What is cupping? 5 things you need to know about the therapy treatment catching on at the Olympics

- If you were watching Michael Phelps help the United States bring home the gold in the men’s 4x100-meter relay at the 2016 Rio Olympics, you may have seen some purple spots on his body while celebrating the victory.

Well, it’s the result of a health trend popping up for some athletes at the Olympics called “cupping,” a therapy treatment helping these world-class athletes’ muscles recover from their strenuous activities.

1) What is cupping?

Cupping is an ancient Chinese healing therapy technique that uses cups, which are placed on the skin, to create suction and encourage more blood flow in the body.

2) What are the benefits of cupping?

Elyse Rohrer Budiash, a licensed acupuncturist at Cherry Blossom Healing Arts in Washington D.C., said this treatment can help with pain relief, treat people with asthma and can even help shorten the severity and duration of colds and flu.

“It’s also great for athletes in terms of shortening recovery time,” said Budiash. “People like Michael Phelps are using their muscles and they are really hard on their bodies and it really helps speed healing and speed recovery time.”

Although there is little research or studies to support the health benefits of cupping, supporters of this treatment claim it can also help with blood disorders such anemia and hemophilia, arthritis and fibromyalgia, high blood pressure and skin conditions such as acne and eczema.

3) How does it work?

There are different cupping methods, but the most common way it is done is by placing a flammable substance such as alcohol into a cup and briefly lighting it on fire. When the fire goes out, the cup is placed onto to skin upside down, creating a vacuum or suction that will make the skin rise and redden as the blood vessels expand. The cups stay on for about five to ten minutes.

4) Is it painful?

Budiash said cupping feel similar to a deep tissue massage.

“Some people might find it uncomfortable, but most people find it really pleasant and relaxing,” she said.

5) What else should I know about cupping?

Potential side effects of cupping include bruises, burns and possible skin infection.

According to Budiash, cupping is not safe to do during pregnancy. She also recommends that anyone who has this treatment to drink a lot of water afterwards and cover up the treated area for the remainder of the day.

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