Rio Olympics 2016--Why Michael Phelps and other athletes are trying cupping

Are you wondering what those red spots on many Olympians are? Read this!

If you have been following Rio Olympics, you probably must have seen red round marks on Michael Phelps and other athletes. These red marks are a result of a therapy called cupping which the athletes are using to recover from musculoskeletal aches and pains.

According to a study [1] published in the Journal, Evidence based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the Cupping Therapy is used for relief from chronic neck and shoulder pain. It is a traditional Chinese Medical treatment and involves the application of suction by creating a vacuum. A vacuum is created on the skin of the affected area by using a cup made up of materials such as glass, bamboo or earthenware.[2] The vacuum creates a negative pressure which ruptures the capillaries beneath the skin and the resulting bleeding gives rise to a red spot or a bruise. [1]

Another study also suggests that cupping leads to either hyperaemia which is an accumulation of excess blood in that particular area or haemostasis where the blood flow is restricted to that particular area. [2]

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Cupping is not just helpful in relieving fibromyalgia and chronic pain it also warms the body to remove cold, adjusts body temperature, promotes blood circulation, relieves swelling and accelerates healing. It is also believed to be helpful in stroke rehabilitation, hypertension, herpes zoster, facial paralysis, acne and cervical spondylosis.[1]

Is it really effective?

The study [1] observed a few changes in the body such as an increase in the skin surface temperature and decrease in the systemic blood pressure and along with these changes the participants of the study did experience a reduction in chronic pain. However, the researchers concluded that the pain reduction could be subjective and more research would be required to understand the long-term benefits of cupping therapy.


1. Chi L-M, Lin L-M, Chen C-L, Wang S-F, Lai H-L, Peng T-C. The Effectiveness of Cupping Therapy on Relieving Chronic Neck and Shoulder Pain: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM. 2016;2016:7358918. doi:10.1155/2016/7358918.

2. Cao H, Li X, Liu J. An Updated Review of the Efficacy of Cupping Therapy. Malaga G, ed. PLoS ONE. 2012;7(2):e31793. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0031793.

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