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Cupping, Stretching, Reflexology: What Are They & How Do They Work?

three women stretching their left arms across their chests

There are different modes of therapy designed to manage pain, improve well-being, and reduce stress. Stretching, reflexology, and cupping are three of those methods. Though they date back to antiquity, they’re all currently enjoying a moment in the spotlight. Celebrities are showing off their benefits on social media, and therapy studios are popping up everywhere. So, if you’ve ever wondered what they are, how they’re performed, or how they help, sit back and relax. We break it all down right here.

a woman lying on her back doing stretching for physical therapy


Stretching, as we all know, is the act of deliberately flexing a specific muscle or tendon to improve its elasticity and achieve comfortable muscle tone. Many people stretch when they feel pain in a specific area. You might stand up and touch your toes if you feel tightness in your hamstring or stretch a stiff neck by rolling your head clockwise, and then counterclockwise. However, a stretch studio offers a deeper, more fulfilling stretch, increasing your flexibility and range of motion.

At a stretch studio, a specialist, usually with some form of experience in physical therapy or physical fitness, will assist you in a deep stretch. That means they work to position, stabilize, isolate, and manipulate muscles by using principles of neuromuscular behavior and gently guiding you toward advancement and relief. Targeting your problem areas, this stretching method—seemingly more advanced than what you can do yourself—is generally performed to help:

  • Relieve pain
  • Sleep better
  • Reduce stress
  • Increase performance
  • Boost immunity
  • Improve mobility

One in three Americans struggles to get adequate, quality sleep. Read "How to Get Your Best Night's Sleep Yet" for tips on getting the rest your body deserves. 

Are stretch sessions worth it?

Yes! Anyone can benefit from a good stretch. People young and old are likely to experience an increased range of motion, improved performance, and a reduced overall risk of injury after a stretch session.

a hand massaging another hand


Reflexology is the technique of applying pressure to the feet or hands. In theory, there are certain organs and body systems that correspond to areas of the feet and hands. So, when you go in for treatment, a reflexologist, the specialist who performs reflexology, will target what’s ailing you—physically, emotionally, or mentally—by focusing on areas of your feet or hands.

Using a foot or hand chart to guide them, the reflexologist applies varying degrees of pressure to sections of your feet or hands to alleviate symptoms felt in other parts of the body. The types of pressure vary, and the techniques used by reflexologists will be unique to each client. You might experience a deep or light foot massage, arch rubs, toe bends, a heel squeeze, or knuckle or fist work. While scientific evidence is limited, reflexology is believed to:

  • Reduce pain
  • Reduce psychological symptoms like anxiety and stress
  • Enhance relaxation and sleep
  • Improve well-being

Tea can be just as effective in stabilizing mood and promoting relaxation. Read "There’s a Tea for That: Tips for Picking the Right Tea for What Ails You" to learn more.

Reflexology might benefit young and old adults, but it’s advised that pregnant women proceed with caution. Some pressure points in the hands and feet may induce contractions, which could be dangerous for someone who’s not to term.

cupping being performed on a back 


Cupping is a type of alternative therapy that involves placing cups on the skin to create suction. The belief is that this suction improves the flow of energy in the body and facilitates healing. Today, practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine usually perform cupping treatments.

The two most popular types of cupping administered are dry and wet cupping. With dry cupping, the specialist will use a method—either by pump or flame—to create a vacuum effect inside the cup. The cup is then placed on the part of the body to increase blood circulation. Wet cupping may involve both suction and controlled medicinal bleeding. Sometimes painful, cupping is believed to have many benefits, including:

  • Relieved muscle tension
  • Improved blood flow 
  • Promotes cell repair
  • May help form new connective tissues 
  • May create new blood vessels in the tissue

Modes of Therapy: Relaxation Techniques 

Even though these modes of therapy are trending for their feel-good advantages, it’s always best to consult your doctor for physical, mental, or emotional pain or illness. While a physician can guide you toward the appropriate care in the near and long term, you can try these relaxation techniques to get some stress relief right now.