What is Chinese Cupping and Why Are Olympians Using It?

by Kim Drolet, L.Ac.

Millions saw the circular marks on Michael Phelps and are wondering "What are those?" Simply, they are the result of a traditional Chinese medical treatment called "Cupping". What is Cupping and why are athletes using it?

"Our bodies are going to hurt after doing this for so long.
It's the best thing that I've ever had... It has saved me from a lot of pain."
-Michael Phelps

Cupping is an ancient technique, used in China and around the world, in which a special cup is applied to the skin and held in place by suction. The suction draws superficial tissue into the cup, brings fresh blood to the area, and helps improve circulation. It is a fantastic pain reliever, and is beneficial for both acute and chronic pain and injury. Traditional Cupping, sometimes referred to as Fire Cupping, uses heat to create a vacuum-like suction inside glass cups. In modern times, cups that use a small pump to create suction have also been introduced. Both methods are being used by the U.S. Olympic Team

What many don't know is that Cupping can also be used to treat almost any condition. Much like how your M.D. physician prescribes a pain killer, and refers you to physical therapist, Cupping is often prescribed by a Licensed Acupuncturist in conjunction with Acupuncture, Herbal Formulas, Gua Sha or Tui Na Massage to treat a range of medical conditions, including colds, asthma, allergies, headaches, digestive disorders, sleep dysfunction, depression, anxiety, and more. Licensed Acupuncturists are trained in Chinese Medical Theories and via this knowledge, can combine different treatment types to get you the fastest relief from whatever ails you.

Cupping is not painful and the marks it leaves (called sha in Chinese Medicine) vary from light pink to dark purple, depending on the status of the underlying tissue. They are not "bruises", do not hurt, and disappear within moments, days, or up to 2 weeks for very dark sha. Training is essential to properly and safely perform, as there are precautions for areas around bones, skin outbreaks, moles, scars and other instances.

Your local Acupuncturist is available to answer further questions you have, and to discuss whether Cupping is a good option for your health goals.

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