News from the Midwest

What are Phelps’ red circles? Cupping in the spotlight at Rio.

The eyes of the world are firmly on Rio for the next couple of weeks as the 2016 Olympic Games get underway. With the swimming events at the fore and many great US athletes, including the brilliant Michael Phelps, already racking up the medals, you’d think the nation’s focus would be on the swimming itself. But we’ve all been a little distracted… What are these curious red circles that have appeared on the upper arms, torso, back and thighs of some of our swimmers?   Have they been visited by aliens in the night, who have left these crop circle-esque marks? Or are they all trying to quit smoking with some new-fangled nicotine patch?

Cupping: quick release from back spasms

As it turns out, the red circles on Michael Phelps have a much less sinister origin. They are the residual marks left by cupping therapy – an ancient Chinese healing practice that is brilliant for promoting release of muscular tension. As soon as the marks had been spotted (excuse the pun), WGN TV and the Chicago Tribune were in touch, keen for our licensed acupuncturist and cupping guru Dana to share some of her wisdom on cupping and why it is so great for Olympic athletes.

Dana said, “Cupping releases stagnant blood & qi from muscles and tendons while reducing inflammation. Those marks are painless and from the looks of it, were done along the Chinese Meridians. The circle at Phelps’ shoulder/top of arm, LI-15, will increase his range of motion as well as free up areas of the arm along the same pathway.” “Instead of getting a massage where they press and press into the muscle and create all these micro tears, which can further add to inflammation, it’s gently pulling up on the skin, and it’s infusing the area with new blood,” Perhaps the largest benefit of cupping to Olympians is the almost instantaneous relief it can bring: “[Phelps is] getting accelerated recovery, so instead of taking anti-inflammatories, the cupping will free things up and it will be probably a 180-degree change within minutes.”

Cupping DIY?

Images across social media clearly show evidence of the Olympic athletes applying the cups to one another ‘behind the scenes’, as well as several athletes declaring in interviews that they self-administer cupping therapy, without using a specialised practitioner. US gymnast Brooks told USA Today, “You’re like, ‘OK, I’m sore here check that.’ Throw a cup on, and your roommate will help you or you can do it yourself.” Dana states that this approach is not a great idea, and stresses that people should not be tempted to attempt cupping DIY at home, as there is a great risk of doing more harm than good. “Knowledge of the lymphatic system and application sites is essential – cupping therapy with a trained practitioner is inexpensive, and you know that you’re in safe hands.”

Cupping is Ancient news

The use of cupping therapy by celebrities is not new – remember these photos of Gwyneth Paltrow from back in 2004? She proudly displayed her cupping marks on the red carpet, and told Oprah Winfrey: “It looks painful, but actually it feels amazing and it’s very relaxing, and it feels terrific… It gets the blood circulating back through whichever point that is and to, you know, clear the energy and get the toxins out.”   If you’re interested in giving cupping therapy a try, Midwest Acupuncture Group are trained practitioners based in North Center, Chicago. Visit our Treatment Pages to learn more about cupping or Book Your Appointment today.

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