Can Cupping Help My Sports Injury Heal?

If a sports injury has left you with soft tissue damage, muscle tension, fascia tightness, and pain, cupping therapy may be a beneficial treatment approach. Here’s how it accelerates the healing process to get you back in the game more quickly.

Playing sports is part of a healthy, highly active lifestyle. But as rewarding as getting in the game can be, it isn’t a risk-free pursuit — you can sustain a sports-related injury any time you step onto the track, head out to the field, get on the court, or plunge into the pool.

As sports medicine experts who specialize in sports recoveryathletic performance, and injury preventionour team at The Rehab Docs takes a holistic, multi-disciplinary approach to sports injury recovery that aims to get you back in the game as quickly and as safely as possible. 

Read on as Dr. Kevin Bein and Dr. Sam Sheppard explain how cupping works — and how it may be able to accelerate your recovery. 

What is cupping therapy?

Cupping is a modality of traditional Chinese medicine that involves creating a targeted suction force to pull blood into an injured area. It’s easiest to think of cupping therapy as a kind of “reverse massage” that uses suction rather than pressure to relax muscles, stimulate healing, and relieve pain. 

There are two basic ways to perform cupping therapy:

Dry cupping 

This approach typically involves using heat to create a vacuum between the cup and your skin. Specifically, the inside of the glass cup is heated to send oxygen out and create an instant vacuum. When placed directly over the treatment area, the vacuum force draws your skin up into the cup. 

In some cases, a suction device (instead of heat) is used to remove air from cups.

Wet cupping

During wet cupping, an acupuncture needle lightly punctures your skin before (and sometimes after) cupping. This small wound helps facilitate toxin removal during the cupping procedure.

The cups remain in place for several minutes, drawing fresh blood, oxygen, and nutrients into the treatment area. Depending on your injury, you may have multiple cups on your skin at one time. A cup may also be briefly manipulated or moved to stretch or massage the area.

How does cupping promote healing?

While cupping therapy has many different uses, ranging from easing asthma symptoms and improving gastrointestinal disorders to treating hypertension and relieving chronic migraines, it’s particularly beneficial for healing injuries. 

Cupping accelerates injury recovery in two ways. First, it floods the damaged tissue area with fresh blood, oxygen, and nutrients to promote faster healing. Second, it moves toxin and fluid buildup out of the tissue to relieve congestion, restore circulation, and ease muscle tension.

Let’s look at these actions in greater detail:

Bringing healing factors to injured tissue

Cupping works by drawing blood into an injured soft tissue area. As this influx of blood heads to the area under the cup, it breaks open small capillaries under the skin. Besides leaving you with round, bruise-like marks that fade in a week or so, this blood vessel breakage inundates the area with oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood. 

Damaged cells get extra nutrition and oxygen as they repair themselves. This new blood vessel formation process — called neovascularization — establishes fresh vessels that feed the injured tissues nutrients and oxygen to accelerate the healing process and relieve pain.

Flushing away damaging pathogenic factors

While an influx of blood and new vessel formation can help your injuries heal more quickly, fluid buildup has the opposite effect. Inflammation is part of early healing. But when swelling lingers too long, it can restrict blood flow to the damaged area, leaving you with tight, tense muscles and injured soft tissues that are starved of sufficient oxygen and nutrients. 

Luckily, cupping therapy can literally move the fluid inside your body, pulling static blood, lymph, cellular debris, pathogenic factors, and toxins away from your injury and guiding it to deeper, healthy body areas where it can be easily dispersed. 

Cupping therapy for sports injuries

Cupping therapy is a lot like exercise, in that it promotes good circulation and prevents the buildup of fluids and swelling. But it can be difficult or impossible to exercise when you have a sports injury — especially if it’s painful or limiting.

In many cases, simply releasing the tension in your muscles can help reset your pain levels and give you greater mobility. With care, you can leverage that mobility into gentle exercise and a faster healing time. 

Cupping therapy works like a gentle but powerful massage: It eases away tension, relieves pain, releases blockages, and leaves your muscles ready to move. It accelerates sports injury healing by:

  • Creating fresh, new blood vessels
  • Increasing circulation and oxygenation
  • Improving nutritional tissue delivery
  • Stretching fascia and connective tissue
  • Flushing counterproductive factors

Sports injuries may happen, but they don’t have to take ages to heal. To find out how cupping therapy can put your oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood right where it’s needed most, call or click online to schedule a visit at The Rehab Docs in Daniel Island, South Carolina today.