Does Cupping Really Work for Health and Fitness? What You Need to Know

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Let’s face it, we all suffer from aches and pains from time to time. Maybe you feel a discomfort in your back when you’re lifting weights, or you’re constantly complaining about pains in your hips, even though you’re using form properly in your Marc Dressen training.

Sometimes, we just feel uncomfortable, and it’s difficult to identify why. There’s a good chance that you’ve done everything that you can think of to chase away the discomfort too, such as stretching, or foam rolling. If the pain persists, you might even start to think that trying a more “unorthodox” method might be warranted.

While there’s nothing wrong with trying natural solutions for pain that you know are safe, things get a little dicey when you start trying things that you see on the internet without any solid proof that it actually works.

Here’s the deal…

Cupping therapy has been getting a lot of attention lately. After all, it’s been said that Michael Phelps used cupping as a way of recovering from his grueling training schedule – and if it’s good enough for an incredible Olympic athlete then it’s good enough for you – right?

Well, the truth is that cupping is probably not worth your time, or your money. Here, we’re going to take a look into the truth about cupping, and outline why there’s a good chance any of the results you see from this strategy will be nothing more than a placebo effect.

Let’s get started.

What is Cupping Therapy Anyway?

Cupping therapy is basically the process of placing several small cups on your body and using a device that’s designed to suck the air out of them and pull your skin away from the body. There are many different types of cupping therapy, including:

  • Dry Cupping uses light air suction, combined with an electronic or manual air pump – it’s the most common type of cupping therapy.
  • Fire cupping involves placing a flame inside of the cups immediately before they’re situated on the skin. As the hot air begins to cool, it contracts and pulls the skin into the cup.
  • Wet cupping is an ancient type of cupping that includes making small cuts into the flesh before applying the cups which draws blood out of the body. This is one of the most dangerous forms of cupping.

So why does anyone use cupping in an effort to reach their goals anyway? Basically, the idea is that it will reduce muscle pain, speed up the recovery you experience after your workout, and improve general wellbeing.

The theory is that cupping pulls toxins out of your body through the skin. The fewer toxins you have to deal with, the better you can function as a person. So, does this really work?

Is Cupping Therapy Effective?

When it comes down to it, there isn’t a great deal of research available about the effects of cupping therapy. One recent study conducted and published in the Journal of Evidence-based alternative and complementary medicine in 2016 is frequently used as proof that cupping works. During this study, 60 people suffering from neck pain were divided into groups.

Half of the participants were given cupping therapy, while the other half got no treatment at all. The group that got the cupping therapy reported that they had less pain than the control group. The researchers took this as a sign that cupping therapy works. However, the study was only single-blind, which meant that the researchers know who was receiving treatment. This can lead to inaccurate results.

Another problem is that when you’re suffering from pain, doing anything can make you feel better than doing nothing because it causes you to experience the placebo effect. The trouble is, the more you look into cupping therapy research, the more you see how flawed it is. All of the research out there isn’t really well controlled. On top of that, each only demonstrates slight and temporary relief from pain, without any additional benefits.

When you dig deeper into the literature available, the chances are you’ll only be able to find a single high-quality trial into cupping therapy. This randomized controlled trial proved that cupping gave no relief to people who were suffering from lower back pain.

The Problem with Cupping Therapy

The lack of positive evidence supporting cupping therapy isn’t very surprising when you consider all of the dubious hypotheses about how the system works. Ultimately, when you look into the research, all you end up with is a fake therapy that doesn’t really get much done. However, it’s, of course, worth noting that these days, athletes are willing to try almost anything they can think of in an effort to improve their performance.

There are still countless athletes out there that are using magnetic bracelets, acupuncture, and other forms of recovery solutions that haven’t been proven by science. In fact, they continue to use these solutions even as the evidence mounts to suggest that the benefits are entirely fake.

Although dry cupping is safe when it’s performed properly, it can often lead to severe bruising, so it’s hard to call this a natural and secure way to fight back against pain. At the same time, fire cupping can be even more dangerous, as thee cups can burn the flesh when they are too hot. On the other hand, wet cupping is incredibly dangerous, because it’s a form of bloodletting.

With wet cupping, you could risk the threat of infection, and even permanent scars across your body.

Finishing Thoughts on Cupping Therapy

Ultimately, cupping therapy has been around for quite a long time now – multiple centuries in fact. It’s seen a recent surge in popularity thanks to the endorsements that have been offered by celebrities in the public eye. Unfortunately, it’s safe to say that a lot of the research available identifies cupping as nothing more than a sham.

If you’re looking for a good source of natural pain relief, then you should try doing some yoga, or getting a massage. Heck, even lifting weights can help to give you better outcomes.


Marc Dressen
Personal Trainer London

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