An ancient therapy: Summer Olympics helped focus worldwide attention on cupping

Dr. Tom Dickerson, a chiropractor at Performance Sport and Spine in Front Royal, treats Jera Rice, of Strasburg, who has a rotator cuff injury. He is using a cupping technique in which cups are placed on the skin and a vacuum is created, increasing blood flow to the area to assist in healing. Rich Cooley/Daily
Jera Rice, of Strasburg, has a bright red mark on her arm from the cupping technique used to treat her rotator cuff injury. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – Cupping therapy,an ancient form of alternative medicine that was brought to the world’s attention this summer during the Olympic games, is being used by area chiropractors to treat soft tissue injuries in their patients.

Dr. Jeremy Busch, CEO and clinic director of Performance Sport & Spine in Front Royal, said the process involves applying a bell-shaped cup to the patient’s skin. A vacuum is applied through the use of a manual vacuum pump.

“It puts a vacuum up against the skin and pulls a vacuum effect to the tissue,” he said.

He said that during passive-dynamic treatment the cups will also be moved across the skin to treat a broader area of the body while the patient is still. He also uses active-dynamic treatment where the patient moves through a range of motion while the cups are applied.

He said his team has been doing about 10 cupping therapies each day since the summer Olympics. Before the Olympics, they did about a dozen per week.

“It’s not a standalone treatment,” Busch said, explaining that t’s used for patients who need an “extra push” in their regular treatment. “Soft tissue injuries are commonplace.”

Cupping therapy can be used alongside other treatments and rehabilitation services to treat ankle sprains, tendonitis, muscle strains and other injuries.

He said cupping therapy differs from other treatments because it pulls the skin outward, while other treatments are compressive and pushes into the tissue.

Cupping therapy, he added, helps treat a large diversity of injuries, from acute to chronic injuries and pain, but is especially designed to treat mobility-based issues by increasing blood flow and helping to restore tissue flexibility. Whether a person has a new injury or an injury from decades earlier, he said cupping therapy can help provide relief to the patient.

He added that this form of treatment doesn’t show the same result for each patient.

“Just like every adjunct to treatment there are patients who are going to respond better and there are patients that you probably have better options for,” he said. “Part of the goal of the physicians and all the training that we go through is to really find ‘does this fit that patient?’ and ‘Is it helping them achieve their goal?'”

The therapy takes between three to five minutes on average to complete for each visit.

“You just want to get the restorative change that you want,” he said. “The goals may be blood flow, range of motion, better movement, better flexibility.”

Doctors apply the cupping therapy and assess the results, then changing the time the therapy is completed or the area where the cups are applied.

Patients said they are seeing improvements after the cupping therapy.

Jera Rice, 22, of Strasburg, who is suffering from a rotator cuff strain reinjury and also an old neck injury, said she has been receiving cupping therapy for about a week to help heal chronic neck pain and is already seeing improvement.

Rose Cooper, 46, of Front Royal, has been receiving cupping therapy for about four weeks. She had recently begun training for a 5k run and had noticed pain in her legs, but she said the cupping therapy has helped to relieve the pain and allow her to keep training.

“I’m not going to give up,” she said.

Cupping therapy isn’t a modern idea, Busch said, noting that it’s thousands of years old and dates back to ancient Chinese medicine.

Traditional cupping is called fire cupping and is performed by heating a glass to burn the oxygen out once it’s placed on the skin. Busch said you can’t control the rate of vacuum compression with this method, so he prefers to use the manual vacuum pump.

“I don’t like not being able to control something,” he said. “For patients, if it’s too tender, having that pressure release valve, we can release it and build up and ramp up at tolerable levels.”

Busch said he is always looking for ways to further improve the method of cupping therapy. Recently he was at the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janiero where he helped doctors administer cupping therapy and looked for new ideas to incorporate in his own practice.

Contact staff writer Kaley Toy at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or

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