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What is Cupping and who is it for?

Myofascial decompression (MFD), also known as cupping, is a therapeutic approach using negative pressure – decompression on the soft tissue. Ancient cultures in China, Greece and Egypt have already been using this therapy, originally with fire and various cups made of glass or bamboo. In modern medicine, plastic vacuum cups are used with a pneumatic pump. This type of treatment is used for many chronic musculoskeletal disorders, entrapment syndromes, re-education of the movements that have been impaired due to pain or tightness, adhesions and many more. In literature, the term cupping is used more in connection with massage, aesthetics or Chinese medicine, whereas the term MFD is used mostly in sport rehabilitation.

Principle of MFD/cupping:

The decompression underneath the cup lifts the skin and underlaying layers of the soft tissue such as fascia. Fascia is a sheet of connective tissue which encloses, stabilizes and attaches muscles – superficial fascia. The function of this structure is to reduce the friction between underlaying layers; hence they should glide against each other, however, sometimes an adhesion may occur. This might be a result of an injury, compensatory movement patterns or surgery (scar adhesion). Such adhesion restricts movements, particularly around joints. We can also find fascia deeper, where it suspends the internal organs – visceral fascia, which is not of our interest in this context.


  • Circulatory

  • Tension/tightness release

  • Soft tissue mobilization

  • Increase of the range of motion

  • Pain decrease


As the approach itself is very old, over time several categories and subcategories have been developed. Based on the considered criteria, cupping can be classified into 6 main categories:

  • technical based: dry, wet, flash, massage

  • power of the suction based: light, medium, strong, pulsative

  • method based: fire, manual suction, automatic suction

  • material inside the cups based: needle, herbs, magnet, laser, water, electricity

  • area treated based: pedi, fascial, abdominal, women’s health, men’s health

  • other types: cosmetic, aquatic, sports (MFD)

Application in Physiotherapy:

In modern physiotherapy, the most used method is dry cupping (also known as static or retained), where the cups are applied on the area of the treatment and left on for about 15 minutes. The negative pressure can be controlled by the number of the suctions (the more the deeper) or by the time of the exposure to the fire if using this technique. Such cupping increases blood and lymphatic circulation and relieves muscle tension. Other favourite type is the massage cupping (also known as dynamic, moving, gliding) when the therapist applies an oil on the skin and moves the cups with a light suction on the area that is being treated. This way the soft tissue is being mobilized. Sport cupping, or as mentioned above – MFD, has been developed from the original cupping method. Athletes are performing various movement patterns and functional exercises while having the cups attached. This way the whole muscular chains can be mobilized and the range of motion increases immediately. MFD is an amazing method which can also be used for post-operative scar adhesions, which over time, if not treated, limit the range of motion. This limitation has an impact on the biomechanics of movement and compensation patterns occur.

Temporary bruises and/or skin redness occur after the cupping application, and these tend to disappear within a few days. This is a normal response for this type of treatment. Make sure to get permission from your patient before applying this technique.

What is cupping good for?

  • Muscle tension/tightness

  • Limited range of motion (f.e. frozen shoulder)

  • Soft tissue adhesion (f.e. post-operative scar)

  • Entrapment syndromes, compression (f.e. Carpal’s tunnel)

  • Tendinopathies (f.e. hamstrings)

  • Running injuries (f.e iliotibial band syndrome)


  • Open wounds

  • Skin eczema, rush etc.

  • Anemia

  • Blood clots (current or history)

  • Taking blood thinner medications

  • Pregnancy

  • Fever

  • High blood pressure

  • Active cancer

  • Sensitive skin

If you believe you could benefit from cupping, let one of our injury and treatment specialists help you begin the recovery process today.

Trust in Excelsior!

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