By Stacie Nevelus, LMT, CMCE
This article originally appeared in Massage Today, 
August, 2014, Vol. 14, Issue 08.

Most of my therapeutic bodywork, believe it or not, takes place in the shower. With a little soap, water and silicone cups, I can address most issues or simply keep my tissue healthy and prevent future injury. As a 15-year veteran of massage therapy and a 40-something woman, it’s vital to provide self care that enables me to work on clients.

Since 2006, I have been working with major league baseball players and, more recently, NFL athletes. Keeping my body healthy and moving freely is just as important as the professional athletes I work on and using silicone cups in the shower allows me to do that. Ideally, it would be nice to schedule some time on the massage table and get the kind of treatment I provide to clients. But working six days a week and being a busy mother of two didn’t allow for that earlier this year. When I finally was able to get a massage treatment, my first in nearly four months, I was shocked at the ease in which my body accepted it. I had cringed at the thought of how long it had been between massages and, amazingly enough, nothing was hurting. All I could do over that hectic period was get in some running. Thanks to these wonderful cups and vacuum therapy, I was able to self-treat and keep my body moving injury-free in between massages.

Effective Treatment

I have used vacuum therapies for nine of my 15 years as a licensed massage therapist in Florida. This modality is a modern adaptation of cupping therapy most commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine. This modernized work has proven to be a resourceful modality in my practice. It allows me to bring bloodflow, create space and makes easy work of what would otherwise be very cumbersome on my body as I treat clients. Clients come to me from all over and are referred from various sources simply to experience the wonder of how this remarkable modality feels as it manipulates the tissue. I’ve had great success using vacuum therapies alone or in conjunction with other modalities such as trigger point and myofacsial work.


One of my favorite and most effective treatments is pre-treating before a run, especially a 5K race. As a typical three-times-a-week runner, I aim for half-hour sessions and this treatment, which can also be done post-run, is an effective alternative to stretching. Clients come in all the time with various issues from running. Personally, I experience bilateral tightness in my lower legs. Fortunately, there’s a cup for that and I’m only a shower away from relief.

Using the silicone cup is simple and effective and I use the same techniques with clients that I do for self-care. Once in the shower, I soak up and soap up creating a soapy medium for gentle gliding. By squeezing a cup, then placing it on the skin and releasing the hold, the vacuum is created. I begin gliding the cup over the tissue clearing proximal before distal areas honoring the intermediate lymphatic system. I am able to open up the gentle lymphatic system and bring nutrients and oxygen to the tissue. The feeling is unlike anything else as space is created between the layers of soft tissue as I lift the cup while gliding. Another tremendous benefit of gliding the cups is on the tibia and the tibialis anterior to treat and prevent shin splints. With the smallest cup available, I am able to glide over the muscle and bone with the malleable cup. No other modality compares to the sensation and efficacy when working this area. My legs feel alive as bloodflow is brought in leaving me invigorated. This gliding technique has proven useful to wake up my legs before a run and is equally advantageous on my heavy legs after running.

Deeper Work

Sometimes more focus work is needed and that’s when I use the cups over specific trigger points for a bigger release in the muscle tissue. Hips receive much relief while parking cups on trigger points in the piriformis and gluteus minimus. In only a few minutes, the muscle releases providing newfound freedom of movement. Placement of the cup on the hamstring muscle belly while touching the toes keeps the work dynamic. The tensor fascia latae also benefits with a cup placed for two to three minutes to help soften this area and have more range of motion in the hips. Diligent use of the cups for self-care has proved essential in keeping me injury-free. But that wasn’t always the case.

About five years ago, I enjoyed cycling but I had an issue arise in my lower legs as I increased my time and distance on the bike. I started experiencing tightness and shooting pain in my lower leg area. It would happen randomly and wasn’t predictable with any given movement. After about a month of dealing with this issue, I wondered what I would do if a client came in with this issue? The answer was easy, I would use vacuum therapy to create space, stretch the fascia and bring blood flow to the area. While in the shower, I worked on my lower leg using soap and water and a small silicone cup. After about 15 minutes, I was able to rid myself of this very uncomfortable issue. Thankfully, as I have been better at shower self-care, it has not returned.

Running and cycling aren’t the only activities that affect my body. Traveling can also take its toll. Whether driving or flying, different issues may arise and I always have cups with me. After driving longer distances, my neck and jaw tend to get tight. It’s great to release my jaw before speaking at a workshop for three days as I will be doing a lot of talking. I am also able to address neck issues by placing cups over hypertonistic areas of my levator scapula and trigger points. When incorporating range of motion, I can free up movement tremendously. When flying, my shoulder may become fatigued while walking through an airport pulling luggage behind. I find this an unnatural task to do for an extended period of time. My legs may also feel heavy and stagnant after sitting for hours on an airplane when on a direct flight. Once at the hotel, I can address these issues when refreshing my travel weary body in the shower. Another favorite routine I like to enjoy when staying at a hotel is enjoying a hot bath.

Make it a spa moment. Often, I like to treat myself to a relaxing spa moment at a hotel or home. As a massage therapist, I work to help others relax and have a better quality of movement. It’s a good idea to indulge as well. This can be created easily at home or in a hotel. Start by creating ambient lighting in the bathroom by either a small lamp or a lit candle. Fill the space with relaxing music with either a phone or a tablet. Add desired water temperature to the bathtub adding epsom salts and essential oil. I sink into the bathtub with the cup close at hand. As the water melts my achy muscles, I glide and park the cup over areas of my body needing attention. By taking a moment of reflection, I can slow the hands of time. Now I’m definitely ready for a massage treatment.

Once on the table after nearly four months, my body received deep work without any discomfort. As my glutes and illiotibial band were being manipulated, my tissue was soft as it accepted the bodywork. I was truly amazed and pleased at how I had kept any issues from arising by keeping my tissue open and clear with silicone cups in the shower. Bringing nutrient rich blood to hydrate my muscle tissue, soften my fascia to bring new found freedom of movement has been a lifesaver and kept me going. I use the cups on myself just as I would in treatment for clients and the training and self application has paid off.