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Olympians, weekend warriors turn to cupping for drug-free pain relief

Posted August 9

Round marks on the skin of Olympic swimmers and gymnasts focused attention this week on the ancient pain-relief practice of cupping. It's not new to the practitioners and patients at Duke Integrative Medicine, where it is a drug-free option for weekend warriors.

Jocelyn Weiss, a 41-year-old runner, combines the negative pressure of cupping with acupuncture to loosen I.T. bands, connective tissue that stretches from the pelvis to the lower leg.

"Sometimes it gets like shrink wrap that gets too tight," said licensed acupuncturist Janet Shaffer. "You create negative pressure to stretch the fascia, and when the fascia lengthens, the I.T. is more comfortable."

Practitioners use small, glass bulbs coated inside with alcohol and then heated with a flame.

"Part of what you're doing is enhancing the blood flow, sort of pulling blood to the surface," said Dr. Adam Perlman. Chinese practitioners call it "enhancing the flow of energy" – or "chi" – through the body.

The flame creates a vacuum in the cup, Shaffer said, that pulls on the blood. Thus the imprints.

Weiss said the relief lasts longer than the marks.

"I just found it to be really helpful. This is a way to do it without needing to take medications necessarily," she said.

Perlman sees cupping as an alternative more powerful, more dangerous and addictive pain medications.

Cupping kits are even available online to allow for at-home pain relief.

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