Chronic pain is a widespread ailment that affects a large percentage of the population. Pain is often exacerbated by modern lifestyles and activities, especially sitting for prolonged periods. Conventional workouts, such as traditional weight training, bodybuilding, yoga, and stretching, may initially appear beneficial; however, they can further embed asymmetries and dysfunctions within our bodies. In desperate need for help, many turn to alternative health practices such as cupping therapy for relief. The benefits of cupping therapy and the underlying mentality behind using alternative practices like cupping massagers however, is questionable.
How Cupping Functions
Cupping massagers likely originated from ancient practices in China, Egypt, or India. They primarily work using suction cups that create a vacuum on the skin, drawing blood to the surface and expanding the capillaries. This increased blood flow is believed to alleviate muscle tension and pain due to new healthier blood cells replenishing the targeted areas. Cupping is used to help people bounce back from unhealthy levels of strain and stimulate healthy cellular function. Suction cups are used to aid issues that span from the physical, such as headaches, to the mental, including fatigue. The immediate relief from muscle stiffness and the associated enhancements in mental clarity and energy levels make cupping particularly attractive to athletes, those with physically demanding routines, and people with general chronic pain.
Do Cupping Massagers Actually Work?
Despite its popularity, the transient benefits of cupping therapy reveal some fundamental flaws. While the use of suction cups on the skin can mitigate short-term discomfort, it falls short of promoting long-term healing, making it an incomplete healing system. The reason is because cupping massagers do not address the deeper factors that contribute to muscular pain. The lack of long-term benefit leads to a cycle of dependency, where individuals must repeatedly return to cupping for relief, never fully resolving the underlying issues. Furthermore, the benefits of cupping therapy have not been thoroughly studied. Lacking legitimate and consistent results, cupping should not be a system that is relied upon for recovery from muscular soreness and fatigue.
What Should We Do Instead?
In order to achieve long term results it is crucial to pivot from this cycle and recognize that the root causes of musculoskeletal pain are fundamentally biomechanical. Improving our gait cycle (repeated walking and running patterns), for instance, can have profound implications on our structural health. An irregular gait can create imbalances that lead to chronic pain and injury.
Furthermore, the health of our fascia, the connective tissue that envelops our muscles, plays a pivotal role in our overall musculoskeletal integrity. Traditional forms of exercise often neglect training the fascial system, which leads to restrictions and compensatory patterns that exacerbate pain. Practices, such as cupping, will at best ameliorate short term pains and discomforts caused by poor movement patterns and traditional gym exercises. This is because cupping massagers do not address the root cause of pain. Instead, Functional Patterns emphasizes moving the body as an integrated system and focusing on corrective exercises that align and optimize the fascia and skeletal systems. Addressing underlying movement dysfunction will reap benefits that suction cups alone cannot deliver.
Shifting one’s focus from temporarily alleviating symptoms through practices such as cupping to correcting fundamental biomechanical dysfunction will foster a more sustainable path to pain relief. This involves a paradigm shift from symptomatic treatment to preventative and restorative practices. While the benefits of cupping therapy could play a role in recovery in the short term, they are largely useless in the long run because they do not resolve or address the root cause of pain. Movement-based therapies that aim to retrain and rebalance the body will ultimately eliminate the need for symptom based practices such as cupping.
Even if cupping therapy offers a temporary relief from discomfort, it does not lead to lasting health. Addressing the root causes of chronic pain—especially the asymmetries in our daily movements—and adopting practices that enhance our fascial health are essential. Only then can we break free from the cycle of dependence on temporary fixes and move towards enduring physical harmony and vitality.