The millennia-old art of cupping traditionally involves using a flame to create a vacuum inside a glass bulb, which is then applied to the skin for as long as 15 minutes. Blood is pulled to the area, causing bruising and, ostensibly, relief of tight, sore muscles. Some believe that cupping can also help with arthritis, eczema and migraine headaches, among other ailments.
Today, teams like the Mets and others that practice cupping use a mechanical suction pump to create the vacuum. Nick Paparesta, the trainer for the Oakland Athletics, said in an interview that virtually the entire A’s roster has undergone cupping therapy at some point this season. Paparesta called it a “twofold solution” because it can provide both immediate and long-term relief of lower back or oblique tightness, and can be done post-surgery to help reduce scarring….
Medical studies, however, don’t back up these claims, according to a doctor who has researched alternative treatments.
“There’s absolutely zero evidence that cupping has any kind of positive role in medicine,” said Barrie Cassileth, the chief of integrative medicine service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. She said the post-cupping bruises result simply from the suction on the skin, which may be more harmful to circulation than helpful.
“I cannot conceive of any benefit except a psychological benefit,” said Cassileth, who has written books on alternative treatments and noted that, unlike cupping, holistic therapies such as acupuncture have been proved effective in medical tests….
Though [players] insist that cupping does have a physical effect, they also recognize the mental aspect. [Vic] Black, one of the [Mets’] most ardent supporters of the treatment, said, “The placebo effect is a lot more powerful than people realize.”
That’s why multiple players said that even if a doctor told them definitively that cupping has no benefit, they would continue doing it anyway.
“There’s more belief in it, and that’s why I feel comfortable doing it,” Black said. “That’s why everything works.”
Whatever the upside, physical or mental, it’s all part of athletes’ unending quest to stay fit. They will try almost anything, especially if it comes recommended from one of their peers.
Said [Matt] Harvey, “If I went in and did it and just saw a bunch of circles on my back and it didn’t actually feel better after I did it, then I wouldn’t do it.”
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