• Dino Camire

Hurting to heal, the Microtrauma myth

Updated: Dec 13, 2019

The vulnerability of athletes to superstitions and placebo effects has resulted in an industry of sports snake oil we all remember the 2016 olympics where all the athletes donned those telltale hickeys left by cupping, this led to a massive increase of the adoption of this pseudoscientific practice. There was a 2,100% spike in searches for “circles on Michael Phelps” Since then cupping and other Microtrauma therapies have gained more traction in western society. Based on unscientific traditional Chinese medicine, is there value in selling the placebo affect? First, lets take a look at the history of cupping, then we can look at new inventions like Graston and the likes, where trauma is supposed to promote improved healing and recovery.

The history of cupping

Cupping therapy is a form of alternative medicine in which a local suction is created on the skin. Cupping has been characterized as a pseudoscience, and its practice as quackery.[1][2] There is no good evidence it has any health benefits, and there are some risks of harm, especially from wet cupping and fire cupping. The International therapy association ignores this and claims it's application of suction to the body. This traditional, time-honored treatment remains favored by millions of people worldwide because it's safe, comfortable and remarkably effective for many health disorders. There isn't much reliability in the history of cupping, there reason to believe the practice dates from as early as 3000 BC. The Ebers Papyrus, written c. 1550 BC and one of the oldest medical textbooks in the Western world, describes the Egyptians' use of cupping, while mentioning similar practices employed by Saharan peoples.In ancient Greece, Hippocrates (c. 400 BC) used cupping for internal disease and structural problems. As of 2012 cupping was most popular in China. Cupping has been a formal modality in Chinese hospitals since 1950 Cupping is a form of blood letting, and based on the idea of the "humour" this notion that the human body contains blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile. These are the things that make up its constitution and cause its pains and health. Traditionally suction was used to create a bubble that would then be sliced open and blood would be let out to allow sickness or evil to leave the body either balancing the humours or chi.

Todays version for cupping which is the "dry form" a hickey with no cut, has only gained popularity in the last 5-10 years, claims include Cupping is like acupuncture in that at different times and places variations on the technique have evolved. There are a many forms of forms of cupping: dry, fire, retained, moving, flash, needles, medicinal and wet among others. In wet cupping they make a small incision in the area of suction to make sure that blood is drawn out to:

remove harmful substances and toxins from the body to promote healing.

That is like cleaning a swimming pool by taking out a cup of water.

it has been suggested that there are 1,001 diseases for which cupping can be of benefit. Mark Krislip states "is no reason cupping should have any effect on any disease beyond the usual placebo effect and it would be difficult to do placebo controlled trials given the large hickeys induced by the procedure, although someone has devised a form of sham cupping. Given the dramatic changes to the skin from cupping, I would expect the technique to be a particularly powerful set of beer goggles. The more impressive the placebo, the more it will alter perception" The National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Library of Medicine (PubMed) database contains roughly 300 studies that include cupping and “wet” cupping (aka hijama) originating from Chinese and Arab traditional medicine. Of these studies, the data suggest little over minor pain relief, due to placebo. Recovery time and performance haven't been shown to improve.

In conclusion I have to agree with this author "We currently live in a world where no medical claim is so absurd that someone will not think it deserves serious research. So yes, there is actual medical research into cupping. I always have mixed feelings about this. Such research is clearly a waste of resources, and is also probably unethical. It also does not affect the practice of proponents. It is nice to have actual research to analyze and point to, but overall it is probably not worth it."

Next lets take a look at Graston method; Graston Technique® is a modification of traditional hands-on soft tissue mobilization that uses specifically designed instruments to allow the therapist to introduce a controlled amount of microtrauma into an area of excessive scar and/or soft tissue fibrosis. Microtrauma? Hurting people to make them better? This idea that increasing inflammation can promote healing, where did this come from? Would punching a paper cut make it heal faster? There seems to be this not in that more trauma increases the effectiveness of the immune system, or something along those lines. There is very little research on this registered trademark the Graston, most research is either faulty, flawed or made up with many just being anecdotal claims that just fall back on confirmation bias and placebo. Even if this logic worked, there is no way to determine what dose of damage you would be applying and how much would be appropriate. This premise that the body isn't actively healing from the first trauma is false, injuries will heal on their own and that will most likely be dependent on sleep, health status, nutrition, stress and the severity of injury. Stop paying money for placebo. Get real treatment for injury if needed. Wherever there is someone in pain, you'll find a peddler of pseudo quackery willing to take advantage of the desperate.

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