No one could miss the unusual markings we saw on the skin of multiple-gold-medal-winning American swimmer Michael Phelps at the recent games in Rio de Janeiro. These dark, round spots created quite a stir and had many people wondering about them when they were seen on Phelps and many other Olympic athletes, including swimmers and gymnasts from various countries.
The marks are the result of an age-old Chinese treatment called “cupping” therapy, and it was suddenly in the news with people around the world curious about the effects and origins of this ancient Chinese procedure.
Why Cupping Was All the Rage at the Olympics
The purpose of cupping is to help with pain, inflammation and to get the blood flowing in the areas that are “cupped.” The treatment is intended to provide the same relaxation and feel of well-being as a deep-tissue massage and Phelps and other Olympic athletes used cupping as part of their post-competition recovery treatments.
The theory is that cupping helps to remove harmful toxins from the body, allowing for better stamina and performance, although there is some dispute about this. Some people believe that it works essentially through a placebo effect, if it works at all.
History of Cupping
Cupping has made the headlines recently, but it definitely isn’t anything new. Cupping is an ancient form of alternative medicine that was described in the Ebers Papyrus, written in 1550 BC in Egypt.
It has been used in China for thousands of years as part of their traditional alternative medicine, although the exact origin of this treatment is still unknown.
Cupping – The Treatment
There are two types of cupping treatments – wet and dry.
Both types of cupping treatments use cups that have been heated. The cups are put upside down on the skin. As the cup cools, a vacuum is created that causes your skin to raise and redden from expanding blood vessels. Usually the cups are left on the skin for three to five minutes.
The process for wet cupping is the same as dry, except following the three minute time period, tiny cuts in the skin are made – followed by another suctioning session. This is believed to remove additional toxins from the body.
The cups can be made of glass, silicone, earthenware and even bamboo. Modern cupping treatments may use a rubber pump, instead of heat, that will create a vacuum inside the cup.
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