Monday, May 27, 2013

How Cupping Therapy Relieves the Pain of Work-Related, Repetitive Patterns

by Nina Dropcho

Although it has been practiced by Middle and Far East cultures for centuries, cupping therapy is relatively new to the U.S. Cupping therapy, or just “cupping”, is a natural, non-invasive therapy that treats a variety of ailments, including work-related aches and pains.

The deep physical roots of work-related tension.

Work that constrains one to a desk, or a prolonged position, is physically damaging. When the body is used in a repetitive way, connective tissue becomes restricted. Adhesions of connective tissue (those pesky “knots”) glue down to the bones and other structures. This creates inflammation and pain.

The adhesions, over time, harden like dried glue. The not-so-soft tissue loses its elasticity and a state of chronic inflammation sets in. These restriction and adhesion cycles create microtrauma in the body’s tissues that gradually accumulates.

These patterns of stuck tissues are a large component of repetitive stress injuries.

But that is only part of the physical damage!

We heed pain because it is hard to ignore. But there are other physical consequences of repetitive stress due to work. If your work posture keeps you in a forward-flexed state, then the tissue throughout your torso and hips is also getting restricted.

Your soft tissue is like a tapestry of tissues, organs, and systems. A snag in the tapestry affects many structures.

If you sit in the same position for long periods of time, the connective tissue that covers and connects organs gets shortened and restricted. This puts strain on the organs, themselves, and on the nerves and blood vessels that feed them. This can impede organ function, such as:
·        Breathing
·        Digestion
·        Urination, Elimination
·        Circulation, and
·        Menstruation and Fertility

The psychological ties to physically-stressful work.

With all of the physical manifestations of work-related stress, it can be easy to overlook the psychological consequences. Physical constraints on blood flow, lymph flow, and nerves have almost-immediate effects on one’s mental abilities and emotions.

Mood, energy, and ability to concentrate may all be diminished. These problems become amplified if sleep is a concurrent problem.

Of course, the lack of physical activity or variety of activity, can impact one’s sleep. So, in addition to all the tension building up, you might also be coping with a cascade of problems related to fatigue and sleep deprivation!

Long-term solutions.

Surgery and medications are not viable long-term solutions. They address the symptoms but neglect the cause. Without treating the cause, the problems remain and often, worsen.

They also cause side effects and secondary problems like scar tissue (remember the snags in the tapestry analogy? Scar tissue is the “least-fixable” snag in that connective tissue web).

Instead, work station and activity modifications are critical for long-term resolution. You can take more activity breaks at work. You can keep exercise gear at your work station. And you can adapt your work station for better ergonomics. Lately, more companies are fitting their offices with treadmill work stations. Ultimately, many workers change careers entirely to improve their health, when making these modifications is not an option.

Short-term and transition solutions.

Once healthier modifications are in place, it’s time to address the immediate problems of pain and inflammation. Increased exercise will reduce symptoms and start reversing the damage.

Massage therapy relieves both physical and psychological stress. Massage relieves muscular tension and pain. It also improves sleep and attention span, and alleviates depression.

Some styles of massage, such as myofascial release, can break up the adhesions and snagged connective tissue. Prolonged treatments are recommended to hold the results.

Massage can provide both immediate relief, and a transition back to an overall healthier state.

Cupping therapy is an effective treatment for the physical and psychological effects or repetitive, work-related health problems.

Immediate relief from cupping therapy.

Cupping is a natural therapy that has recently seen a surge in popularity in the U.S. Cupping involves the application of suction to the skin, using cups, to decompress tissues. Tissues expand to fill the cup, taking pressure off underlying structures.

As cups are applied, the flow of blood and lymph, and nerve pathways, are greatly enhanced. The boost to circulation provides fresh blood and oxygen to tissues. Inflammation, ischemia, and stagnation are cleared. Tissues regain internal nourishment.

glass cup, cupping therapy, middle upper back to relieve pain, nina boulder
Applying a fire cup to the middle and upper back to relieve pain
As cupping powerfully replenishes tissues, it can often be sedating! Clients often describe waves of relaxation as they “get cupped”.

Long-term benefits of cupping therapy.

In Eastern cultures, the all-encompassing term for the body’s energies is “qi”. Qi refers to life force, blood flow, lymph movement, and nerve transmission. Qi is a great term to express limitations in any of these systems because they are all interrelated. Again, qi is like the tapestry analogy: restrictions in one area necessitate restrictions in all areas!

Eastern medicine, therefore, describes the greatest benefit of cupping as moving stagnant qi. To Eastern practitioners, healthy flow of qi is vital to health and cannot be separated by body systems.

An additional benefit to cupping is its ability to restore connective tissue. Cupping can soften the restrictions, the “snags”. It can return elasticity to connective tissue and dissipate adhesions, or “knots”. Cupping is a unique style of myofascial release.

By decompressing the tissue, cupping opens pathways and vessels. Compression, on the other hand, can have a detrimental effect on tissues that are already over-compressed. Compression is also limited to the therapists’ abilities, whereas decompression can be controlled by cups and suction applied.

Your cupping session and self-care.

There are many styles of cupping, but an effective treatment (for the health problems described above) would include both stationary and dynamic cupping. Stationary cupping is when cups are suctioned to an area and left to sit there for a few minutes (see picture below). Prolonged application will work on connective tissue restoration.

glass fire cups, cupping therapy to restore tissues of back torso, nina boulder
Fire cups sitting stationary on middle and upper back to restore tissues

Dynamic cupping involves cup movement. It can be relaxing, even sedating, when applied with long strokes (like effleurage of Swedish massage). Dynamic cupping boosts circulation and balances qi.

Cupping can have deep and long-lasting effects. To feel your best after a cupping session, drink extra pure water and eat only nutritious foods for the week afterward. You may need extra rest, extra warmth and skin coverage, and a decrease in rigorous exercise, as your body balances itself.

Cupping, natural therapies, and changes in work activity can
restore you to better health and balance!

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