Swimmer Michael Phelps has just won his 19th gold medal – his first in this year’s Rio Olympics – but his success has almost been overshadowed by curiosity among viewers regarding the odd circular marks seen on his back during the competition.
The internet has been flooded with search requests from those whose curiosity was sparked by the strange-looking marks on the back of Michael Phelps, and speculation about them has been rampant.
Theories about what they could possibly be have ranged from Zika virus symptoms to tattoos, but the truth is that the marks were “hickeys” caused by cupping therapy – an ancient Chinese medicinal tradition that has been gaining in popularity in recent years, and one which is now being widely used among US Olympic athletes.
The origins of cupping therapy
Cupping is a form of massage therapy that differs from traditional massage in that it uses suction to decompress tissues rather than compressing them.
The practice has been popular in China for many centuries and may have its origins in ancient Egypt, where it was believed to have been in practice some 1500 years ago.
Traditional cupping therapy techniques involves the use of fire to create a vacuum before open-ended glass globes are placed on various parts of the body to increase blood flow, helping tired muscles to recover more quickly from being over-worked.
Newer technologies have been replacing the fire method – the cupping technology used by Michael Phelps involves hand-held vacuum pumps that are attached to the globes, eliminating the need for a flame to create the suction.
Cupping therapy has its skeptics, but a 2010 review of 550 independent clinical studies found that the practice is not only harmless but can provide “potential benefit on pain conditions, herpes zoster and other diseases.”
The use of cupping therapy has even become part of the Rio Olympics controversy over doping – Russian state TV has compared it to the use of meldonium, the banned performance-enhancing substance that led to a two-year ban for Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova.
From a translation by Mashable of the Russian TV report:
“Following the Hollywood trend, the method was adapted by athletes. According to them, vacuum-based massage improves circulation and overall well being, suggesting that muscle repair happens faster after physical exertion.
“In other words, the net effect from such practices in many ways, is not unlike those of meldonium.”
But, of course, cupping therapy has nothing to do with doping and is completely legal under IOC regulations – and judging from Phelps’s amazing performance in the 4×100 meter relay, the use of cupping therapy might actually be more effective than performance-enhancing drugs.
How cupping therapy works
Cupping therapy, like other Chinese traditional medicine techniques, works with the body’s “life energy,” or “qi,” which can be redirected along the “meridian lines” that run through the human body, creating a harmonious balance that leads to better health and well-being.
According to the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine (PCOM):
“Cupping is one of the best deep-tissue therapies available. It is thought to affect tissues up to four inches deep from the external skin. Toxins can be released, blockages can be cleared, and veins and arteries can be refreshed within these four inches of affected materials. Even hands, wrists, legs, and ankles can be ‘cupped,’ thus applying the healing to specific organs that correlate with these points.”
Mike Adams, the Health Ranger and founder/editor of Natural News, has developed a revolutionary cupping therapy technology that incorporates all the benefits of traditional cupping techniques, while eliminating the need for flame, vacuum pumps or any concerns about the breakage of fragile glass cupping globes.
In the video below, the Health Ranger explains how his cupping therapy set works and why it is superior to other cupping technologies: