How cupping works and why Olympic athletes use it

Cupping used by Olympians

Josh Peter, USA TODAY Sports11:39 a.m. EDT August 9, 2016

RIO DE JANEIRO — Turns out Michael Phelps and his pals at the Maria Lenk Aquatics Centre aren’t the only ones who use “cupping” therapy that leaves large purple dots on the body and has created curiosity among fans.

The therapy also is popular among members of the USA track and field team, according to Ralph Reiff, a sports performance expert who said he has worked with more than 100 members of the currentU.S. Olympic team.

Reiff, executive director of the St. Vincent Sports Performance in Indianapolis, said the cupping advocates include LaShawn Merritt, who has recorded the top time in the world this year in the 400 meters.

“It’s very much common in our practice,’’ Reiff said. “We’ve found it to be an effective alternative therapy to add to our toolkit of resources.’’

Reiff said his staff learned about the technique while traveling in China and studying the work of their Chinese counterparts. And how does it work?

“Think of a traditional suction cup that you might put on a wet window,’’ Reiff said. “It stays there and it creates suction underneath it. It’s the same principle of what the cupping does. It creates a vacuum and lifts the skin up in that space and therefore creates a lift of all the soft tissue.

“Depending on how long you leave it on one particular of place, you get an infusion of fluid in that one area. That’s why you see the marks on some of the athletes. There’s an increase in blood flow to that area.

“Sometimes it actually it breaks up some of the capallaries on the surface of the skin. So that’s why you see the discoloration.’’

The objective?

“What we’re doing is sort of flossing the soft tissue as we glide up and down and across the muscle tissue,’’ Reiff said. “It really increases motion and gets rid of what we call subtle tissue lesions within certain areas of the body.’’

He said the discoloration can last a week and that reported benefits include speedier recovery and improved muscle movement.

“There’s always a level of a responsibility that we have as practitioners to do what’s ethical and safe,’’ Reiff said, “and this certainly gets very high marks in both of those areas.”

A Close-up Look at Acupuncture for Pain

April 22, 2014 By LIZ NEPORENT 

Some studies show that acupuncture is better for pain relief than pills or surgery. 

A growing number of Americans would prefer to stop popping pills and avoid going under the knife to treat a bum knee, achy lower back or sore hip. Instead, they’re turning to the ancient Chinese practice of acupuncture to help ease chronic joint pain. 

More than 14 million Americans have tried acupuncture, according to the most recent statistics from the National Health Interview Survey, a large ongoing study that tracks healthcare habits in the U.S. The study found that nearly six percent of Americans have allowed themselves to be pricked with dozens of slender needles to help alleviate chronic pain, up from just one percent of patients a decade ago. 

“Use of acupuncture has been percolating for quite a while and it’s now becoming much more mainstream in medicine,” said Dr. Houman Danesh, director of integrative pain management at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York. 

So mainstream in fact, that it’s one of the few so-called “complimentary” or alternative medicine approaches covered by most health insurance plans. Even the military uses auricular acupuncture, a form of acupuncture that involves gently inserting small needles into various places on the ear that correspond with pain points elsewhere on the body.

The military uses auricular acupuncture to treat pain on and off the battlefield.

 The military uses auricular acupuncture to treat pain on and off the battlefield. 

Research studies consistently show that acupuncture can be an effective form of pain management, with some studies finding it even more effective than pain-relieving drugs or surgery. But exactly how it works remains somewhat of a mystery, Danesh admits. 

In theory, acupuncture stimulates the body’s meridian points. By easing pressure on these energy-carrying channels, ancient Chinese physicians believed the needles corrected the body’s imbalances by allowing energy or “chi” to flow more freely. Although traditional Western medicine remains skeptical about the idea of chi, Danesh said that many of the meridian points happen to coincide with trigger points, spots on the body where pain radiates away from the center when pressed. 

“Trigger points are widely accepted in modern medicine and one thought is that acupuncture may ease the stress on trigger points thereby lessening pain in that area,” he said.

 Ancient Chinese doctors believed acupuncture needles released a form of energy known as “chi.”: 

Meridian points also track closely with major nerve centers, Danesh said. It could be that the needles stimulate the nerves, causing them to release feel-good chemicals known as endorphins. People in pain often have low levels of endorphins, Danesh pointed out, and a release of those endorphins can suppress the sensation of pain. 

There are still plenty of Acupuncture skeptics who believe that any pain relief acupuncture offers is strictly psychological. But Danesh said he doesn’t care why it works, so long as it works. 

“I’ve had lots of skeptics come in for treatment and when they get better, they believe,” he said.

 More than 14 million Americans have tried acupuncture for pain relief.

Chronic pain is one of the most serious health problems in the U.S., affecting an estimated 100 million Americans, according to a 2011 Institute of Medicine report. Nearly 90 percent of respondents to an IOM survey said they coped with some level of pain on a daily basis.

Acupuncture is becoming mainstream medical treatment

Doctors use acupuncture for treatment of such varied conditions as reactions and nausea from radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy, seasonal allergies, depression, menstrual cramps, headache, high blood pressure, knee and back pain, morning sickness, rheumatoid arthritis, stroke and tennis elbow.

By Michael Roizen, M.D., and Mehmet Oz 

September 7, 2013

Everyone from Kung-Fu Panda to Penélope Cruz is sporting acupuncture needles these days - and, it seems, with good reason. This most ancient and least-understood Chinese therapy has snuck into mainstream medical practice, in very specific areas, now that reliable studies have convincingly demonstrated its benefits.

The World Health Organization recognizes acupuncture as an effective treatment for a host of conditions, including adverse reactions and nausea related to radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy, seasonal allergies, depression, menstrual cramps, headache, high blood pressure, knee and lower-back pain, morning sickness, rheumatoid arthritis, stroke and tennis elbow. And acupuncture is now offered in many North American hospitals (the Cleveland Clinic Center for Integrative Medicine provides more than 10,000 treatments annually) and by the Department of Defense to treat soldiers suffering acute and chronic pain.