At first glance, it seemed that several Olympic athletes had broken out in large spots, but now we know it is a result of cupping, which many athletes are now making part of their training and physical therapy. Swimmer Michael Phelps, gymnasts Alex Naddour and Chris Brooks, as well as former swimmer Natalie Coughlin swear by the technique, often used in concert with massage to keep their bodies in top shape. Though the spots being seen on the bodies of U.S. Olympic athletes are technically bruises, they generally aren’t painful.
Cupping is especially good for treating trigger points, according to the Inquisitr. Trigger points are also called muscle knots by some, and can cause extreme pain and tenderness in parts of the body that are overused. In the case of Olympic athletes, this can often be their whole body. On Michael Phelps and the male gymnasts, cupping marks can be seen often on their shoulders and biceps, both places that undergo a great deal of muscle strain. Cupping increases the blood supply to these areas and trigger points, allowing the knots to work themselves out faster than they would with massage or stretching alone.
The New York Times says that cupping, an ancient Chinese healing practice, is having its moment at the Rio Olympics. No, your favorite Olympian did not get into a bar fight in Rio, but rather are undergoing cupping therapy at the hands of their trainer or massage therapist. Some athletes, like gymnast Alex Naddour, is said to have bought a kit on Amazon, and does cupping on himself.
The two most common forms of cupping are done with heat or an air pump, along with round glass or plastic cups, placed directly on the skin. The heat or suction is then used to pull the skin slightly up and away from the underlying muscles, which then creates a hickey-like bruising. Cupping draws blood to the affected area, and soothes overworked muscles. Athletes who use cupping as a tool in their arsenal swear by it, and believe it’s worth being spotted up.
Though some skeptics say that the only benefit to cupping is a placebo effect, a big part of training and physical well-being is mental. In a study of people who suffered with arthritis of the knee, there was a group who received cupping, and a control group who received nothing. The cupping group reported less pain, but obviously, they knew they were being cupped.
Dr. Leonid Kalichman says that part of cupping’s success is due to the placebo effect, but the therapy also has real physiological effect, too.
“A placebo effect is present in all treatments, and I am sure that it is substantial in the case of cupping as well. A patient can feel the treatment and has marks after it, and this can contribute to a placebo effect.”
Dr. Kalichman believes that the localized inflammation caused by cupping triggers the immune system to produce “small proteins that enhance communication between cells and help to modulate the immune response.”
Many people are asking about the dots on the Olympic athletes this week. This is nothing new to Denison student... https://t.co/c774r5IteI— Denison AT (@DUSportsMed) August 8, 2016
The New York Post says that gymnast Alex Naddour claims that his cupping kit was the best $15 he ever spent. Fans watching Naddour on the rings couldn’t help but notice the round reddish-purple circles on his bicep, but Naddour says for a while, cupping was his training secret.
“That’s been the secret that I have had through this year that keeps me healthy.”
Naddour says that cupping has been better for him than massage or cortisone shots. Found on Amazon, Naddour says that his cupping kit travels with him.
“It’s been better than any money I’ve spent on anything else.”
U.S. Men’s gymnastics captain Chris Brooks also says that he swears by cupping, and appreciates that using cupping doesn’t require a doctor or even necessarily a physical therapist or massage therapist.
“You’re like, ‘OK, I’m sore here.’ Throw a cup on, and your roommate will help you, or you can do it yourself.”
Have you tried cupping? What do you think?
[Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images]