Does cupping work to heal sore muscles?

Dr. Kandil, does cupping work to heal sore muscles? What’s the best remedy for sore shoulders from playing?

Cupping has become more popular over the past decade, thanks in part to Michael Phelps in the 2016 Summer Olympics. Cupping dates back to 1550 BC as described in the Egyptian Ebers Papyrus and is used by many cultures including Chinese, Arabic, and South Asian cultures. The negative pressure from cupping results in swelling and rupture of the blood vessels under the skin leading to the characteristic bruising. It has been suggested that cupping enhances skin circulation, loosens adhesions and lifts connective tissue, changing the biomechanical properties of skin, and altering pressure pain thresholds.

The current literature may support the use of cupping in treating pain associated with nonspecific neck, back, and shoulder pain, but the quality of evidence is low. The risks associated with cupping are low enough that it is a reasonable alternative treatment option for athletes experiencing back, neck, or shoulder pain.

The best two remedies for sore shoulders are rest and ice. Rest allows for the overexerted muscles to take a break and recover from the exercise or activity. Ice or cryotherapy will help improve pain and decrease inflammation, causing less pain and soreness during the recovery process. Reported benefits of cryotherapy include the promotion of local blood constriction to control swelling, as well as the reduction of pain and muscular spasm. I recommend using cryotherapy for 20 minutes after an exercise or sporting session.


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