U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps, with his 19 Olympic Gold Medals, is often called the most decorated Olympian of all time. But Phelps is wearing another sort of decoration at the 2016 Olympic Summer Games in Rio — pink/brown superficial circle-shaped bruises. These circles are the result of cupping, an ancient technique that believers say helps blood flow, loosens muscles, and promotes strength and healing. Cupping dates back thousands of years and was first practiced in Chinese, Egyptian and other Middle Eastern cultures. It’s often associated with acupressure and acupuncture in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
Before Phelps debuted his mini-welts at poolside, viewers saw U.S. gymnast Alex Naddour with similar marks on his arms and shoulders. Cupping is done with glass or silicone suction cups which create a vacuum drawing blood to the surface of the spot where applied. Some studies have associated cupping with positive effects on pain management and other afflictions, but major evidence that it works is hard to come by. That hasn’t stopped Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Aniston and tennis star Andy Murray from using it. An abundance of modern scientific proof of cupping’s efficacy isn’t available. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. Safe to say Michael Phelps has a good feel for how his body responds. Phelps is, after all, the most decorated of them all.