Research Symposium: Exercise Science Study Deflates Cupping Therapy Myth

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October 20, 2017

Research Symposium: Exercise Science Study Deflates Cupping Therapy Myth

by James Forkan

Presenters at Adelphi University’s 37th annual Exercise Science Human Lab Research Symposium in May 2017 discussed practical applications of various exercise-related research studies and dispelled at least one myth—cupping’s impact on athletes like Michael Phelps, who used that therapy for his 2016 Rio Summer Olympics swimming performances.

Approximately 50 people gathered in Woodruff Hall for the symposium, the purpose of which was to showcase the research work that ESHSPESM faculty and students are doing in the Human Performance Lab. Students, faculty, alumni and partner practitioners engaged in fruitful discussion and learned from each other in a day of variety of exercise science-related research presentations.

Ammon School alumni, including some past Adelphi student athletes, were among those presenting on various topics at the symposium, including Matthew Marra, M.S. ’17; Alex Zycoff ’16, M.S. ’17; Mike Aquino ’11, M.S. ’12; and Chris Palladino, M.S. ’17. Zykoff played on the Panthers baseball team, Aquino on the soccer team.

Two cupping therapy research sessions generated above-average interest, no doubt because Phelps put cupping in the spotlight in the summer 2016 at the Rio Olympics, when purple circles on his shoulders and across his back attracted considerable media attention. Phelps’ appearance, in fact, sparked the research interest of John Wygand, M.A. ’84, ESHSPESM clinical associate professor and director of undergraduate exercise science and the others.

Wygand’s session at the symposium focused on “Chronic Effects of Cupping Therapy on Balance, Flexibility and Muscular Power,” while Shelby Stoner ’16, M.S. ’17, zeroed in on “Effects of Acute Cupping Therapy on Balance, Flexibility and Muscular Power.” Each study involved 12 subjects.

Stoner, who played volleyball for the Panthers, also presented her cupping data at Adelphi’s April 2017 Research Conference, with Wygand, John Petrizzo, D.P.T., assistant professor, and Robert Otto, Ph.D., director of graduate exercise science, as her faculty advisers.

Wygand described cupping as an alternative therapy used by athletes in hopes of boosting performance or enhancing recovery. Bell-shaped cups are placed on the skin above a targeted muscle and air is then withdrawn to create a vacuum against the skin surface. Blood flow supposedly improves under the cup area.

The research project, a group effort with Wygand and Stoner listed as primary investigators, found that whether cupping therapy was administered once or over a period of four days, it had no significant impact on athletes’ performance. The researchers concluded that they “just didn’t find anything that supports the idea that cupping improves strength, flexibility or balance,” as Wygand said in the Fall 2017 edition of Adelphi’s Academic & Creative Research magazine.

That perhaps indicates that there’s more to Phelps’ swimming prowess than cupping.



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