You might remember seeing small red circles on the back of Olympic swimmer Michaels Phelps.  He had just been treated with cupping therapy. While it may be trendy now, cupping therapy is actually an ancient form of alternative medicine in which a therapist puts special cups on your skin for a few minutes to create suction and increase blood flow.

People get it for many purposes, including to help with pain, inflammation, blood flow, relaxation, and well-being, and as a type of deep-tissue massage. It dates back to ancient Egyptian, Chinese, and Middle Eastern cultures. A therapeutic cupping treatment involves warming and placing cups, usually made of glass, on the skin. By warming the air within the cup, a vacuum is created, and when it is applied to the skin, the tissue is drawn up into the cup. This increases the blood flow, loosens the connective tissue to stimulate healing. It is similar to the way deep tissue massage may be used to break up scar tissue and reduce pain. 

The cups are often placed on the back, neck, and shoulders or the site of pain. Cupping may cause a little soreness and those red circular spots, which will disappear in a few days to a week.  The cups are left in place anywhere from five to 20 minutes depending on the nature of the individual's condition. A general course of treatment involves several sessions based on a person’s need.

I have actually had it done during a massage. It just feels like a little suction on your skin and it was not long enough to leave a mark. For me, it did not hurt, although some people experience mild bruising or discomfort. Bottom line, cupping is a unique form of therapy that might be worth a try.

In this video, I chat with Ryan Buccafurni, Director of Physical Therapy for Integrity Physical Therapy at their Northfield, NJ location and he shows us how cupping works.