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Washington Outpatient Rehab Center Offers Myofascial Decompression

If you watched the Summer Olympics, you may have seen the odd purple circles on swimmer Michael Phelps’ shoulders. The Olympic gold medalist has been undergoing a technique known as “cupping” to alleviate pain and boost his performance.

“It’s a new approach to an ancient Chinese practice,” said Sharmi Mukherjee, director and lead physical therapist at the Washington Outpatient Rehabilitation Center. “Cupping refers to a technique called myofascial decompression therapy. We’ve been doing it here for a couple years to treat muscular stiffness and pain.”

In fact, Mukherjee learned the technique at a continuing education class, from Chris DaPrato, the physical therapist and assistant clinical professor at UCSF, who taught it to some of the Olympic trainers and physical therapists heading to Rio de Janeiro for the Summer games.

Cupping techniques were developed thousands of years ago and have been mostly used in Chinese medicine to promote healing, Mukherjee explained. But in recent years, myofascial decompression therapy has been used by athletes and others looking to reduce muscle pain and immobility.

Now the technique is one of the tools physical therapists at the Washington Outpatient Rehabilitation Center use to treat back, neck, shoulder and leg pain when it is appropriate. After a thorough evaluation of each patient, physical therapists determine if the patient would benefit from myofascial decompression.

Less Pain in Half the Time

“The results have been amazing,” Mukherjee said. “Patients who would have typically needed 10 to 12 sessions to get results are now seeing their pain alleviated and mobility returned in half that time.”

Myofascial decompression involves the use of small cups that are placed on the skin along the tissue where mobility is limited, she explained. Unlike the Chinese tradition that uses heat to create a vacuum so the cups cling to the skin, the newer technique uses a pump that creates suction so the cups stay in place. Patients then move through their exercise patterns with the cups on, she said.

“Cup therapy or myofascial decompression therapy basically improves blood flow to the area, which has a healing effect,” explained Mukherjee.

She added that going through movement patterns under the guidance of the physical therapist with the cups on assists in neuromuscular re-education.

“It works well with the athletic population,” Mukherjee said. “We see a lot of people who play sports or work out regularly. Overall it helps with functional mobility and reduction of pain in a short time. But it’s just one tool physical therapists use. It’s designed to be part of a treatment plan.”

For an appointment to determine if cupping is appropriate for your care, call 510.794.9672. To learn about other programs and services at Washington Hospital that can help you stay healthy, visit