Michael Phelps turned a lot of heads when he made his big return to the Olympic stage last week. And not just because of his incredible swimming skills. He stepped up to the pool and removed his coat, only to reveal strange red circles all over his back and shoulders. So what was that all about? Traditional Chinese Medicine actually uses a treatment called cupping, which creates those circular marks. Phelps wasn’t the only one who showed up to the Olympics with cupping marks. Swimmers from other countries as well as members of the U.S. men’s gymnastics team were sporting the same bruises. The cupping trend appears to be spreading like wildfire, so what’s all the hype about?
Why use cupping?
1. It’s non-invasive. Cupping is a gentle treatment that is relatively harm-free. It’s a great alternative for people who would benefit from acupuncture treatment but don’t like needles!
2. So relaxing! Cupping is warming to the body. It feels like a deep tissue massage, and the effects are similar too.
3. It stands the test of time. Although this treatment is trendy right now, its use in Chinese Medicine dates back to 281 A.D. Ancient Egyptians even used it as far back as 1550 B.C!
4. Cupping can treat a wide variety of conditions. Some of these include: muscle tension (especially in the back, shoulders, and legs), migraines, allergies, acne, eczema, high blood pressure, menstrual pain, indigestion, diarrhea, asthma, arthritis, fibromyalgia, fertility, and varicose veins.
5. It can benefit your mental health. This treatment not only works on your body, but your mind too. It can help to bring up trapped emotions, and helps with anxiety and depression.
6. It’s easy. The treatment is usually only 15-30 minutes long, so it isn’t too hard to fit into your schedule compared to some of the other treatments out there.
7. Cupping works quickly! Like a massage, you can feel some of the benefits of cupping during treatment and they last for days.
8. There are minimal side effects. Since cupping is such a gentle therapy, there are essentially no side effects apart from the bruising and perhaps some mild discomfort.
9. All natural. This is probably why Olympic athletes like cupping so much. You don’t have to worry about any ingredients or interactions with other medications, since it’s just a cup on top of the skin!
10. There’s research to back it up. In 2015, the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine stated that cupping therapy can help with acne, shingles, and pain management. It’s always nice to see modern science supporting traditional medicine!
What should I expect when I go for my cupping appointment?
In my practice I use plastic cups. I place them on the skin and then use a small hand pump to remove air from the top of the cup, creating suction sticks the cup to the skin. At the end of the treatment session, I press a small valve at the top of the cup to remove it. The most common type of cupping is called “Retention cupping”, which means the cups are left in place for the duration of the treatment. There is also a treatment called “Sliding cupping”, where massage oil is used to help drag the cup across the skin in a massage pattern. This is soothing to tense muscles and helps to boost circulation even more than retention cupping.
“Lighting flame cupping” is yet another type of this treatment, where a small flame is used to heat the inside of a glass cup, creating a vacuum. The benefits of this method are the same as with plastic cups, but I don’t use the lighting flame type in my clinic simply because of the fire hazard. Normally about 4-6 cups are on the body for a single treatment. Cupping appointments are usually 15-30 minutes long. Frequency of the appointments depends on your condition, but once every 1-2 weeks is usually effective. Keep in mind that cupping treatment usually leaves circular bruising, so don’t be surprised if you look a bit like a domino tile after the treatment! The good news is these markings tend to only stick around for a maximum of 10 days. Click here to book your appointment today.