Massage Cupping and the Preacher

By Randy Heaps, LMT, CMCE | Originally published in Massage Today, June, 2015, Vol. 15, Issue 06

I met Preacher Bob about two years ago. He had heard from a friend who was a client of mine about these cup thingys that I use in my practice. When I first went to greet Bob, he was sitting in the waiting area and he had a small stack of paperwork in one hand.

I could already visibly tell that his other arm was completely stiff. Bob stood up and introduced himself as Preacher Bob. As he tucked the paperwork under his stiff arm and went to extend his hand to shake mine, I gave him a great big hug. I’m a hugger.

“Oh, I like you already, that was much appreciated,” Bob said in his heavy southern accent. Just hearing him speak, you knew he lived in the south most of his life. He told me that in his 85 years on this good Earth he had never experienced any physical pain like the pain he had been living with for the past year. He proceeded to tell me that massage therapy was his last shot at being pain free. He had been to a general physician, a nerve specialist, a surgeon, a physical therapist … everybody who he thought could help him. A surgeon told him that what he had could not be fixed by surgery and making him comfortable was the only thing that could be done, along with some physical therapy. Making him comfortable came in the form of vicodin; 10mg, five times a day to be exact. The doctor said good luck and sent him on his way.

He made it no secret to me that he hated taking the vicodin. He didn’t feel like himself and with the dosage and amount they told him to take, he was afraid he’d never be himself again because it numbed him. At 85 years old, I thought to myself that his poor liver wouldn’t be able to take that for very long.

Bob told me that he had something I had probably never heard of. He was right. He handed me the paperwork and the bold heading read Complex Digital Crest Regional Pain Syndrome. What a mouthful. In my 15 years as a massage therapist, I had never heard of this condition before, but was still really confident on the inside because I have personally seen massage cupping do some absolutely amazing things that people have described as a miracle.

The more I talked with Bob, the more I wanted to help him. What an absolutely peaceful, humble human being. He said this was the worst physical pain he had felt in his life since the passing of his sweetheart 15 years earlier. He said one day that he was at church. He had just finished a sermon. The church had emptied and as he went to step down off the pulpit, he lost his balance, slipped, got airborne and landed on his left shoulder. He said after that moment, his life was never the same.

Immediately after the accident, Bob said he was no longer able to put his own shirts on, tie his own shoes. Even turning the pages of his bible became an extremely painful task. Over the period of a couple weeks, his arm began to stiffen up so badly, he couldn’t do anything with it. He couldn’t even lie in his own bed because of the pain. Bob had been forced to sleep in his recliner chair for a year. He told me with a chuckle that he knew he wasn’t long for this world and that he knew he’d be called home soon … which didn’t bother him one bit. He wanted to be able to pass in the bed he shared with wife for decades. He couldn’t wait to be with his wife and dog again; his tiny poodle named Peanut who he said was “no bigger n’a minute.”

After I removed Bob’s shirt for him (his daughter who lived with him helped him on a daily basis), we slowly and very painfully got him to lie on the table with some towels under his shoulder. As I stepped out for a minute, I quickly read through the paperwork he brought for me.

Complex Digital Crest Regional Pain Syndrome is a chronic and progressive disease. The pain is severe. Pain is constant and affects an entire extremity. Swelling and stiffness become a permanent part of life. I was truly stunned to read in this paperwork that out of a study of 15 people with the same shoulder/arm pain, 11 of the 15 chose amputation over living with the constant pain. I was speechless. In short, it is dysregulation of the autonomic nervous system resulting in complete functional loss and impairment. Treatment is often unsatisfactory. This disease is characterized by: severe, burning pain at the site of injury, muscle spasm, joint stiffness, loss of limb mobility, nails become cracked and brittle, irreversible changes in the skin and bones. Ultimately, the pain becomes unending and involves the entire limb.

Bob got through the first and second sessions like a pro. He was in pain due to lying down, but he said he felt instant relief once the cups made contact. As I lightly glided the cups over his entire shoulder area and arm, he actually teared up a little because he didn’t think he’d ever feel any relief again. After the third session, Bob said he was able to cut down the vicodin to three a day. It was only after the third session that Bob asked me, “Randy, why didn’t anyone show this to me before?” Anita Shannon, how right you were.

After the fourth session, Bob entered my massage room and said he wanted to show me something. He began removing his own shirt. Something he hadn’t been able to do for a year. He was ecstatic. He said he had wished he had come to see me first rather than “all those other yahoos.” “Throw those cups on me Randy,” he would say in excitement. After the 12th session, Bob was down to two vicodin a day and sleeping is his bed again.

Not too long after, Bob was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. It hit fast. One day his daughter called to tell me that Bob had passed. She couldn’t express her gratitude enough for me because she said he got to die at home, in his bed, while hugging a picture of his wife. Priceless.

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