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Beyond the Bruises: Using Cupping for Recovery

cuppingThe Olympics are full of inspiring athletic feats, coupled with extraordinary displays of teamwork and sportsmanship. In addition, for viewers of the Games, seeing these tremendous athletes in action also yields an abundance of questions. Why is she stretching like that before the 200 meter final? How are they able to dive in complete unison? And the most popular one these Games is, ‘What are all of those weird spots all over the swimmers’ backs?’

Those weird spots in question result from a therapy called “cupping.” Cupping is an ancient Chinese medicine practice that is said to remove toxins from the body, recirculate blood, and also decrease muscle soreness. It has been studied in effectiveness of various chronic pains, including neck and shoulder aches. Statistical differences have been noted with individuals who underwent cupping therapy compared to individuals who had no treatment whatsoever.

How Does Cupping Work?

Specialized cups are placed on the skin using either heat or an air pump to induce suction. The suction causes the skin to pull up slightly from the underlying muscles. While the cupping marks look painful, the bruises are a result of the capillaries underneath the skin rupturing.

Jordan Allen, noted sports acupuncturist, typically uses cupping when there is muscular dysfunction, including strains or causes of pain where there is not much swelling. Allen says, “Cupping can also be used in the initial stages of when someone is catching a cold, while there are body aches, fever, and the chills. Cupping can be used to boost the immune system when it’s compromised.”

As for pain, with cupping, there really is no pain nor discomfort experienced. “It feels like warm suction—really nothing more or less, and it looks much worse than it feels,” says elite runner, Natasha LaBeaud Anzures. “I have used cupping for back and muscle soreness, and even when I have felt a cold coming on to reduce symptoms.”

Want to see cupping in action? Check out this video detailing more about the science of cupping and alternative therapies. While there is still room for larger studies evaluating the effectiveness of cupping for athletic performance, experts say that even if there is a placebo effect for athletes, there remains no reason not to cup away!

If you want to try cupping for yourself, visit one of these certified practitioners to test out the recovery therapy that is making its mark on many of the Olympic athletes in Rio.