What is Cupping Therapy, and Is It Right for You?


If you watched the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, you probably noticed the round purplish-red discs marking the backs, shoulders and arms of the US Swim Team. The athletes had undergone cupping therapy, an ancient technique that promotes circulation and helps reduce muscle pain and fatigue. Since then, cupping has grown in popularity as an alternative therapy for exercise recovery and pain management.

How Cupping Works

Cupping is one of the oldest forms of manual therapy, long used in traditional Chinese medicine to stimulate the flow of energy, known as “chi,” and to help correct imbalances related to illness or injury.

Treatment involves placing inverted rounded cups over certain areas of the body and using either heat or a pump to create a vacuum effect. The vacuum draws the skin and superficial tissues into the cup, increasing circulation to the cupping site. The cup remains in place for up to 15 minutes, drawing blood to the area and leaving a round red mark about the size of a baseball. The procedure is not painful, and some even find the sensation of cupping to be pleasant.

Although the exact science of cupping is not fully understood, proponents of the treatment point to the enhanced movement of fluids that takes place during the procedure. The benefits are believed to be both medicinal and emotional, helping trapped emotional energy to be released from where it lies latent in deep tissue.


Applications of Cupping Therapy

Cupping therapy is used to treat many conditions, including:

  • Post-exercise recovery
  • Back pain
  • Headaches
  • Knee pain
  • Muscle soreness
  • Neck and shoulder pain
  • Sports injuries
  • Enhanced athletic performance

Cupping is often used in conjunction with massage and other manual therapies.

Benefits of Cupping

Unlike deep tissue massage that applies pressure to muscle tissue, cupping creates negative pressure on the skin, muscles, and fascia. As blood is drawn away from the tissues, new blood is able to flow into the area. A cupping session can be a soothing and relaxing experience.

Benefits of cupping include:

  • Release of physical and emotional tension
  • Removal of toxins and dead cells from tissues
  • Enhanced circulation
  • Increased tissue elasticity
  • Reduced inflammation

Is Cupping Right for You?

Despite its benefits, cupping therapy is not for everyone.

People who should not do cupping include:

  • Anyone with broken or irritated skin
  • Pregnant women
  • Children
  • Older Adults
  • People with serious health conditions
  • People using blood thinning medication

Cupping leaves marks on the skin, which fade and disappear after several days. When improperly executed, cupping can leave blisters, scars or burns, so be sure to look for an experienced professional therapist.

Cupping Therapy in NYC

If you would like to experience the relaxing benefits of cupping, contact Physical Therapy Clinic in Midtown Manhattan. Our expert therapists will fully explain the procedure, to ensure you enjoy the very best results. When you visit, be sure to ask about our other innovative therapies to help you perform at your absolute best.


In this instance, an athlete was originally diagnosed with minor quadriceps muscle strain and was treated for four weeks, with unsatisfactory results. When he came to our clinic, the muscle was not healing, and the patients’ muscle tissue had already begun to atrophy.

Upon examination using MSUS, we discovered that he had a full muscle thickness tear that had been overlooked by his previous provider. To mitigate damage and promote healing, surgery should have been performed immediately after the injury occurred. Because of misdiagnosis and inappropriate treatment, the patient now has permanent damage that cannot be corrected.

The most important advantage of Ultrasound over MRI imaging is its ability to zero in on the symptomatic region and obtain imaging, with active participation and feedback from the patient. Using dynamic MSUS, we can see what happens when patients contract their muscles, something that cannot be done with MRI. From a diagnostic perspective, this interaction is invaluable.

Dynamic ultrasonography examination demonstrating
the full thickness tear and already occurring muscle atrophy
due to misdiagnosis and not referring the patient
to proper diagnostic workup

Demonstration of how very small muscle defect is made and revealed
to be a complete tear with muscle contraction
under diagnostic sonography (not possible with MRI)


Complete tear of rectus femoris
with large hematoma (blood)


Separation of muscle ends due to tear elicited
on dynamic sonography examination

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