Cupping – Can It Really Relieve Pain or Boost Performance?


During the Olympic Games, you may have noticed some dark red circular splotches on the bodies of certain athletes. These visible marks were the result of dry cupping, a form of alternative medicine in which a therapist places special cups made of glass, silicone, bamboo, or clay on the skin for a few minutes to create localized suction. Recently, interest in this ancient practice has grown among elite athletes who are looking for ways to heighten their performance by alleviating pain and inflammation and promoting circulation, relaxation, and well-being.

While cupping was traditionally used to manipulate life-force energy (chi) in the body, modern practitioners believe that cupping can be effective in sports medicine applications as well. Specifically, many proponents of cupping believe that the suction it produces can:

  • Promote blood flow and healing by expanding the skin in an injured area of the body
  • Create a microtrauma (small injury) that helps to rebuild and strengthen weakened muscles
  • Flush toxins away from fatigued muscles

Many experts are skeptical of these claims, particularly as they relate to detoxification, which the human body is designed to do very well on its own. The theories that cupping – which is essentially pinching a targeted area of the body – can increase circulation or reduce inflammation are somewhat more plausible. However, the supporting data is weak, and more robust and long-term studies are needed before claims like these can be definitively made.

Despite the popularity of cupping among Olympians, its benefits remain scientifically unproven. Even so, the possible placebo effects of this therapeutic technique should not be summarily dismissed. Any positive consequences produced by a therapy, regardless of how slight they are or whether they are merely psychological in nature, can significantly affect the results achieved by a high-performing athlete. Consider that when a person is winning competitions by fractions of seconds, anything he or she believes to be helpful may actually prove to be of tremendous help.

The outstanding medical professionals at South Tampa Immediate Care are committed to helping our patients achieve and maintain optimal health and well-being. If you have questions about cupping or would like to see a doctor, feel free to stop by. Our walk-in clinic is open seven days a week and conveniently located at 602 South Howard Ave. in Tampa, where you can count on being seen by a qualified physician who has years of experience in treating many common illnesses and injuries.