Myofascial Decompression Techniques aka Cup Therapy

Myofascial Decompression or Cupping being performed on the back of a patient

What is Cup Therapy?

Myofascial decompression or cupping is a therapy that helps treat musculoskeletal disorders by using suction to create negative pressure underneath the cup. Originally, fire was used to create the suction, but more recently a simple pump is used. The negative pressure helps to decompress the area by lifting the skin and the layer of tissue underneath the skin, the fascia, up into the cup. This creates space for the underlying tight muscle to lay down and relax. Cupping also helps bring blood flow to the area in need. Blood carries important nutrients to the tissue which help with healing.

Questions about CUpping?

Myofascial Decompression or Cupping is used as an adjunct to other physical therapy treatments to decrease pain and improve mobility. Cupping Therapy is an increasingly popular so we asked Lower Burrell Facility Director Will Jones, DPT, some commonly asked questions about cupping. Below are his responses.

Q: Can you describe the cupping process to me?

A: At its core, cupping is a massage in reverse. Instead adding pressure to muscles and connective tissue (as in massage), cupping creates expansion and space in the tissues and promotes blood flow. For most cupping sessions, the recipient is positioned lying face down to address muscles on the back, neck or shoulders. Once the patient is lying in a comfortable position, the cup is placed on the skin and a suction gun draws out the air from the cup creating a vacuum inside the cup. The result is skin, and the muscles underneath being pulled upward for a bit of a stretch. 

Each cup placement is left for a few seconds to a couple of minutes, which is all that is required to get a beneficial effect. In a typical cupping session, we do two to five placements on different muscles, depending on the size of the affected area. For most people, the experience of cupping is rather neutral – meaning it does not feel especially good or bad while the cups are on the skin. The sensation is more of a pulling or grabbing that becomes less intense the longer the cup is left in place.


Q: What is really happening to create relief?

A: My explanation would be that the vacuum of the cups gives the muscles/connective tissue a stretch and expansion. As the local muscles are stretched and given more space, blood is pumped through the muscles and circulated through the local area. This means that cupping is addressing the two main causes of muscle tension & pain. One is poor blood flow, and the other is shortened or contracted muscles and connective tissue. Relief is found in the focusing on those two things along with the right physical therapy.


Q: What types of people can benefit from cupping therapy?

A: Cupping can be used on things like myofascial restrictions, and tight muscles in the upper back, shoulders, and neck. The classic presentation would be the sensation of tight “knots” in the shoulders where the tension can be radiating up to the neck. These upper body areas are especially amenable to cupping therapy because the muscles involved are smaller and close to the surface of the body.  Cupping can also be helpful for low back pain as there are often restrictions of the soft tissue in this area due to prolonged sitting.

Q: What should I expect after treatment?

A: It is common for patients to experience some skin marking with this treatment. This can range from red rings that quickly disappear or some mild bruising due to the pulling of blood to the surface. Treatments are typically painless, and the discoloration usually disappears after a few days.

Take a minute to watch this piece on Cupping as seen on Good Morning America!

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3160 Kipp Avenue Lower Burrell, PA 15068

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