Sports massage cupping for professional baseball players and other athletes

Sports massage cupping is done by creating a vacuum to lift tissue, bringing blood and lymph to the area while enhancing the body’s natural fluid exchange processes.

In mid-February each year, as Major League Baseball (MLB) spring training begins, the Boys of Summer enter the Cactus and Grapefruit leagues held in Arizona and Florida, respectively. This has never mattered to me as I have kept myself busy back home in Florida with local athletes from marathon runners, triathletes and CrossFit athletes to casual world ranked tennis players and LPGA pros. .

That all changed in 2007 when the Cincinnati Reds called me for an interview with their head coach, looking to find their go-to massage therapist in the area. This connection resulted in baseball player referrals during spring training in 2009, after which the Reds would leave Florida to go to the Cactus League the following year. In the spring of 2010, just when I thought I was done with baseball, baseball wasn’t done with me.

The following spring, the Baltimore Orioles found themselves at a training facility where the Reds had previously trained. As fate would have it, a player I had worked with while at the Reds ended up being traded to the Orioles and wanted to continue our work. The Orioles’ strength and conditioning coordinator was referred to me and had a player named Adam Jones, an up-and-coming baseball player who, after receiving his first Gold Glove award and first All-Star Game appearance, was wanting two to three sessions a week off the pitch.

At the start of our first session, I explained to Jones that, since 2005, I had started integrating therapeutic cupping therapy before other modalities and techniques. Jones shared that he had cupping before. I explained that my approach was different from the cupping method of traditional Chinese medicine, TCM, that it may or may not leave visible marks on the skin, and that I would use cupping to promote lymphatic drainage , which probably wouldn’t leave any suction cup marks. I could never have imagined that the journey we were about to embark on would last a decade.

As I comfortably moved the cup onto Jones’ back, he said, “That doesn’t hurt.” I replied that it shouldn’t hurt; “Cups don’t have to hurt!” He went on to explain his previous cupping experience that hurt him and made him feel uncomfortable. Once Jones told the therapist about it, he just laughed and said it was supposed to hurt and moved on. I explained to Jones that maybe what he received in those previous sessions was TCM cupping, or a lack of safe and proper training for that bodybuilder.

I told him that I was using a modified version of the TCM suction cup which is intended for bodybuilders to manipulate soft tissue. Although both apps use the same tool, the techniques and approach differ greatly.

Tools and techniques

According to the tool, cupping is done by creating a vacuum to lift tissue, bringing blood and lymph to the area while enhancing the body’s natural fluid exchange processes. It has often been referred to as “fascial decompression” by physiotherapists. Therapeutic cupping not only affects the fascia – giving it a lift and stretch from the inside out – but many bodily systems simultaneously, potentially penetrating up to four inches into the tissue and preparing it for others. manual therapies to follow.

Due to the negative pressure created by the vacuum effect lifting the tissue, suction cups create a forced separation in the layers of tissue and should be used with the comfort of the recipient in mind. This is especially important for someone receiving this modality for the first time, whether an athlete or not.

It was the start of a decade-long relationship, keeping Jones’ body healthy and injury-free through 2019. Using therapeutic cupping, outfielder Adam Jones went on to earn more Gold Gloves, money slugger, All-Star Game appearances and MVP while representing Team USA in the World Cup Series in March 2017. In September 2019, as our decade drew to a close, a tweet from Baltimore news personality Mark Viviano said Jones topped the roster for most games played during the decade. .

During this 10 year period, Jones was never on the injured list as we maintained a consistent work schedule using therapeutic cupping in conjunction with other soft tissue body therapies. “Cupping wasn’t just a method, it was a culture that my body needed to be able to perform,” Jones said. “Unlocking my body in a way that allowed me to stay on the court and play the most MLB games from 2010 to 2019.”

Sports massage cupping as integrated therapy

The approach was different, as Jones had experienced, and many baseball players after him would have recognized that the cupping therapy I used was more of an integrated therapy, taking into account client comfort and the overall goal of the session. Athletes have often said that they’ve only ever been cupped on their backs, and usually coaches just line up the cups and leave them.

When I incorporate cupping into a session, I will use cupping on the glutes, thighs and down to the foot, for example. After evaluating the fabric with my hands, there will be a cup to prepare the fabric before applying the very first therapeutic stroke.

“I consider cupping therapy to be one of the most effective methods for treating soft tissue due to its versatility and ease of use,” says Andrew Edwards, ATC, medical assistant at Heckers Sports Medicine in Fort Collins, Colorado. “As I’m usually limited in time to work with an athlete, cupping therapy is a great way to provide a wide range of treatment options.”

The strange thing about the cup is that, although it has been around for thousands of years and is culturally rich, it was not widely known – until Michael Phelps, the Olympian the most decorated of all time, puts the mark of the cup on the map during the 2016 Olympic Games. in Río. (Interestingly, cup marks can tell a story and from the look of Phelps’ cup marks I guess cupping therapy was almost certainly a new modality for him with cup placement left for five minutes or more, leaving behind the deep, dark cup marks of interstitial debris that have become trapped in the tissues from old injuries or overuse.)

Another athlete, a starting pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates (we completed our fifth spring training working together), doesn’t let anyone use mugs on him in the offseason. This lack of off-season sucker bodywork results in the accumulation of interstitial debris from its winter training. When he arrives for his spring training in mid-February, he says he feels the early cupping sessions are more productive and the sessions tend to produce more cupping marks, which are caused by this buildup. off-season interstitial debris.

As visits continue during spring training, cupping marks made from residual interstitial debris become less frequent, leaving behind lighter pink cup marks, if any. With TCM suction cups, the objective is to make marks appear. In contrast, with the modernized adaptation of suction cups, marks are not the goal; in fact, depending on the intention of the session, there is often no mark left.

Move lymph with sports massage cupping

Sometimes the athlete just needs to get some things moving. Take the Pirates starting pitcher on game day. I would do a short session of therapeutic cupping using either a lift and release technique or a light motion technique to stretch the tissue from the inside out, while delivering hydration to the area and removing the lymph.

Application should be time limited so as not to dehydrate the pitcher area. He would need to hydrate enough after our session and would need several hours before pitching in a live game.

“I personally use therapeutic cupping with my athletes on a daily basis, whether the end goal of treatment is to provide complete lymphatic drainage, increase blood flow to an area, or promote tissue relaxation,” Edwards said. . “As an athletic trainer working with professional athletes for years, I find this interactive cupping approach to be better for the athlete’s range of motion, function, mobility and keeping them healthy and healthy. in the field with hydrated tissues as only therapeutic cupping can do.”

With local triathletes and marathon runners, a full body cupping therapy for lymphatic drainage is welcome relief after an Ironman or marathon; they are usually very painful for several days after this type of event.

Once they have sufficiently hydrated after the event, they are encouraged to come in and get therapeutic cupping for lymphatic drainage to move delayed onset muscle soreness, any trapped lymph created by the heat of the event, while gently stretching the fabric at the same time. This is often a more welcome approach to bodywork than the positive pressure of manual therapy alone.

Thank you, Michael Phelps, for putting cupping therapy on the map for bodyworkers and the world. As we now know, there is a difference between the traditional Chinese medicine method of cupping and this adapted and modernized approach to cupping, often using the same tools but with an entirely different intention for the session.

About the Author:

Stacie Nevelus is a Florida LMT (1999), Cupping Therapy Practitioner (2005), and Educator (2009). She is co-founder and educator of Modern Cupping Therapy Education Company. She specializes in therapeutic and sports massage applications and is recognized as a specialist in acute and chronic injuries as well as for her work with competitive, professional and elite athletes. She has worked with world-renowned tennis professionals, triathletes, National and Olympic runners, and MLB and NFL players.

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