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Kinesiology and Recreation


Noelle Selkow

Mentor Department

Kinesiology & Recreation


Context: Musculoskeletal neck and shoulder pain is a prevalent condition with nearly two-thirds of the population experiencing it sometime in their lifespan. The treatment for musculoskeletal pain conditions varies, but recent focus is on complementary and alternative medicine, such as cupping therapy. Cupping therapy is an ancient treatment method that involves the use of a cup to produce sub-atmospheric pressure on the skin. There is much speculation around its true mechanisms on the human body; theories indicate that cupping therapy has an effect on blood flow, inflammation, and pain. Additionally, there has not been pre-defined parameters for the treatment of musculoskeletal pain conditions.Objective: To examine if different dry cupping treatment times altered changes in superficial and deep subcutaneous tissue hemodynamics. Design: Single-blinded, randomized crossover study Setting: Athletic Training Laboratory Participants: 32 participants volunteered for this study. Participants were included if they were healthy individuals with non-specific neck pain. Participants were excluded if they had cupping therapy or any treatment performed within the past three months to the neck or shoulder area; history of head, neck, or shoulder injury within the past six months resulting in medical care; known blood clotting disorder; allergy to lubricant; or the following medical conditions: hypertension, diabetes, cancer, pregnancy, cardiac failure, renal failure, allergic purpura, hernia, psoriasis, eczema, rosacea, varicose veins, phlebitis, hepatocirrhosis, allergic dermatitis, sunburn, open wound, fever, or were taking anticoagulants.Interventions: Dry cupping therapy for 5, 7.5, and 10 minutes in a randomized order repeated once per week. One stationary cup was placed directly over the midpoint of the upper trapezius muscle for each participant for the allotted time.Outcome Measures: Subcutaneous hemodynamics (superficial and deep oxygenated, deoxygenated, and total hemoglobin) were collected and exported for data analyses using the NIRS Portamon. Change scores were calculated between baseline and immediate postintervention, immediate and 10 minute post-intervention, and baseline and 10 minute postintervention measurements. Statistical analyses were completed using repeated measures ANOVAs to compare changes in subcutaneous hemodynamics following different treatment times (5, 7.5, and 10 minutes).Results: There was a main effect for superficial and deep oxygenated, deoxygenated, and total hemoglobin (p ≤ 0.001). Post hoc analyses revealed that all treatment times increased hemoglobin levels immediately after intervention and maintained this increase over the 10 minute period for oxygenated and total hemoglobin levels.Conclusions: The results demonstrated that dry cupping therapy increases deep and superficial oxygenated, deoxygenated, and total hemoglobin levels at treatment times of 5, 7.5, and 10 minutes. This indicates that clinicians can apply cupping therapy for a shorter period of time and maintain a significant effect on blood flow. Dry cupping therapy is an effective treatment for non-specific neck pain, and may help decrease pain and inflammation in patients as well.


Authors: Emily Schultz, Noelle Selkow

Exploring the Hemodynamic Benefits of Cupping Therapy at the Upper Trapezius

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