Here’s a great way of helping to reduce lower back pain with Cupping.
Cupping is an Old School Chinese Medicine Technique, its been around for 1000s of years.
I first came across cupping when my Martial Arts Sifu used it on me to treat a training injury when I got pelted in the back doing stick training. It worked a treat!
In the clinic, I often use Cupping as a great soft tissue treatment to really get stuck into tight muscles and tissues.
I the pictures below you can see me using cupping to help treat a really nasty lower back injury, including a disc bulge which is compressing on a nerve creating some rather yucky leg and hip pain.
For this particular case, we are using a three-pronged approach. Exercise, Acupuncture, and Cupping. I’ll talk about the exercise and acupuncture bit another time, but for now, let’s see how cupping can help lower back pain.
Suction cups applied along the Bladder Meridian
How Cupping Works
Cupping actually works on a pretty simple mechanical action of creating a vacuum on the skin which draws the soft tissue / muscles up into the cup. The suction can be created by using a pump to draw out the air from the cup, or a more traditional way of using a flame to burn up the oxygen within the cup. A pressure differential is then created which creates the vacuum effect.
The process of drawing the soft tissue (muscle, skin, connective tissue, fascia) effectively stretches and lengthens the muscles fibres. This micro-stretching effect allows the area to lengthen back to its normal resting state and thus restore normal length to the tissue. Anyone who has been suffering from a really tight lower back can attest to the relief one can experience when those tight muscles are allowed to release.
Cupping can help release tight trigger points. A trigger point is a particular part of a muscle that is predisposed to getting all bound up. Often corresponding to where the nerve attaches to the muscles (motor points). release the trigger point, relax the muscle.
When a muscle develops a trigger point it fails to fully relax to its normal resting position. The cells become dehydrated, and muscles cells thrive on being hydrated,in fact, most of a muscle cell is comprised of fluid like substances. When these fluids start to dry up the muscles become very stiff, rigid, and begin to lose their elasticity.
A muscle that is always on stretch, tight, or shortened will create mechanic pain on the structure they attach too. Since pretty much all the muscle in your lower back attached to the spinal column then mechanic pain can manifest due to tight muscles. When muscle attaches to bones are areas with lots of nerves. These nerves are always signally back to the brain about the position and state of the joint. If they read that too much force or pressure is being placed on a structure or joint they can signal pain receptors to fire in an effort to let the brain know that the body needs to adopt a different position.
If the muscles don’t relax, the pain signals keep firing..it creates a nasty cycle of pain.
The benefit of cupping is that we can access multiple trigger points, quickly and accurately with a minimally invasive procedure that is easy to apply and give the client immediate feedback. We can “turn off” heaps of trigger points effectively.
So what the Deal with the Bruises
Depending on how strong the cupping is applied, and the state if the affected area often dictates how much bruising, if any you will get.
The bruises themselves are micro bleeding through capillaries that are opened up from the strong suction of the cup. Essentially what the cups are doing is resetting the inflammation response with the circular area of the cup. Or, it’s breaking the pain cycle by resetting the tissue back to its normal length and allowing proper cellular hydration of the tissues. Because the cups create a barrier, the effect is isolated to that circular area, unlike massage techniques where the muscle fibres are elongated along their line of pull allowing a more global cellular hydration. Folks often report being extremely thirsty after a deep tissue massage or cupping therapy, I’d say it’s the body telling you it needs to rehydrate the cells.
Cupping Marks (red circles) with acupuncture on the lower back
What’s this Qi stagnation thing about
Here is where cupping gets really cool. In Chinese Medicine theory, Cupping is classified as a reducing technique, meaning that it is used to reduced blocked energy with the meridians. Cups applied over acupuncture points will draw out blocked Qi, or energy, easing the flow of energy throughout the system.
When energy doesn’t flow well it’s called Qi Stagnation in Chinese medicine. Cupping is amazing at freeing up Qi blockages. In TCM the color of bruises, or lack thereof provides some insight to the health of the overall body and local tissue areas. Dark purple bruises that stick around for days are often a sign of a pretty nasty injury in the muscle that has either been there for a long time or a recent injury caused by trauma, like getting hit by a stick in martial arts training,
On the back, there are 4 huge meridians that run either side of the spine, like great rivers they nourish the body with energy. Just like a great river if the pathway becomes blocked the areas downstream are no longer nourished, and can become diseased. Cupping along the Bladder meridian on the back is an amazing way of freeing up the flow of energy. Additionally, there are some major acupuncture points along the bladder meridian which effects major aspects of the body, like the Heart, Liver, Spleen, Lungs, and Kidneys.
Cupping along the back can be used to treat the back muscles themselves, free up the global flow of energy throughout the body in addition to treating specific body parts like the kidneys of lungs.
Is Cupping For me
There are sometimes I won’t use cupping, particularly if it’s with 48 hours of a new injury, there’s an open wound, or if someone has a bleeding disorder. it’s important to work with a fully qualified Health practitioner how has actually had some training. Unfortunately, I’ve comes across some disasters, where folks have been cupped way to strongly, or aggressively for their bodies to handle.
When in doubt ask your Physio, GP, Remedial Massage Therapist if its ok for you to try.
If you want some expert guidance always go with a Traditionally Chinese Medicine Practitioner…..in Australia it’s a minimum 4-year degree to practice, so the training is fairly extensive.
At the end of the day, Cupping is a great option for releasing those tight muscles, rehydrating the muscle cells, and promoting energy flow throughout the body.