Crutchfield Dermatology Case-of-the-month header image

Case of the Month

Woman's back after cupping incident
After cupping
After Cupping Treatment Resolution
2 weeks after cupping, the marks were resolved

A 27-year-old woman presented for the evaluation of an irritated mole on her upper back. During the examination, the medical assistant noticed the purple circles on the patient's back. The medical assistant also remarked that she had seen similar marks on several Olympic athletes this past summer, especially on the swimmers. She asked the patient what the round red-purple marks were.

What's Your Diagnosis?

Diagnosis: Cupping  

Cupping is a treatment that has been around for thousands of years. Cupping involves using suction cups to create multiple circular ecchymoses (bruises) on the skin's surface. It has been used to treat a variety of ailments. Most recently, Cupping has gained tremendous popularity in athletic-related medicine to treat muscle aches. Many Olympic athletes conspicuously wore the tell-tale purple circle signs of cupping as they cruised through the water. 

In this particular case, I asked the patient what she had used Cupping for, and she said to relieve low back pain and muscle aches from aerobic and other work-outs. I asked her if it worked, and she emphatically reported that it did.

Studies that demonstrate Cupping works have been hard to come by. The overall efficacy has been debated, as outlined in the references below. I find it difficult to understand how bruising the overlying skin can have more profound physiologic effects. 

Nevertheless, I have spoken with many professional athletes and their trainers who report positive results, including muscle ache and pain relief with Cupping.

I always tell my patients it is hard to argue with success. One of my mentors told me, "Always maximize your placebo effect." 

I am going to have to end this discussion because I feel a mild cold coming on, and I need to place an order for some Katz's delicatessen chicken noodle soup. 



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Charles Crutchfield III M.D. Eagan Dermatologist

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