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The Rio Olympic games have already provided us with several Internet frenzy moments, from Gisele’s catwalk, to Tonga flag bearer Pita Tuafatofua and the latest…those strange round marks on Michael Phelps body as he made more Olympic history in the mens 400 freestyle event. As it so happens Phelps was utilizing a therapeutic form called cupping, in addition to his rigorous training. Could cupping have been the game changer for Phelps? Could it be a game changer for you in your life and in your workouts? Let’s take a tour of what cupping is and what it could do for you.

What It Is

Cupping therapy is an alternative healing practice that uses cups to increase blood flow to the skin. The cups used in this therapeutic procedure are made from a variety of materials including bamboo, glass and earthenware. Although many attribute this ancient form of medicine solely to the Chinese, other sources report that it can also be dated back to ancient Egyptian and Middle Eastern cultures.

How It Works

The suction effect of the cupping therapy brings blood to skin of a specific area of the body. This influx of “fresh” blood is said to improve circulation and draw toxins away from the body. Cumulative cupping, or cupping performed on a consistent basis, can lead to increased endurance, circulation and quicker recovery after intense workouts. There are two types of cupping therapy typically used: dry and wet.

Dry Cupping
Otherwise known as retention or suction-only cupping, is the basic form that uses a flaming procedure to heat the inside of the cup. The flame or burning substance is put out and immediately placed on the skin. As the air inside the cup cools, it produces a vacuuming effect, causing blood to rush to the skins’ surface and the skin to redden and rise. Practitioners often combine application of medicines.

Wet Cupping
Also known as bleeding cupping, is generally a two-step process. The first step involves a practitioner using a scalpel or a triangle-edge needle to tap a point causing it to bleed. This is done just before placing the cup on your skin.

Other cupping techniques include Moving Cupping that involves the practitioner achieving suction then moving the cup in one direction. For example, lets say that the practitioner begins the cupping procedure on the mid-back, during moving cupping, they would glide the cup downward towards your lower back. The cup would then be removed and the process would be repeated. This would be similar to a technique, in massage therapy or physical therapy, termed myo-fascial release. Its’ purpose is to loosen any adhesions between the muscle and connective tissue to allow for freer movement. Empty Cupping involves immediately removing the cup after the suction; and Needle Cupping combines acupuncture with cupping done immediately after the needle is inserted into the skin.

Whether your undergo Wet or Dry Cupping, practitioners will often combine the cupping with the application of medications or herbs in order to augment the effectiveness of the treatment.

Read more of the Pro’s and Con’s of cupping after the jump.

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About The Author

Dorian M Brito, CSCS

Dorian Brito brings over 15 years of fitness and rehabilitation experience to ‘LLERO. Dorian has a physical fitness pedigree that can compete with the best of them, holding a B.S. in Exercise Science from Ithaca College, an M.A. in Motor Learning & Control from Columbia University and currently in pursuit of his MPH from Emory University. Aside from the degrees this Exercise Physiologist has experience working with professional athletes as well as in orthopedic physical therapy clinics. But he hasn’t stopped their, aside from his clients and contributions to ‘LLERO Dorian has authored numerous other articles for outlets such as Men’s Health magazine.

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