Last night Michael Phelps earned his 19th gold medal and gained everyone’s attention with the purple circular bruises that adorned his body. These marks are from a healing technique called cupping. Other athletes like Alex Naddour and former Olympic swimmer Natalie Coughlin are using this technique as well to heal their ailments.
What is Cupping?
Cupping therapy is considered a form of alternative medicine which dates back to ancient Egyptian, Chinese, and Middle Eastern Cultures. Cupping therapy can remove harmful substances and toxins from the body to encourage healing. It can reduce pain and inflammation throughout the body as well as promote mental and physical relaxation and well-being.
How does it Work?
Cups made of materials such as glass, bamboo or earthenware are placed on the skin to create suction. It works by stimulating the flow of new blood, lymph, and Qi to the applied area and throughout the body.
Types of Cupping Therapy
Dry cupping (suction only)
Wet cupping (suction combined with controlled medicinal bleeding)
The cup is placed upside down on the patient’s skin creating a suction effect. A vacuum is created causing the skin to rise and become red as the blood vessels expand. The cup stays on the skin for 5 to 10 minutes.
During wet cupping the practitioner will remove the cup and use a small needle to pierce the skin. Then a second suction is performed to release a small amount of blood. After the procedure, care includes antibiotic ointment and bandage to prevent infection. Within 10 days the appearance of the skin generally returns to normal.
Side Effects of Cupping Therapy
When performed by trained health professionals cupping is consider to be rather safe.
Potential side effects include:
Kiefer, D., MD (Ed.). (2014, October 6). Cupping Therapy. Retrieved August 8, 2016, from http://www.webmd.com/balance/guide/cupping-therapy
British Cupping Society: “A Brief Overview of Cupping Therapy,” “Al-Hijamah Cupping Therapy.”
American Cancer Society: “Cupping.”
Cao, J. PLoS ONE, February 2012; vol 7: pp 1-14.