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If you’ve been watching the Olympics, you’ve probably noticed some strange red marks on some of the top athletes such as Phelps.


They’re not the result of a particularly gruelling training session or accident at paintballing, but of cupping, a traditional Chinese medicine therapy.

Cupping has a clinical history of over 3,000 years in China. Even Hippocrates, the father of medicine, recommended it as an effective way to relieve pain.

How does it work?

A flame is inserted into and quickly removed from a glass cup to remove the oxygen and create a vacuum. The cup is then swiftly applied to the affected area and the skin is pulled up into cup.

Air can also be used to create a vacuum using plastic valve cups and a hand pump to pull the air out.

The cups are left on the skin for 5 to 20 minutes, depending on the body’s constitution and the nature of the condition, before being removed. This is when the distinctive cupping marks are formed, which usually stay for 3 or 4 days before fading

The different colours of the marks can tell your practitioner a lot about your body’s condition too. Pale marks show the body is suffering from Qi deficiency, while dark purple marks show there is blood stasis present.

So how does it feel? When the cups are placed, many patients have a sensation of warmth, tightness and pressure. When the cups are removed, the feeling of warmth can remain for a while, as well as a sense of relief from pain and muscle stiffness.

Improve performance and relieve pain

But why is cupping so popular at the Rio Olympics? Cupping helps to relieve the aches and pains caused by training and competing and speed up recovery.

According to Chinese medicine theory, cupping works by removing blockages or stasis in the flow of Qi and blood through the affected area.

When the skin is sucked into the cup by the vacuum, it is pulled up and away from the tissue below. More Qi and blood can circulate through the area, which promotes the loosening of the joints and muscles and encourages healing.

In addition, the increase in blood flow to the area means that the tissues receive more nutrients and oxygen and therefore reduces stiffness and muscle cramps.

Many athletes combine cupping with acupuncture or massage to receive the optimum benefit from the treatment.

Cupping is best applied by a qualified Chinese medicine practitioner, who can combine the location of the cups with their knowledge of the meridians and acupuncture points.

For example, if you have neck and shoulder pain, the cups can be placed along points along the Small Intestine meridian, which runs up the arm, across the shoulder and along the neck.

If you have lower back pain however, the cups can be placed on points on the Bladder and Governor meridians instead, which run along the back.

In this way, your practitioner can tailor the therapy to your individual needs.

Cupping isn’t just for pain relief however. It can treat a wide range of conditions, from common colds, coughing and tiredness to cellulite, weight loss and cosmetic conditions.

The next step

Come in and try it for yourself. Speak to one of our musculoskeletal pain specialists and find out how cupping can help your performance and speed up your recovery.