Cupping and taping only mask the real problem

Community: Health tips from Cody Scharf

U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps has used “cupping” to help aid recovery and relieve pain. But it's not a good long-term solution. (Reuters)
U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps has used “cupping” to help aid recovery and relieve pain. But it's not a good long-term solution. (Reuters)

Editor’s note: Cody Scharf is owner of Thrive Spine and Sport, a chiropractic and soft tissue clinic in Cedar Rapids focusing on sport and overuse injuries. Scharf is a graduate of Palmer College of Chiropractic and certified by Integrative Diagnosis for diagnosis and treatment of soft tissue injuries.

Have you been watching the Olympics lately? If so, you probably noticed small red circles encompassing some of the athletes' bodies.

Later this week you are sure to see some brightly colored tape adorning the bodies of even more athletes.

An ancient Chinese practice called “cupping” is responsible for the red marks. Kinisio Tape is the brightly colored tape. So what’s the deal with it? Is this something you should be looking into? Let’s dive in and take a look.

First off, cupping is a therapy in which heated glass cups are applied to the skin along meridians. The technique originated as Chinese medicine to stimulate energy flow in the body. It is now practiced to increase blood flow, reduce inflammation and temporarily increase range of motion. Kinisio Tape aims to do the latter through application of tape.

Both therapies' application have strong reflexive properties, in which, they temporarily provide relief from aches and pains by overriding the body's pain signal. While this sounds great, it’s really not. It also is something that can be dangerous to the patient if applied without proper education.

Pain is the body's way of telling you something is wrong. Think of a fire alarm. If it detects smoke, it signals the alarm to go off. You know something is wrong because a loud noise is being made. If a fire alarm went off in your house, you wouldn’t turn it off and stay seated on your couch, would you? That’s essentially what you are doing with Kinisio tape and cupping. While it’s convenient to stay seated on your couch and ignore it, it’s only a matter of time before you get burned.


Take for example the case of Manteo Mitchell, who was on the U.S. 1,600-meter relay team in the 2012 Summer Olympics. During the race, he fractured his fibula. In the area where his leg broke, he was wearing Kinisio tape. How is this possible you ask?

When using things like cupping and brightly colored tape, as mentioned, it overrides the body to feel good. This allows you to do things you don’t want to do. In return, it also continues to break down all the tissues that were telling you to stop doing that. Just like the straw that broke the camel's back, it’s only a matter of time before you break. This just happened to be Manteo’s time.

What’s this mean to you? If you find yourself in the Olympics, temporary relief for potential glory most likely outweighs the risk for serious injury. Chances are this isn’t you though. Taping and cupping is not a long term fix for pain, ever. You deserve a real solution for your pain.

• For more information, email Scharf at or visit



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