If you have been watching the 2016 Rio Olympics lately or have seen any news coverage on the Games, you may have noticed strange, dark circular marks that have been popping up on the shoulders of star athletes like Michael Phelps. They weren’t bruises from injuries; they were the result of cupping. Cupping, you ask.
Cupping, originating from ancient Asian medicine, is a therapy in which heated glass cups are applied to the skin along the meridians of the body, creating suction as a way of stimulating the flow of energy. Cupping therapy supporters believe that wet cupping removes harmful substances and toxins from the body to promote healing. People also use cupping to relieve pain and pressure on muscles in the body, the main reason why Michael Phelps uses this technique before every race.
Phelps isn’t the only celebrity fan of cupping. Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Aniston have appeared on red carpets in backless dresses with red rings dotting their shoulder blades and spines. Samuel L. Jackson said he’s a cupping fan, too. Whether or not it works, or is a passing fad, is questionable.
To date, most studies that have explored the topic of cupping are small, biased and, overall, poorly designed, making it safe to assume the jury is still out on the subject. However, it does seem that the act of cupping does indeed increase blood flow in the area that is treated. This may or may not provoke a patient’s claim that s/he feels a relief of pressure or pain, though it is unclear if this is real relief or a placebo effect. For now, perhaps it’s best to save the cups for tea or coffee.