By Marc Wahl
If you tuned into the Olympic swimming last summer, you might have noticed dark red circles on a few prominent athletes, namely Michael Phelps. With almost half of the world watching, cupping therapy was having its moment in the spotlight. The coverage (and curiosity) spawned hundreds – if not thousands – of features about the background, benefits and potential concerns related to cupping.
I’ve been working as a therapist on the PGA TOUR for over a decade. In my career, I’ve worked over 250 events, helping 40+ pro golfers, including four 2016 Ryder Cup members: Jimmy Walker, Brooks Koepka, JB Holmes and Brandt Snedeker.
I had the opportunity to present about cupping therapy at the 2016 World Golf Fitness Summit and it generated sincere interest from the TPI community. Since I use cupping methods with a few of my players and thought it would be interesting to share some of the insights I’ve gathered.
The topic of cupping can be controversial in the therapy community. I think a lot of it has to do with a lack of exposure and experience. While honoring Traditional Chinese Medicine and all the practitioners who have nurtured cupping, acupuncture, and their traditions through the millennia, I am calling out to those very practitioners and also chiropractors, physiotherapists, golf professionals, physical trainers and the individual public to support one another in open group dialogue and further investigation of this powerful modality for specific and niche performance applications.
Cupping the body arbitrarily without a system may or may not be effective depending on the objective, and we certainly have a responsibility to deliver safe treatments and heed contraindications, however I believe that it is far more efficient and effective to use the FMS/TPI/SFMA system to identify and demonstrate tissue extensibility dysfunctions (TEDs) and then to specifically tailor the cupping treatment to eradicate those restrictions. Simply eradicating any and all restrictions found in the tissues, even when some are not of functional detriment could actually hurt the client’s performance under certain circumstances. The practitioner must ask “why” and what effect the treatment could have on the particular client at that particular time.
All “cupping” is not the same, even though it seems anything involving vacuum therapy falls under this label. So many variables can come into play that any combination of dry vs. wet, active vs. passive, dynamic vs. static, degree of intensity, compression by the cup’s edges, as well as the size of the cup, time of dose, health of client, the permutations and therefore outcomes are virtually infinite. It’s impossible to have a conversation about “cupping” without specifying how we are using this tool. Although I am not performing this technique in the same way or for the same purposes as done in Traditional Chinese medicine, I will use the term “cupping” here for the sake of clarity.