If you tuned into the 2016 summer Olympic games and caught a glimpse of the sport of swimming, you may have noticed dark red circles on a few prominent athletes, namely Michael Phelps.

This is cupping therapy and it was having its very own moment in the spotlight. The coverage (and curiosity) spawned hundreds – if not thousands – of features about the background, benefits and potential concerns relating to cupping therapy.

The topic of cupping can generate some controversy in the therapy community. Cupping therapy is considered trendy, but it is definitely not new. In fact, it dates as far back as 1,550 B.C.to ancient Egyptian, Chinese and Middle Eastern cultures. This is a very powerful modality for specific and niche performance applications.

But what exactly is cupping? Basically, the practitioner places glass or silicone cups on the patient’s skin to create a vacuum. The blood is then drawn to the surface of the skin in different parts of the body that need healing. Traditional Chinese practitioners discuss areas, or meridians of the body that are used to transfer energy. And it is believed that the human body has twelve different meridians and treatments can be applied to each for an infinite number of reasons (cuppingresource).

The benefits of cupping therapy includes promoting blood flow and increased blood circulation to muscles and tissues. It also supplies oxygen to cells, loosens knots and can release and drain excess fluids and toxins (cuppingresource).

Marc Wahl (DPT, OCS, CertMDT) is a TPI certified expert who has been working as a therapist on the PGA TOUR for over a decade. In his career, he has worked over 250 events, helping 40+ pro golfers, including four 2016 Ryder Cup members: Jimmy Walker, Brooks Koepka, JB Holmes and Brandt Snedeker.

Marc has had the opportunity to present on the topic of cupping therapy at the 2016 World Golf Fitness Summit and it generated sincere interest from the TPI community. Marc has used cupping methods with a few of his players and thought it would be interesting to share some of the insights he has personally gathered.

Cupping the body arbitrarily without a system may or may not be effective depending on the objective, and we certainly have a responsibility to deliver safe treatments and heed contraindications, however I believe that it is far more efficient and effective to use the FMS/TPI/SFMA system to identify and demonstrate tissue extensibility dysfunctions (TEDs) and then to specifically tailor the cupping treatment to eradicate those restrictions. Simply eradicating any and all restrictions found in the tissues, even when some are not of functional detriment could actually hurt the client’s performance under certain circumstances. The practitioner must ask “why” and what effect the treatment could have on the particular client at that particular time.

All cupping is not the same, even though it seems anything involving vacuum therapy falls under this label. There are many variables that can come into play such that any combination of treatment like dry vs. wet cupping, active vs. passive, dynamic vs. static, degree of intensity, compression by the cup’s edges, as well as the size of the cup, time of dose, health of client, the permutations and therefore outcomes are virtually infinite. It’s impossible to have a conversation about “cupping” without specifying how this tool is being used. While Marc did not perform this technique in the same way or for the same purposes as done in Traditional Chinese medicine, he uses the term “cupping” for the sake of clarity.

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