and left in place for a few minutes. The mild suction pulls up the tissue in an affected area. The cup is then removed after 3 to 8 minutes. Multiple cups may be used simultaneously depending on the size of the area to be treated. The cup may also be gently moved to facilitate skin and other soft tissue tightness release (cupping massage).



The cups are made from a nonporous plastic and can be cleaned with antimicrobial wipes. A normal byproduct of cupping is the phenomenon of ecchymosis which is the presence of red oxygenated blood at the skin's surface. These are not ruptured red blood cells as in the case of bruising. This will slowly fade over the next few days or the following week after static cupping treatment. Cupping massage generally does not cause ecchymosis.



Cupping is not performed on people who are frail and thin, or obese. It is not performed on fragile or damaged skin. It is not performed during pregnancy. It is not used in patients with active cancer. It is never used in patients taking BLOOD THINNERS. It is not used over tattoos.



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