Michael Phelps: Cupping Spotlight

Michael Phelps

Millions of viewers worldwide watched Michael Phelps’  make history at the Summer Olympics in Rio 2016.  Being the most decorated Olympian of all time, he was not only headlined in the news for winning 28 medals over four Olympic Games but also for the unusual looking marks on his body that he exhibited throughout the competition.  So what are those marks and why was he showing up at each event with new ones?  Michael Phelps may be the only one who has won 28 Olympic medals but he is not the first to discover the benefits of cupping.  Many athletes and other health-oriented celebrities have relied on cupping for everything from pain relief and recovery to improving circulation and helping rid the the body of toxins.  Other celebrities that have been spotted with cupping marks include:  Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Aniston, Justin Beiber, Chris Martin, NIcole Ritchie . . .and the list goes on.

Stationary Cupping Marks

So, what is Cupping?

Cupping has been around for thousands of years but only recently has become mainstreamed in our culture due to its many benefits.  The easiest way to think of cupping is to think of it as an inverse massage.  Rather than compressing into the tissue, cupping lifts and pulls the tissue up.  This negative pressure is achieved by placing glass, bamboo, plastic or silicone cups on the body, the air is then removed from the cup creating a vacuum effect to the underlying tissue.  The benefits include: increased circulation, increased range of motion, breaks up adhesions in the fascial and muscolskeletal tissues, relieve muscle spasm, and relaxes the nervous system to aid in stress reduction and healing.  For athletes, it has commonly been used for maintenance, pre and post event injuries, detoxification and recovery.

And what are those marks?

Firstly, the marks seen on Michael Phelps are NOT bruises!  Bruises are caused by a blow or impact to the body which in turn can rupture underlying capillaries. There is no compression or impact in correctly performed cupping and the marks do not hurt at all like a bruise.  Obviously, athletes like Michael Phelps, who are trying to get a competitive edge would not purposefully bruise their body when they need to be at their prime. 

When circulation is sluggish or compromised in an area of the body the cells become cut-off from  sufficient oxygen.  This results in a build up of waste products such as static blood, lymph, cellular debri and toxins.  Cupping can help remove these wastes, the marks that can be left indicate that the stagnation has been moved from the deeper tissue layers to the surface, allowing fresh oxygenated blood to nourish and heal the underlying areas.  The marks are actually a good thing and a sign that it is working.

How long do the marks last?

The color of the marks and how long they last depend on the stagnation in the area, this can range from a few minutes to a week (but typically a few days).  If there is no stagnation in an area, there will be no mark at all or it will vanish quickly; chronic areas may require multiple applications to remove all the stagnation.  With repeated treatments the discoloration becomes visibly lighter and lighter as all the stagnation gets released and drained and eventually there will be no marks at all even with the exact same amount of suction and for the exact same length of time.

Cupping with no Marking?

There are many different types and forms of cupping.  If the potential marking is a concern for you, “gliding” cupping is another great option and leaves no marking at all.  

If you have any questions about “cupping” or would like to book an appointment please feel free to contact me.

Sources:  cupping therapy. org, photos reposted from NYDaily and medicaldaily.com