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This Is Why So Many Olympians Are Covered In Red Bruises In This Olympics

wang Qun

Ever since the Rio Olympics started, we have seen many Olympians covered in large, red circles on their arms and backs. Even Michael Phelps, the decorated Olympic athlete who just won his 21st gold at Rio, was also photographed in red bruises. What are they? Why are all the athletes going all spotty?

Are these torture marks? Love bites from an Octopus, maybe? Uh, no. These are the result of an ancient therapy known as “cupping” where heated cups of the shape of bell jars are placed on the skin. Gymnasts and swimmers, especially those belonging to the Team of USA are mostly seen with these red bruises.

Swimmer Wang Qun. Credits: YouTube


How Does ‘cupping’ Work?

Cupping is another form of acupuncture but instead of needles, a flammable liquid is lighted in the small cup. As the flame dies, the temperature drops and it creates a suction force that pulls up the skin and makes the cup stick to the body. As the skin lifts, it allows free blood flow which relieves pain. This results in the large red bruises that last for usually 3-4 days.

US swimmer Michael Phelps, winner of 21 Olympic gold medals, sporting cupping bruises on his shoulders and back. Credits: US Times.


Why Do Olympic Athletes Use It?

As explained earlier, athletes say that cupping relieves pain and aches and help speed up recovery from strenuous exercise of training and competing all the time. Athletes have used other means of therapy as well like massages, ice baths,Kinesio tape and compression garments but Alex Naddour, US gymnast is of the view that cupping:

“It (cupping) is better than any money I’ve spent on anything else. That’s been the secret that I have had through this year that keeps me healthy. It has saved me from a lot of pain,” Naddour told the USA Today.

Alex Naddour, US gymnast told USA Today they swear by cupping. Credits: Getty Images


Chris Brooks, US Gymnast team captain said that the squad has replaced the flame with a pump for suction in the cups and have begun to do it themselves.

“You’re like, ‘OK, I’m sore here,’. Throw a cup on, and your roommate will help you or you can do it yourself,” said Brooks

As Michael Phelps competed for men’s 4 x 100 meters freestyle relay on 7th August, many people began speculating what the red spots were with some saying it could be a paintball misadventure.

Credits: Twitter

Does it actually work?

Those who have been using and practicing cupping for decades claim that it can ease numerous ailments like pain relief, muscle problems, arthritis, cellulite, fertility issues and insomnia. Mr. Long who has used cupping for 2 decades explain that the technique help circulate the flow of energy – known as “qi” in Chinese (pronounced “chi”) – in the body and establish equilibrium – “yin and yang”.

However, Pharmacologist Prof David Colquhoun, from UCL dubbed cupping as “hocus pocus” while talking to BBC:

“It’s just pulling up a bit of skin, it is not going to affect the muscle to any noticeable extent. And taken to extreme, it can cause harm, it usually doesn’t, it’s usually just a – what [British physician] Ben Goldacre would call – a voluntary tax on the gullible.”


Celebrities Too?

Left to right: Paltrow, Bieber, Anniston. Credits: US Magazine

Well, yes. Hollywood has also embraced this trend even before the Olympic athletes. Justin Bieber, Lena Dunham, Gwyneth Paltrow, Victoria Beckham are among the long-standing practitioners of cupping. Would you give this therapy a try?