VacuTherapies and Working With the Senior Athlete

By Annie Garic, LMT, CMCE
Originally published in Massage Today, May, 2013, Vol. 13, Issue 05.

There are more than 10,000 men and women between the ages of 50 and 90+ that gather every two years to compete in the National Senior Games. These athletes train year round in their chosen sport and participate in yearly local events in order to improve their skills.

As with athletes at any age, injuries occur that can sometimes sideline them. I know, because I’m one of them. No one wants to take time out due to a nagging injury. VacuTherapies can really help speed up recovery time.

Vacuum therapy, is a highly effective modality for treating most injuries at any age, even if your client is not an athlete. These techniques are a modern application for the ancient tool used in traditional cupping practices. With vacuum therapy, the practitioner uses cups as an extension of their hands to mobilize tissue and fluids. Cups are utilized in a variety of different ways in order to accomplish the desired results. An amazing aspect of this method is the speed in which results are achieved. Vacuum therapy promotes circulation, moves stagnation, reduces inflammation and loosens adhesions. It’s a technique that can be enjoyed by the injured athlete because it has a sedating effect on the nervous system. Proper use of equipment lifts and separates tissues allowing fresh blood and oxygen into dehydrated, undernourished areas.

A 59-year-old female basketball player broke a bone in her hand during practice that required surgery. Two weeks later, the swelling in her hand under the cast had not subsided. She was not able to bend her fingers, which was an intricate part of her physical therapy. She then came for a massage. I applied the VacuTherapies machine to the appropriate areas. While I monitored the machine, I was also able to work with my hands on other affected areas of her body that needed attention. The vacuum machine affords the practitioner the opportunity to achieve more results in the same amount of time. The vacuum therapy drained the lymph system and the inflammation in her hand was reduced significantly. She returned to physical therapy and her recovery time was lessoned. She was back on the court earlier than was predicted.

Vacuum therapies can also be used on site. The vast selection of equipment affords the therapist a multitude of choices to bring along to any sporting event. The cups range in size to accommodate the large muscle groups, like quadriceps and gluteus, and very small ones to fit hands, feet and the occipital region. While playing in a basketball tournament, a 56-year-old female athlete strained her gastrocnemius, forcing her to sit out the rest of the day. That evening, we used a large cup from the manual set to lift and stretch the soft tissue. I initially used suction/release technique due to the sensitivity of the lower leg. Then, gentle, long gliding movements to move out any debris using constant suction. I completed the treatment with reverse friction using a smaller cup along the anterior attachments and around the knee. The next day, the athlete was able to resume tournament play as if nothing happened…to the dismay of the opposing teams, I might add.

One of my clients is a 64-year-old avid tennis player. While playing, she experienced a pain in her shoulder. By the time she finished her match, it had transferred to neck pain. By using a technique called “rolling rotation” I was able to locate the trigger point in her rhomboids. This technique, along with a couple of other techniques called twisting and shaking enabled the release of some deep adhesions.

Senior games offer 19 different sports to participate in. One of my clients, a 67-year-old male, takes advantage of about half of them. One day, he sustained an injury to his wrist while diving for a softball. The pain was shooting up his extensor muscles. The first thing I did was park the micro magnet cups to change the polarity of the tissue. Then I applied some suction/release for deep tissue release. I finished the treatment with reverse friction on the attachments of his forearm muscles. A couple of weeks later, I ran into him at the gym, where he was playing pickle ball. I asked how his injury was doing and he said, “what injury?” One treatment had resolved it completely.

Several years ago, a female athlete came to me for a pain she felt in the attachment area of her hamstrings that was also radiating down to her foot. She had just turned 80 and was training for a half marathon. She was on a time frame that did not allow her to cut back on her work outs. At the beginning of the treatment, the client was very sensitive to palpation on her gluteus. I placed a large cup from the vacuum machine on the suction/release mode area to flush the muscles and relax the nervous system. This allowed me to have both hands free to explore the hamstrings. What I found was an adhesion in the belly of the biceps femoris and semitendinosis muscles.

The “bunching up” mid-way down her leg seemed to be causing her pain at the ischial tuberosity. I then switched the cup from her gluteus to the area over the adhesion. The gluteus area was much less sensitive and I was able to do some deep tissue work on her periforimis with the client experiencing much less pain. After taking the pulsating cup off of the hamstrings, the adhesion had softened significantly. I changed the cup size and adjusted the machine to static suction and continued to use the vacuum with different techniques over the entire muscle group. When the session was over, the client reported a reduction in her pain and a feeling of lightness in her leg. We did one more treatment a week later and she was free of pain. This therapy did not interrupt her training schedule and she successfully accomplished her goal of completing the half marathon.

As a therapist and senior athlete, the equipment provided through this modality is an invaluable part of my lifestyle. Self care is key to maintaining fitness for my career and sporting activities. After an extreme workout, I am able to apply the cups easily to flush areas of lactic acid before any soreness sets in. When traveling to competitions, I pack a set of the various sized silicone cups. This prepares me for any ailment that may arise. The “big mouth” silicone cup comes in handy to relieve congestion in the legs and hips. The smaller size cups accommodate other body parts that may be in need. My teammates benefit from them, too, and that makes for a winning combination.

Annie Garic
Annie Garic

Educator Info



Annie Garic began her massage therapy career in 1987 earning certifications from the Institute of Psycho-Structural Balancing, the Atlanta School of Massage, and the Upledger Institute. She continually seeks educational opportunities to enhance her skills for the benefit of her clients’ health and lifestyle.

In 2001, she took her first ACE Massage Cupping™ workshop from Anita Shannon. The benefits were immediate for her clients and herself. She continued to study with Anita and became a Certified ACE Massage Cupping™ educator in 2007.

Annie practices in New Orleans, LA and Asheville, NC and teaches all over the country.

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