Michael Phelps, as he continues to rack up gold, is sporting octopus style bruises on his shoulders. He, like many athletes at the Rio Olympics, is a fan of “cupping.” Beach Volleyball player Kerri Walsh Jennings wears a variety of colorful tape. The US gymnastics team is using a futuristic looking device called LumiWave and everybody seems to be getting a massage by one of the therapists on the periphery of the various Olympic venues.
These treatments are being used to relieve pain, promote healing of the various injuries sustained and help the athletes stay at peak performance level. It should also be noted that the placebo effect is very much a factor. If an athlete has won a game having just drunk beet juice or used a particular hairband, they will continue to do that in the belief that it makes a difference.
So do these treatments hold promise for the average person, particularly those with a chronic condition?
Massage: Now a very mainstream modality, studies on massage find that it’s an effective treatment for reducing stress, pain and muscle tension and may also be helpful for anxiety, digestive disorders, fibromyalgia, headaches, insomnia related to stress, myofascial pain syndrome, soft tissue strains or injuries, sports injuries and TMJ.
While most people can benefit from massage, it may not be appropriate if you have: bleeding disorders or taking blood thinners (e.g. Warfarin, Heparin); burns or healing wounds; deep vein thrombosis; fractures; severe osteoporosis; or severe thrombocytopenia.
Most states require some form of licensing or certification for massage therapists. Before seeking treatment, ask about licensing, certification or registration; training and experience; costs and whether its covered by insurance. If the therapist doesn’t ask you about any medical conditions, that could be an indicator of inexperience. It is important for the massage therapist to know what type of conditions you have.
Massage can be an important part of your healing and well being, regardless of how you are affected by a chronic condition. You can even learn how to do self and/or partner massage.
Kinesiology Tape: Used by physical therapists and sports trainers, this treatment benefits those who have a variety of musculoskeletal ailments and pain by providing support and stability to muscles and joints without restricting the body’s range of motion. There isn’t a lot of research on the use of this tape, let alone its effectiveness, but it does appear that taping is helpful for certain injuries, such as patella tendonitis. See a licensed therapist who can show you the proper way to tape if you want to try it.
Cupping: According to the NIH’s National Center forComplementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) Cupping is a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practice that involves placing cups on the skin to create suction. This practice dates back over 2,000 years but has received recent attention in the media due to its use by world-class athletes for injury relief. The cups used in cupping are typically made of bamboo, glass, or earthenware. Proponents of cupping believe that the effect of suction on the skin helps increase blood flow and promotes healing; however, the way in which cupping may have an effect on the body is unclear. There is some evidence suggesting that any therapeutic benefit from cupping may be the result of a placebo effect, but a 2015 systematic review and meta-analysis in the journal PLoS One concluded that cupping could be effective in treating the pain and disability associated with chronic neck pain and chronic low-back pain in the short term.
There are a variety of types of cupping, including some that lance the skin. In traditional Chinese medicine, cupping is used in conjunction with other practices such as acupuncture.
While safe for healthy people when performed by a trained professional, it can cause discomfort and even lead to skin breakdown. In fact, the NCCIH does not recommend it for anyone with an underlying health condition.
Costs for treatment, which are generally not covered by health insurance, can run from $30-$80 or more depending on what else is done with the treatment.
According to the British Cupping Society, the following people should avoid cupping: pregnant or menstruating women or those with metastatic cancer, bone fractures of muscle spasms. This therapy should not be applied to sites of the body that have deep vein thrombosis, ulcer, artery, or a pulse that can be felt.
Since you can purchase “therapy cupping kits” from Amazon for as little as $22, all sorts of people are going to start offering this treatment in view of its popularity at the Olympics.
If you want to consider cupping therapy
• Check with your medical provider to see if it could be contra indicated because of your current medical situation
• Find a specialist who is trained and has been doing it for a while.
• Don’t replace current treatment for cupping but rather use it as an adjunct therapy.
LumiWave: Developed in 2005 by the Colorado-based company BioCare Systems Inc., the device is a chain of four black discs, each of which contains 50 infrared LEDs. When placed on painful areas, such as a strained bicep or an inflamed lower back, the device sends pulses of light that induce the release of nitric oxide in the body, which promotes healing on a cellular level. The device supposedly outperforms ice or heat to eliminate sourness and is now available to the general public on a pre order basis for $450. The device was cleared by the FDA as a Class II medical device “for temporary relief of minor muscle pain and spasms and minor joint pain and stiffness.”
There is research that does support applying infrared energy to reduce chronic low back, which also found no adverse effects. One of the advantages of LumiWave, and similar products (there are a wide variety on the market) is that it does provide localized pain relief without the need for drugs, offering a potential good option for treatment.
Since there are so many products readily available-MSCT Infrared Wraps of Canada was used in one study-it’s a good idea to talk to your medical provider about which device will be most appropriate for your situation. Read reviews before purchasing.
Cyrochamber Therapy: Really? In 2015 the manager of a cryotherapy salon was found dead in one.
Cryotherapy or cold therapy is the I component of R.I.C.E. following an injury or some surgeries (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation). It’s a very effective treatment and it’s used by just about everyone at some point. However, a cryochamber is different.
Here you enter a chamber or tank, which has been cooled to mind numbingly cold temps-colder than a February night in Vermont, and stay there for several minutes. Cold essentially stimulates the body’s central nervous system into releasing endorphins and dopamines and promoting vigorous blood flow. Yes, hot shot athletes like soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo and Irish golfer Padraig Harrington swear by it, but the FDA has not cleared or approved any whole body cryogenic devices.
Is it painful? Yes. Is it effective? The jury is still out on that one. Basically, don’t do this unless your medical provider knows of a therapeutic use that would be appropriate for your situation.
Finally, notice the compression sleeves that are being worn by both basketball players and track and field stars? They have become very popular as they are thought to aid healing and improve performance. As to the latter, not so much, but there appears to be some evidence that the benefit is actually in the recovery.