3 Ways Cupping Therapy Can Work for You (Even If You’re Not an Olympic Athlete)

Cupping michael phelps olympics main

The latest health trend isn’t an even smarter fitness tracker or fashionable, carb-free diet, but instead it’s dark, round bruises like the ones seen on Michael Phelps’ shoulders as he swam in the 2016 Olympics this weekend.

And—as usual—Phelps was way ahead the curve. Here’s a shot of those bruises from back in 2015:

Thanks @arschmitty for my cupping today!!! #mpswim #mp 📷 @chasekalisz

A post shared by Michael Phelps (@m_phelps00) on


So what’s the deal? Blame “cupping,” a recovery technique that’s thousands of years old—and finally enjoying a resurgence in popularity among the world’s best athletes.

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In the process, cups (either glass, plastic or bamboo), are attached to the skin’s surface and, along with the use of heat, create a vacuum effect, which causes those painful-looking marks.

Here’s how it works: According to the practices of traditional Chinese medicine, there are 12 “channels” running through our bodies that each represent a different organ system, like the stomach and liver, explains Dr. Anne Mok, D.A.O.M. (doctor of acupuncture and oriental medicine) at Cornerstone Healing in Brooklyn. She likens this to a highway system, saying cupping can aide in “clearing traffic” to get fresh blood flowing to a certain area, which helps with healing.

But you don’t need to be an Olympic athlete to benefit from cupping as Mok explains the practice is useful to almost everyone. Here are three reasons you might want to consider using this altenative form of healing.

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Combat Chest Congestion

According to Mok, congestion is one of the most common reasons people come in to her office. “If you have like phlegm in the chest, we do cupping in the upper back and that actually helps loosen up the chest, eliminates the phlegm and helps with breathing,” she says. Cupping can be performed to treat symptoms for the common cold, respiratory infections and asthma.

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Relieve Sore Muscles and Increase Range of Motion

Mok recommends that athletes, both professional and amateur, seek cupping therapy after a big race or lifting competition to improve circulation and reduce inflammation, which will relieve muscle sorenesss and increase range of motion. Patients usually see benefits immediately, and Mok advises that fitness enthusiasts take a few days off after a session to let their muscles rest.

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Help with Digestion

“As we’re doing cupping down the back, it’s not only for muscular reasons, it’s also for moving the energy in that channel,” says Mok. According to the doctor, the purple blotches are one form of releasing toxins. As a result, you can expect an increase of bowel movements as the intestines are stimulated by the therapy.

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