Alternative Recovery Methods: Icing, Cupping, and Scraping

After intense workouts, the muscles are sore and damaged. This is necessary for muscle growth and strengthening, but for peak athletic performance it is important to support quick and effective muscle recovery. Proper recovery helps you get your strength back quickly and reduces the pain and discomfort associated with local inflammation. Seeing a chiropractor in Bellevue or another local city is a great way to accelerate the recovery process as well.

It’s not just for athletes either – people with injuries and chronic pain in their back, joints, and so on deal with inflammation and pain regularly. Icing, scraping, and cupping are three techniques used by athletes to recover quickly from muscular fatigue, and they can also be used to manage injuries and chronic pain.


Icing involves applying ice packs to the affected muscles after exercise or immersing the body in an ice bath after intensive, full-body workouts. During exercise, muscles develop small tears. This is is the basis of muscle growth, as the muscle fibers regrow bigger and stronger in a process called hypertrophy. But, they immediately cause an inflammation response that results in uncomfortable pain, swelling, and stiffness.

Ice and cold water causes blood vessels to constrict, which reduces the swelling. Pain and discomfort are reduced, and the muscles are protected from injury. When the ice is removed and the area warms up, a rush of blood through the affected area efficiently washes away toxic metabolic byproducts, such as lactic acid, and is key to the healing process.

Professional athletes swear by icing, but evidence has been somewhat mixed. Though most doctors and physiotherapists recommend icing, some studies claim that the only difference observed with icing is a reduction in pain due to numbing of the nerves.

Other studies show icing is effective in reducing pain, swelling, and muscle damage. One of the reasons for the mixed evidence is that efficacy depends on how you ice. The best way to ice is to apply ice packs to the affected area for 15-20 minutes, 3-4 times a day. Don’t just ice once – do it regularly

Cupping and scraping aren’t as ubiquitous as icing these days, but both have a long tradition of being used in traditional Chinese medicine.


Cupping involves using a cup to create suction against the skin. The suction is created by burning material inside the cup or using a rubber suction pump. The process increases blood supply to the cupped area, allowing metabolic byproducts to be washed away and muscle to be lubricated and oxygenated.

Evidence supports cupping for a variety of specific conditions, including skin conditions like shingles and acne. In relation to exercise recovery, cupping reduces pain and swelling and also is great if you have spinal problems, especially disc herniation.


Scraping refers to the Chinese practice known as Gua sha, in which a hard, thin blade is dragged across the skin. This increases microcirculation or blood flow through your smallest blood vessels.

In one study, microcirculation increased four-fold after scraping. The upshot of this is decreased pain and inflammation, which is useful when recovering from intensive exercise. The same study showed a great pain-relieving effect among subjects who received scraping treatment, and not just in the scraped area. Through an unknown mechanism, scraping decreased muscle pain in sites away from the scrape.

In Chinese medicine, scraping is used for other ailments too, including supporting liver function, but not enough evidence yet exists for us to know for sure.

Our Thoughts

Cupping, scraping, and icing have the ability to decrease inflammation, which makes them useful in exercise recovery, for injuries, and for chronic orthopedic conditions. A professional, such as a doctor, chiropractor, or athletic trainer, will know the best option for you, no matter what your circumstances are.

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Lonny for his take on your recovery, call us at (425) 451-7710

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Bellevue Sports and Family Chiropractic

Call Us: (425) 451-7710

Visit Us: 1407 116th Ave NE, Ste. 106
Bellevue, WA 98004

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