Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps made a splash at the Rio Olympics for much more than winning gold medals. Photographs show that Phelps had large, red circles along his shoulders and back, prompting many to wonder what was going on.

Phelps wasn’t alone. Other athletes, particularly those from China, had similar marks.

For those well-versed in the art of Traditional Chinese Medicine, these circles were no mystery. They are a part of a healing process called cupping that goes back thousands of years—in fact, ancient Egyptians used it back in 1550 B.C.

Cupping offers several benefits to athletes and non-athletes alike.

What makes these Olympians embrace this treatment? We know you have questions, so we’ve compiled some basic information we’d like to think of as “Cupping 101.”


What is cupping therapy?

During cupping therapy, one of our certified experts places specialized heated cups on your skin to create a small vacuum. As a result, your skin reddens and rises, causing your blood vessels to expand. This suction helps restore blood flow and enables your body to flush out toxins from a problem area.

The amount of time the cups are left on your body varies, depending upon the condition for which you seek treatment. In general, three to five cups are left on your body for two to four minutes. These cups may be made of bamboo, glass or earthenware.

Sometimes, we even apply massage oil to the skin and “slide” the cups over a broader area if the tissue is less specific to a smaller area.


Why do athletes use cupping therapy?

Professional athletes — and even enthusiastic “weekend warriors”— often have to race or perform several times a day or week. Cupping helps the body and muscles recover by reducing pain and muscle tenderness.

The benefits center around something called the fascia. Fascia is connective tissue woven throughout your body. It is also between, around and on the surface of muscles. If there are problems with the fascia — if it is too tense, pulled or not properly lubricated — it can cause pain and hinder athletic performance.

Cupping helps lubricate the fascia, resulting in smoother, more efficient muscle movement.


How can I benefit from cupping therapy?

Cupping therapy offers several benefits. It can:

  • Help lower blood pressure
  • Eliminate chronic back pain
  • Ease stiffness caused by diseases such as osteoarthritis and neuralgia
  • Improve digestion
  • Help you relax — cupping can have a massage-like effect
  • Increase energy due to improved blood flow
  • Improve your skin, reducing acne and eczema
  • Promote faster healing by targeting specific areas for blood flow stimulation


Does cupping hurt?

No, cupping does not hurt. If you have questions, we encourage you to ask one of our professionals at Connecticut Family Acupuncture. We want to ensure this is a relaxing, therapeutic experience for you.


How should I care for my skin after cupping therapy?

After treatment, you’ll have red circles on your skin that will eventually go away. However, you may feel slightly tired after cupping; this is normal. This is a part of your body naturally processing and removing the toxins that were released.

You should not have any adverse side effects, but remember to drink plenty of water to help your body flush out toxins. While some experience increased energy after cupping, we suggest taking it easy for an afternoon.


Interested in cupping therapy?

We would love to meet you and help you on your journey to a more natural, holistic approach to wellness. Contact us and schedule a free 20-minute consultation.


Connecticut Family Acupuncture is dedicated to helping as many people as possible realize their optimum health naturally, without the use of pharmaceutical or surgical interventions. We are committed to our patients and utilize our extensive knowledge of Traditional Chinese Medicine to address each individual’s health concerns. Connecticut Family Acupuncture has offices in Bolton. Contact us for more information or to schedule an appointment.