Cupping: The Olympic Therapy of Chinese Medicine


Last week, Olympic athletes like Michael Phelps and Alexander Naddour brought the Chinese medical therapy of cupping into the Olympic spotlight.  News articles and web posts entitled, “What are those big red spots,” popped up everywhere.   Suddenly the ancient art of cupping, which has been a modality of Chinese medicine for thousands of years, became the trend of the Olympics.

So what’s all the fuss about?  What is cupping, and why, all of a sudden, are Olympic athletes utilizing it?

Cupping is simply the act of applying suction cups (they can be glass, plastic, or ceramic) to the skin in order to create local trauma (i.e. redness, petechiae, bruising).  The suction is created either by using a flame (done with glass or ceramic cups) or some sort of pumping device (used for plastic cups).

Although it sounds slightly counterintuitive, the act of creating bruises on the body in this way, actually has a healing effect.  Not only does cupping move energy and blood, but it also releases toxins that have built up in the muscle layer.  So for athletes who are training hard and need to be at their best, cupping aids in reducing muscle stiffness and soreness, and improves recovery time.

Although the marks left from cupping look a lot like bruises, they don’t feel like bruises.  Sometimes there is slight soreness that is associated with the area that has been cupped, but often no pain or discomfort occurs.  Most of my patients report that although your left with a mark, cupping actually feels good!

And just because you’re not an Olympic athlete (or an athlete at all) doesn’t mean you can’t reap the rewards of cupping.  Cupping can benefit sore muscles that result from chronic overuse in your day to day activities (i.e. tight shoulders from sitting at a computer all day, sore back from lifting boxes, sore shoulder from carrying children, etc).  Traditionally cupping has also been used to treat coughs and colds.  The local trauma that occurs from cupping (redness, bruising) increases white blood cell production, which stimulates the immune system.

Just like other health modalities, cupping will yield the best results when it is performed by a knowledgeable and skilled practitioner.  Cupping is meant to be done over certain acupuncture points or specific regions of the body.  And cupping will not benefit everyone equally.  Depending on your constitution and what’s going on with your health, cupping may or may not be an appropriate therapy for you.  In other words . . .  Don’t try this at home!  If you are interested in cupping, please seek out a certified medical practitioner.

Cupping is offered here at Forever Able Wellness, either on it’s own or as part of an acupuncture treatment.