By now, you may have seen several Olympians sporting circular marks on their shoulders and backs. These medal-sized hickeys are the result of cupping, a traditional Chinese therapy that dates all the way back to circa 3000 BC — so it's clearly more than just a Rio 2016 fad. Okay, now that Kim Kardashian has posted on her Snapchat that she's also trying cupping, perhaps it is a bit faddish at the moment. But whether it merely gives a placebo effect as some scientists claim, or has actual benefits, its undeniable that these top-level athletes find cupping therapeutic.
What it is: Cupping is a massage technique with roots in traditional Chinese medicine.
How it works: The treatment uses glass or plastic cups to apply heat and suction to areas of discomfort. This creates a vacuum, and is left on the skin for up to 20 minutes. The suction of the vacuum brings blood to the surface of the skin, and is purported to stimulate blood flow and loosen muscles.
While there are limited studies to back up the effects of cupping, perhaps the 21-time Olympic gold medallist knows something science doesn’t. If you’re on the fence about this alternative treatment, here are five benefits that will help you decide whether you should hop on the cupping train.
1. Loosens the muscles
Known to provide relief through pressure, cupping alleviates muscle aches and recovery time by preventing a build-up of lactic acid in the muscles.
2. Sedates the nervous system
Occasionally pain-inducing but overall cathartic, the treatment serves as an excellent way to tackle high blood pressure.
3. Encourages blood flow
By applying suction and heat on the body, cupping is believed to dispel stagnation within the body, boosting vitality and mobility.
4. Pain relief
Cupping has also been reported to help with chronic neck, shoulder and back pain — it’s no wonder it’s such a hit with the athletes.
Like most massage modalities, cupping can be remarkably soothing. While it does leave behind painful-looking marks, the procedure mirrors the gestures of a standard massage, creating a potentially luxuriating experience.