A couple of months ago I attended an APTEI symposium discussing theories explaining what may really be happening during soft tissue “release”. Each presenter also did a demo of a manual therapy technique that they use with great success. For one of the demos, presented by the wonderfully energetic Bahram Jam (PT), we received a Tissue Distraction Release (TDR) silicone cup.
Now although Bahram independently discovered that the use of a suction cup on tight or compressed tissue greatly alleviated pain (he originally used a modified toilet plunger! a clean one of course), Cupping therapy has been around for thousands of years.
Bahram’s search for an alternate way to treat tight TFL-ITB was what lead him to the use of negative-pressure suction cups. As many know, whether it be first-hand or through your patients, the solution to relieve a tight ITB is stretching with foam rollers (ouch!), massage or difficult to achieve stretches. But these exercises stretch and compress the the tight tissues further into the body. So what if there was a way to LIFT the layers of tissue and stretch the fibres away from the body – well, yeah…there is a way! Cupping Therapy!
Before the enthusiasm from the symposium wore off, I found someone to test out this new tool. As it turns out, a tool of torture, well kinda.
My patient has long-standing issues with her hips including bilateral tight TFLs and guitar-string IT bands. No, not a runner, just funky posture and poor flexibility in legs overall.
Her left hip is typically the most problematic (pain, decreased range of motion, weaker) but on this day, the patient reported 6/10 pain upon palpation of the R hip/lateral thigh and 4/10 pain on the left.
I discussed with the patient how cupping therapy works and how this modified technique which involves movement (dynamic cupping) with ROM, is less likely to cause bruising, but still a possibility. She was more than happy to trade in her pain for possible red spots.
So on the more painful right side, I used the tissue distraction cup, and on the left leg she did her usual foam rolling.
I applied lotion, made gliding movements throughout the lateral thigh and also had the patient move her hip and knee joint in certain directions during the cupping therapy. And yes, it was very painful, “but way worth the benefits” she says. Her painful R hip went from a 6/10 down to an unbelievable 0/10 ! And the more problematic L hip went from a 4/10 down to 2/10 with the foam rollers. In spite of the pain, she insisted on having the treatment performed to her left leg, bringing the pain down to a 1/10.
Overall great results with this silicone suction cup! I was really impressed and my patient was delighted. The pain stayed away longer than any previous treatments done before and with subsequent treatments we have calmed the heck out of this problem so its almost a non-issue.
I also figured out what I was doing wrong that caused so much pain the first time. I changed lotions to a more oily one (i’m going to just try oil next time), and was more generous with the application. The treatments continue to be uncomfortable but not so painful.
So whether you believe that it releases evil spirits (the original theory), or over acupuncture points it stimulates the flow of chi or simply mechanically it increases circulation and distracts layers of fibres below the skin (removes the fuzz)…all I can say is that so far the results have been positive. Another great tool for my toolbox.
Suction to the ITBand? Yes! Suction away!
If you or someone you know is interested in trying out cupping therapy please request an appointment. Cupping therapy would be best for tight tendons and muscles, shin splints, carps tunnel syndrome, Dupuytren’s contracture, plantar fasciitis, scar management, etc.