As you’ve been watching the Olympic Games, you might be wondering about those dark red spots dotting the back and shoulders of some athletes. Michael Phelps, who has broken numerous medal count records, is perhaps the most visible athlete to show up at his venue with these visible marks. So, what are these unusual body marks? These marks are actually the result of an ancient therapy that has been used in the Middle East and Asian countries, predominately China, called cupping.

What is Cupping?

Cupping therapy consists of round glass suction cups, which are warmed and then placed on certain parts of the body. When these warmed cups are placed on the body, it creates a partial vacuum action that is believed to stimulate the muscles and blood flow, in addition to providing some pain relieving benefits. Depending upon how long the cups are left in place, there can be an infusion of fluid in that area. Often it may break some of the capillaries on the skin’s surface, creating the discoloration.
In addition to Phelps, other Olympic athletes are using cupping. For instance, Belarus swimmer Pavel Sankovic states that he feels that cupping is a great recovery tool. There are many pictures of Phelps, Sankovic, and others with cupping marks. This therapy has become very popular among the athletes on the US track and field team as well.
A sports performance expert, Ralph Reiff says that he has worked with more than 100 members of the Olympic team. Reiff states that cupping is common during practices, and it has been an effective alternate therapy. He states that cupping is sort of like flossing the soft tissue as the cups are moved around the muscle tissue. He says that it can increase motion and can get rid of subtle tissue lesions. He also indicates that some of the benefits can include faster recovery, along with improved muscle movement.

Rebuilding Champions

As with any performance enhancing actions, it is the responsibility of the trainers, coaches, and athletes to only engage in ethical and safe practices. While it may be that cupping is ancient and simple, it may be a performance enhancer. Have questions? Just ask one of us at the Center! Also, If you’re a massage therapist or physical therapist interested in learning the cupping technique, we will be hosting a cupping seminar in February 2017 Be on the lookout for registration info or email, info@rebuildingchampions.com