Myofascial Decompression AKA Cup Therapy

Michael Phelps | Myofascial Decompression | Cup Therapy

Michael Phelps garnered much attention at the last summer Olympics not only for his record collection of gold medals, but also for the odd looking symmetrical circles that covered his back. He used the ancient healing technique to possibly advance his training and probably to recover from the grueling workouts that he puts his body through in order to prepare for competition.

At FYZICAL Therapy and Balance Centers - Naperville, we have been using myofascial decompression (MFD) for about two years to assist patients with their rehabilitation and finding that despite a few bruised circle marks many patients are having successful outcomes and asking for it on a weekly basis.

So, what exactly does a treatment look like you ask? The therapist uses a lotion like cocoa butter or the pain-relieving cream, FYZICAL 123, over the area to be treated. A plastic cup matching the size of the tissues is placed over the area. A tube is then attached with a suction pump at the end. The therapist begins to pump the device several times to lift the tissues into the cup. This will remain in place for anywhere from 2-5 minutes on average. More cups may be placed above or below the area and the therapist may ask you to perform exercises while the suction is taking place. This often times seems hard but after several repetitions it does get easier. Finally, the therapist may release a small amount of pressure which makes it easier to drag the cup across the lifted tissues providing more of a massage effect. Often times, manual or tool assisted soft tissue releases will follow the MFD to add healing benefits.

Chris DaPrato, PT, MS, DPT, SCS, CSCS, PES is an Assistant Clinical Professor for The University of California - San Francisco and has been instrumental in bringing MFD, a term he coined, to the rehabilitation industry. His own personal experience with a successful cupping session lead him to research the technique and the results have been promising. Dr. DaPrato was our instructor two years ago in Naperville and provided a wealth of information on the technique.

His own website has numerous videos demonstrating the techniques, as well as his research abstracts. One question you may have is what are the differences between MFD and cupping? According to Dr. DaPrato, "MFD is based on assessing and correcting movement inefficiencies. Backgrounds in biomechanics, kinesiology, and functional anatomy are essential to identify and treat ROM restrictions and muscular imbalance. Interventions include neuromuscular re-education, AAROM, and PNF, making the patient an active participant in their treatment. Traditional cupping does not include active movement, and often is targeting energetic imbalances from a traditional Chinese medicine perspective. MFD is a novel approach to musculoskeletal treatment, utilizing negative pressure tools and western medicine based movement paradigms and algorithms. These applications are very effective for orthopedics, sports medicine, contractures, post-op recovery, overcoming dominance strategies, postural syndromes, hand therapy, neuro re-education, and scar mobilization."

A variety of patients have been benefitting from the addition of MFD to our clinic techniques; from Fibromyalgia, to Scoliosis, to Iliotibial Band Syndrome and scar tissue, the results have been significant. I experienced the technique first hand when I went through several sessions for plantar fasciitis and although it was intense at times (I think my therapist - BILL - secretly enjoyed hurting his boss) the results were immediate and I would do it again should I need it. In fact, our massage therapist, Fran, does a massage version of the cupping which I do enjoy twice a month. She uses a variety of different cups which don't involve exercising at the same time, much more relaxing if you do want to experience the technique for wellness benefits. You are still left with bruise marks that last for about a week but they don't hurt and the relief far outweighs the marks. Here is a link to the Facebook video of Dr. Bill Block's treatment on me.

Some of the benefits of MFD:

  • Increased blood flow via negative pressure
  • Reduced muscle stiffness and pain
  • Improved range of motion
  • Elevated space to reduce compression on tendons
  • Assists with healing so athletes can train harder and longer

If you are interested in having a PT session of MFD to assist you with an injury, call (630) 369-1015 to schedule an appointment or visit our website for more information. No prescription is necessary to begin treatment. If you wish to have a massage with Fran and enjoy the relaxing benefits of cupping, call her at (630) 973-9559. Massage packages are available.