For many people going through surgical recovery, prescriptions and over the counter drugs become the cyclical norm. It’s as if all hope is put into drugging ourselves in hopes that the pain is mitigated and we can get on with some semblance of our lives. I don’t know about you, but I have never been a fan of popping pills. Got a headache. Wait for it to pass, rub my temples, or go lay down and try to sleep it off. The thought of having those chemicals coursing through my body wreaking havoc on my organs is not for me. I’m so anti that both of my children were born sans the epidural. Yep. Au natural. I still cringe and shake my head when I think back to those days. Smh…but God.
So, now, after two surgeries within a ten month span, I am more determined than ever to come out on the other side with as few life altering battle wounds as possible. I’m open to trying non-traditional approaches to recovery and healing. Whether it be what grandma and ’em use to whip up or Traditional Chinese Medicine. I’m game. Medical cupping is one such alternative.
Cupping was developed thousands of years ago. Although it’s been modernized, the original philosophy remains the same. Cupping uses glass or plastic “cups” placed on the skin, in the affected area, with a pump attached to a machine (some therapists use just a hand pump) creating a vacuum by suctioning out all of the air. The suction pulls your skin, tissues and muscles away from your body. The cups are left on your skin for 10 minutes with the objective of enhancing circulation, relieving pain, and pulling out toxins. Cupping improves circulation by bringing blood to the affected areas. This releases the connective tissue beneath the skin that wraps around your muscles which relieves pain and loosens the tissue and frees up the muscles.
I’ve had two cupping sessions with my physical therapist. I was apprehensive when the idea was first introduced. When I was told that I needed 12 weeks of physical therapy after my shoulder arthroscopy MUA, I was thinking stretches and such. However, I was slightly familiar with the alternative therapy after doing some very minor research on it after seeing the big bright red circles on swimmer Michael Phelps at the 2016 Summer Olympics. I admit, those dark red circular bruises looked quite intimidating. Your skin turns red, blue, purpley or a combination of colors. It just depends on you and/or your injury/condition.The amount of lactic acid buildup and toxins in the body effect the bruising. The discoloration lasts from a few days to a few weeks with no accompanying pain. My circular bruises lasted a few days and as you’ll see in the photos, they didn’t look too scarey. The cupping I am speaking on involves no fire and there is no blood (wet cupping).
In the rehab of my shoulder, decreasing inflammation and freeing up the restrictions in my scalpula and trapezius muscles is the objective of my cupping sessions. The therapist applies a topical cream to my skin and proceeds to apply one cup at a time with the vacuum pump [think hand held tire pump]. She gives the pump a squeeze or two and I can feel the cup latch onto my skin. She covers the cups with a heat pad and I sit for about 10 minutes. The suctioned cups do not hurt. If you’ve ever gotten a hickey back in the day, it kinda feels like that. Times 100. After the 10 minutes, she releases the air and removes the cups. Then she adds more of the topical cream and applies a larger cup to to the area [with suction] and slides the cup around in a choreographed way. She also lightly massages the area as she moves/slides the cup around. Next, she uses another suctioning tool that resembles the face mask you’d see on an airplane. Then, that’s it. I have seen improvements in my range of motion since starting cupping.
four five reasons why you should consider cupping:
1. Improves blood circulation / Detoxification
Cupping enhances blood flow by strengthening the veins and eliminating old blood. Without consistent blood flow, the body is unable to function optimally. The body’s movements, neurological and other system processes rely on a healthy blood flow and circulation. Cupping helps detoxify (eliminate fluids that cause inflammation and swelling) the body. The build up of toxins is causes by many health problems and stress. Cupping can help by drawing the blood to the treated area and carry away the toxins. Along with the toxins, it clears away dead cells and lymph and other accumulated debris. All of this “garbage” is then eliminated from the body. Drinking lots of water post cupping helps to flush away the impurities.
Inflammation is a beast. It’s the body’s response to outside threats like stress, infection, or toxic chemicals. Inflammation is beneficial as it helps to repair wounds or fight off an illness. Ice packs can only do so much. It’s a show of your body’s defense mechanism kicking in. It floods the injured muscles with blood, nutrients, and healing chemicals. Cupping mimics inflammation by drawing blood to the affected area so that new blood vessels are created and can heal the adhesions or knots.
3. Pain Relief
Experts say that cupping has been shown to be beneficial for relief of back pain, headaches, menstrual cramps and other painful conditions. It alleviates swelling and stiffness which leads to pain relief. Researchers say that cupping results are comparable to taking 650 milligrams of Tylenol (acetaminophen) three times a day. Say what!?
4. Natural Wellness
Perhaps I am in the minority. I don’t like taking medicine. Chemicals. I’d much rather allow my body to heal itself, if possible. Cupping has allowed me to eliminate the anti-inflammatory medicine that I was taking and I’ve greatly reduced the pain medicine I was prescribed. I went from one Percocet every four hours, the day of surgery, to maybe one pill a day (of a less stronger prescription) since starting cupping therapy. Plus, the thought of masking pain with prescription or over the counter meds isn’t helpful in the bigger picture. For me, I need to know how I’m really feeling. What makes me hurt more or less. Wearing the drug bandaid gives you a false sense of being better. Nevertheless, I believe our bodies were wonderfully made. They can heal themselves if we but allow them the opportunity.
5. What do you have to lose?
That. Is. All.
On a side note, my surgeon wasn’t that excited about the cupping when I told him about it at my first post op followup. Not at all. He’s clearly not sold on the benefits. He said that the supporting literature isn’t there. I choose to continue with it and see what happens. My physical therapy includes both traditional therapy and cupping. I’ve seen improvements. Recovering from shoulder surgery is a long hard road. They tell me that being a diabetic makes it even more so. I know. So, trying something that can help is worth it to me. If that changes, then I can just go back to straight up traditional physical therapy having lost nothing in the process.
If you have the opportunity to implement cupping as part of your recovery, let me know how it goes.