Did you watch the Olympics? See those circles on Michael Phelps shoulders? That was from cupping. Cupping has been around for thousands of years, coming from the Asian community. It has been here in America for years, some physical therapists and massage therapist use them. The typical cups used here in the US are plastic, and the suction is created with a pump. There are also silicone ones as well as glass (which the suction is created with heat, not typically done by physical therapists). Sometimes a painless bruise happens at the area, which is actually breaking down the weak capillaries. New ones are formed, increasing the blood supply, thus bringing nutrition and healing to the area. Sometimes the cups can be used statically (staying in the same place), sometimes manipulated (moving the cup on the body). Sometimes one cup is used, sometimes multiple, depending on what and where the issue is.
For years, I have personally used a small version of cups (think snake bite kit) for scars, especially from surgery. In the past few years, I have started using larger sized cups, allowing treatment in a bigger area. The majority of the modalities typically done to the body, is a push in (manually push in with hands, pushing sound waves in with ultrasound, electricity with TENS units, light with laser, etc) with suction (or cupping) it is a pull out. This helps to pull the soft tissue, specifically fascia (the opaque tissue around all of the muscles and organs), and helps it to become unstuck. Therefore, allowing for movement between the skin and the surrounding tissue. Often there is pain and limitations due to areas of the body being stuck down. Abdominal scars can contribute to back pain for example. And I have seen scaring in the chest from breast cancer surgery limit the range of motion in the wrist. Another common area is binding down, or tightness in the soft tissue in the calves contributing to back and even neck pain. Using the cupping, releasing the tissue (along with stretching, and other manual treatment) I have had great result with shin splints and plantarfacitis. Sometimes scar tissue can form from accidents, falls, being hit by something, forming a deep bruise that may not even show up. There are times that the pain shows up as pain in other parts of the body that were not obviously injured. Our bodies are truly amazing, and “well connected”. ☺ When we ask our body to do something (like get up from a chair) and your the typical motion isn’t available due to scarring, or other issues, the body will use something else to get the job done. For example, a golfer who didn’t have enough rotation in the hip, kept getting heel pain, because the rotation came from the heel, as it couldn’t come from the hip. This causes pain, and limits your ability to work and play! So, if you are offered cupping as a tool to help with your pain/mobility issue, it may look like it hurts, because of the bruise that may occur, but typically it does not, so go for it!