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Cupping Therapy for Muscle Recovery: What is It, How Does It Work, and Is It Right for You?

During the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, a great deal of attention was given to the US Swim Team, not just for their awesome performance, but because many team members sported odd reddish-purple spherical markings on their backs, arms and shoulders. Those marks are the result of cupping therapy, an ancient Chinese treatment that works by expanding capillaries and increasing the amount of fluid entering and leaving tissues.

Although few clinical studies have been conducted to validate cupping as an effective treatment for muscle recovery, the proof, as they say, is in the pudding. Athletes swear by cupping as a drug-free and non-invasive way to treat muscle pain and fatigue and speed up healing time.

Benefits of Cupping

Cupping therapy is used to treat a broad range of conditions, including:

Respiratory infection
Joint Pain
Muscle pain
Reproductive disorders
Skin conditions
Anxiety and depression
Cellulite and varicose veins

The Procedure

During the cupping procedure, the patient lies on a massage table and cups are applied to the back in a series of positions to produce suction and create a vacuum effect. Cupping targets areas of skin and deep tissue within the back to dull pain, break up scar tissue and relax muscles and connective tissue. Cupping is almost the opposite of massage. Instead of applying pressure to swollen and painful areas, cupping draws pressure outward.

In dry cupping, or fire cupping, a trained practitioner places cups on the patient’s back and then carefully heats the cups with fire. Hot cups are sealed off and held in place on the patient’s back for five to 15 minutes while they cool down, producing a vacuum effect. The cups contract while on the patient’s skin, pulling the skin into the cup, stretching out skin tissue and increasing blood flow to facilitate healing.

Wet cupping, commonly used in parts of the Middle East, is a bit more invasive, requiring a tiny incision in the patient’s skin before the cup is applied. Wet cupping is fireless, using a pump to remove a small amount of the patient’s blood to improve energy in the body and remove toxins.

Is Cupping Therapy Right for You?

Dry cupping is safe and non-invasive. Most people find the heat from the cups to be soothing and relaxing. It is recommended you find a licensed and well-trained practitioner to ensure safety and effectiveness. If you are pregnant, have an infectious skin condition or sensitivity, have a bleeding disorder, are prone to bruising, or have inflammation, cupping is not advised. Be aware that cupping may leave discolored marks on your skin that can last for up to two weeks. A cupping therapy session lasts for about half an hour and costs between $40 to $80 per session.


Whether you are training the next American Ninja Warrior or doing balance training with older adults, the fundamental principle of fitness are foundational to safety and results. Staying abreast of trends and new research in sports and exercise is your responsibility as a fitness professional. Get certified with Personal Fitness Trainer, Older Adult Fitness Specialist, Lifestyle Fitness Coach, or Youth Fitness. Then back up your knowledge with continuing education. Extreme training calls for extreme knowledge, and W.I.T.S. has the courses you need to stay informed.

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1 thought on “Cupping Therapy for Muscle Recovery: What is It, How Does It Work, and Is It Right for You?

  1. […] very round bruises. These are actually cupping marks. Cupping is popular in the fitness scene as a muscle recovery tool. But for the average joe like you and I who just wants to stay healthy and look and feel good, […]

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