If you are a regular gym-goer or lead a physically active life, you may well have experienced the inevitable muscle tightness that creeps into our muscles from time to time. With hundreds and up to thousands of contractions and relaxations occurring throughout the day in our some 650 muscles, it’s no wonder that these marvels of organic machinery suffer from a little tightness here and there from continual use.
When a muscle contracts, microscopic filaments called actin and myosin within the muscle fibre slide towards each other, bringing two points of the unit together and ultimately shorting the muscle fibres that make up the muscle itself. When these contractions are performed under pressure such as in a gym environment, or even day-to-day tasks such as holding a mouse at a desk for prolonged periods or tilting your head to one side to talk on the phone, the filaments in the muscle fibres can become “stuck” and consequently have difficulty returning to their original length.
Left ignored and untreated, tightness can become chronic and manifest in a lack of flexibility and pain referral patterns. Also if the agonist muscle (the muscle performing the prime action) is too tight, the antagonist muscle (the muscle relaxing) can become week over a long period of time. This weakness increases the potential for muscle strains and joint instability. Trigger points can form in, or be the cause of, tight muscles and these can cause a wide range of symptoms that can affect the body such as headaches, referral sensations felt as numbness, sharp or dull pain, reduced range of motion and limited performance capacity.
Years of chronic tightness also leads to fascia connective tissue development in the area – the body’s amazing engineering feat to aid in strengthening the area – it becomes a double-edged sword that also increases the tightness even more.
Cupping or mysofascial decompression, performed either with plastic suction cups or traditional glass fire cupping, is an effective way to relieve muscle tightness and tension. A study in Korea discovered that cupping had a significant effect when performed on the hamstring muscles (semitendinosus, semimembranosus & biceps femoris) increasing flexibility, improving muscle function and increasing pain threshold (1). In fact the study concluded that cupping was more effective than passive stretching for improving flexibility (2).
Another study showed that cupping increased the surface temperature of the skin in the area where it is applied by up to 2°C (3) indicating the migration of blood to the area due to the suction of the cup. This would also explain the slight drop in systemic blood pressure of the participants in the study whom received cupping as blood is drawn from systemic circulation to the peripheries (4). Blood carries nutrients and facilitates healing, so the better the circulation to an area, the quicker tissues may be able to heal and regenerate. This improves physical function by accelerating the elimination of toxins and waste from the body (5)
And one of cupping’s greatest benefits – pain relief! In this particular study, neck pain intensity scores were reduced on average from 9.7 to 3.6 on a 10 point visual analogue scale (6). This is compared to a a reduction of 9.7 to 9.5 in the group who received no treatment (7). Cupping has been shown to elicit and analgesic (pain-relieving) effect in the applied area (8), and in a systemic review of randomised trials, results from certain studies showed a “significant benefit of cupping compared with conventional drugs or usual care” (8).
So if muscle tightness or pain is getting in your way, get yourself down to your local practitioner who can facilitate some tension-releasing cupping therapy. If you’re in the Brisbane area, check out our session prices and other treatment options or book online now. It may be the sigh of relief you’ve been looking for!
- Kim, J, Cho, J, Do, K & Kim, J 2017, ‘Effect of Cupping Therapy on Range of Motion, Pain Threshold, and Muscle Activity of the Hamstring Muscle Compared to Passive Stretching’, Journal of The Korean Society of Physical Medicine, Vol. 12, viewed December 11 2017, link, p. 30
- Chi, L, Lin, L, Chen, C, Wang, S, Lai, H & Peng T, 2016, ‘The Effectiveness of Cupping Therapy on Relieving Chronic Neck and Shoulder Pain: A Randomized Controlled Trial’, Evidence Based Complement Alternative Medicine, link
- Cao, H, Li, X, Yan, X, Wang, W, Bensoussan, A & Liu, L 2014, ‘Cupping therapy for acute and chronic pain management: a systematic review of randomized clinical trials’, Journal of Traditional Chinese Medical Sciences, Volume 1, Issue 1, pp. 49-61, link