Have you wondered about the round markings on the arms and backs of swimmers and gymnasts in Rio? The markings come from cupping, a form of traditional Chinese medicine. To learn more about cupping, we talked with Jeremy Riesenfeld, acupuncturist and owner of Transformational Acupuncture in Washington, D.C.
What is cupping?
We often refer to cupping as a "reverse massage", because instead of downward pressure, suction is used to pull the muscles upwards, away from the body's core. We use cupping to relax muscles, release muscular tension, improve blood circulation, activate the lymphatic system, and calm the nervous system.
What does treatment look like?
At a treatment, you'd lie down on a massage table, face-up or face-down, depending on the area of the body you'd like to address. The practitioner spreads a thin layer of salve on the appropriate area of the body. Using a flame or suction, they will create a vacuum with small glass or plastic cups. Then they'll quickly place the cups on the appropriate areas of the body. The vacuum causes suction, which creates positive pressure on the skin, pulling it up into the cup. The cups are left in place for 10 minutes or are moved across different muscle groups to create a “cupping massage.” The effects are similar to that of a deep tissue massage. Patients are left with what only appear to be bruises—ranging in color from pink to dark purple. Unlike actual bruises, they are painless and aren't tender to the touch. You could expect them to disappear within a week.
How does cupping help athletes like those in Rio?
Yes, thanks to the swimmers in Rio, cupping is the new black! That said, it’s been around for thousands of years and you certainly don't need to be an elite athlete to reap the benefits.
Cupping is most well known for being an extremely effective therapy in treating neck, shoulder and back pain. It can also be useful in treating respiratory conditions like asthma and in clearing chest congestion associated with colds and flus. It’s also a fantastic treatment to help enhance the immune system, and it can be useful in the treatment of stress and anxiety. While cupping is usually applied to the back, other areas of the body can be cupped as a way to enhance the effects of an acupuncture treatment, improve circulation and remove blockages.
Commonly, people use cupping to assist with:
- Neck, back, shoulder and hip pain
- colds/flus, chest congestion
- migraines & tension headaches
- enhances immunity
If you want to try cupping, look for a licensed practitioner who specializes in traditional Chinese medicine like an acupuncturist.