During the 2016 Summer Olympics, were you as shocked as the majority of people were at the odd-looking circular bruises on Michael Phelps’ back – admittedly, it was very strange. Those bruises actually turned out to not be bruises at all but rather, they’re cupping marks.
Cupping marks come from cupping therapy, a traditional Chinese practice that helps to heal muscles. In the last five years, a lot of athletes have come to cupping as a way of improving performance, healing muscle, and detoxification. A lot of people doubt though whether it actually works.
A big problem with answering whether cupping therapy works is that there are few scientific studies done it. This was precisely the problem with acupuncture for years but then, studies got done and now acupuncture’s a common pain management therapy recommendation. Cupping fits almost into the same category in the sense that we know it does something but we just don’t know how.
Just because the science of cupping therapy isn’t present, this doesn’t mean there’s not something to it. If Olympic gold medallist Michel Phelps swears by it, that’s what’s won a lot of attention. Is it a magic cure for anything and everything – absolutely not. That said, it’s relatively safe with little to no risk and continues to be used by athletes alongside exercise, nutrition, and lifestyle choices to control their performance.
If you’ve never had a cupping set in Canada, cupping works by using circular cups to suction tissue upwards. This creates a vacuum wherein new circulation can come in, which brings in nutrients. This also reduces muscle tension and inflammation. The distinctive circular marks on Michael Phelps are from the bursting of small blood vessels. These marks can last between a couple days to a few weeks.
Some will say it’s all placebo but the science available begs to differ. A 2011 study of people suffering from chronic neck pain found that cupping therapy sessions could dramatically decrease pain. Another study produced similar results for people with knee pain. For athletes, escaping pain and improving muscle recovery can obviously have some major benefits.
All in all, if you buy a cupping set online, will it actually work – it varies person to person. If it can help Michael Phelps win gold, does that not indicate there’s something to it – of course. For athletes, this is an opportunity to use the body’s natural healing systems to produce faster recovery. There are no harmful effects or reactions, unlike the risks of pharmaceuticals, some supplements, and even some foods. Cupping could be the missing link, helping you bring your game to the next level.