Does Cupping Therapy Improve Athletic Performance?

>> October 30, 2015

Various strategies have been used by top athletes to accelerate recovery from strenuous exercise or training. This includes the active warm up, water immersion (hot, cold, combination), massage, and light pool exercise. The least known, although been used quite often in Asia is "cupping therapy".

This method is gaining its popularity and top athletes are seen using it, and we have observed it even at the Olympic level (i.e. Beijing 2008 and London 2012).

Apparently, it creates a huge space or gap in the sphere of science and mechanism as research investigating the efficacy of cupping therapy as recovery modality are scarce.

Mehta and Dhapte (2015). Cupping therapy: A prudent remedy for a plethora of medical ailments
Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, In Press.

Asian athletes or population, in general, have been using cupping therapy for improving the body functions, which could lead to an improved physical or sports performance, just like other recovery strategies.

Not like the acupuncture treatment, cupping therapy leaves "red mark" on the affected area which is caused by the vacuum formed from the cupping (bottle).

During the treatment, it pulls the air out of the cup which subsequently pulls the skin and tissue muscles upward (see photo). This elevates the blood circulation due to the formation of the blood vessel as a result of the pressure being created during the process. This could also lead to an increased supply of oxygen and nutrition to the area.

It is interesting to explore the physiological effects and mechanism underpinning the effective healing or recovery associated with cupping therapy.

In high-performance sports, little (marginal) gains mean winner or loser, in other words, gold or silver. After all the hard work and dedication, every athlete is seeking the edge to generate advantages.

Cupping therapy is not a non-science strategy for enhancing performance (via recovery), what we could do now is to consider formulating a hypothesis and then try to research it.

Actress Gwyneth Pathlow

UPDATE: Cupping trend in Rio Olympics

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