Acupuncture, Cupping, and the US Olympic Athletes

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TCM and Cupping Adjunctive Therapy

TCM and Cupping Adjunctive Therapy

I love the Olympics! Every four years, I get to watch the world come together and compete in sporting events I am familiar with and some I didn’t even know existed. The spirit of competition is alive and exhilarating to watch! And then to see the bruised circles from cupping on the USA male gymnasts and swimmers had me jumping for joy!

You see, as an acupuncturist-herbalist, part of our extensive training included adjunctive techniques such as cupping. Cupping is an ancient practice stemming from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and was used to draw out pathological factors from the body that would cause stagnation and manifest as painful conditions. Joint pain, muscle tightness, coughing, asthma…stagnated energy can cause a multitude of misery! The cup is placed on the body either by fire to create the suction (fire cupping) or by a suction device. Glass is the best for cups as they can be cleaned sufficiently to not spread infection. Once placed on the body and affixed by suction, one watches for the redness to appear. In TCM, it is referred to as ‘sha’ but in Western Medicine, it is referred to as bruising. The act of the suction pulling the skin away from the tissues underneath helps release the myofascial system and can increase blood flow/circulation to the area to help with pain, fatigue, and/or injured muscle tissue. Cupping can be done multiple times and has proven to be very efficient at relieving physical discomfort and tightness.

Interestingly enough though, there are many people who think it is “snake oil” medicine, “unsupported treatments that do nothing” as I read online this week. Being someone who has trained and practiced in both Western Medicine and Chinese Medicine, my approach to these viewpoints is ‘you never know unless you try it’! I have found many a doctor who has tried complementary therapies and adjunctive techniques and are some of my biggest referral sources. Sometimes one medicine may not have the answers and the other might. Cupping and TCM have been around for more than 2000 years so something must be working. So if you are hesitant to try acupuncture or cupping, I recommend you “try it, you might like it”!