Cupping and Olympic Athletes

I’ll bet there are many Winter Olympic athletes who use cupping, but they may be hard to find. We notice cupping more often in the Summer Olympic Games – no surprise – because the athletes wear very skimpy uniforms instead of heavy parkas and snow pants. Several Olympic swimmers have displayed the round, colorful marks during their competitions.

The most popular Olympic swimmer to sport purple cupping marks is Micheal Phelps. In 2016, Time Magazine published an article titled “Why Michael Phelps Is Gaga for Cupping.” Phelps told TIME, “I’ve done cupping for a while before meets. But I haven’t had a bruise like this for a while. I asked for a little help yesterday because I was a little sore and I was training hard.” In 2016, Michael Phelps won 6 more medals to become the most decorated Olympian of all time.

Other Olympic swimmers who make cupping a habit include: U.S. silver-medal winner Chase Kalisz, bronze medalist Dana Vollmer, Australian Kyle Chalmers, and Wang Qun from China. Of course, observers remember their remarkable feats, but the circular purple bruises on the backs of these swimmers also got a lot of attention and more than a few photographs.


Cupping is based on simple, traditional ideas. Specially made glass, bamboo or plastic jars are placed on the patient’s skin to create suction. Traditionally this was done with fire, but the modern version uses a hand pump to create the vacuum inside the cup. This action causes the underlying tissue to be sucked partway into the cup – how much skin depends on the amount of suction used.

Patients usually feel a tight sensation in the area of the cup – it feels good and relaxes aching muscles. If it is too tight, the practitioner can adjust the amount of suction to provide greater comfort. When the cups are removed, everyone talks about feeling a release of tension and tightness – it often feels very relaxing!

And what about those of us who are not landing quad jumps or snowboarding backflips? For the rest of us, cupping is effective to enhance circulation, help relieve pain, and pull toxins from your body’s tissue. It often gets good results for patients who suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome, flu, colds, back pain, coughs, allergies, muscle pain, fevers, bronchial congestion, arthritis and anxiety.

Cupping is also the type of treatment from which almost everyone benefits. The exceptions are sensible; Cupping therapy should be used with caution among pregnant women and patients who bleed easily and/or cannot stop bleeding. In addition, cups should not be applied to areas of the body with skin ulcers, edema, infection or large blood vessels. Everyone else, enjoy!


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