What Are Those Purple Spots on Michael Phelps? - The Need-to-Know About Cupping Therapy

     You've all seen it by now, the weird looking red and purple circles this year's Olympic athletes are sporting. “What's with the pepperoni marks,” you may be asking yourself, “And why would someone intentionally have that done?”

     Cupping therapy is an ancient practice that is very familiar to Acupuncturists. This procedure involves using cups that come in a variety of materials and sizes. I prefer to use glass cups, but plastic, silicone, rubber, and bamboo are also popular. Most cups are placed on the skin for five to ten minutes after creating a vacuum in them using a cotton ball set ablaze, or by using a suction pump to create the perfect level of suction. This soft tissue therapy is used for many different issues including pain, tight muscles, decreased circulation, acute or chronic injuries, cough, asthma, herpes zoster (shingles), and a host of other ailments.


     By creating negative pressure, cupping draws the superficial skin and tissue into the cup and encourages an increase in blood and lymphatic flow in the surrounding tissues. It's like a reverse massage. Cupping also releases fascia and scar tissue adhesions. The side effect that tends to make people curious about this therapy is the superficial bruising that is usually left afterward. These marks tend to fade within a week (the body is great at healing itself) and is one mechanism responsible for the effectiveness of this therapy.

     While cupping literally sucks, it does so in a very good way and lets you match your favorite athletes while improving your health. Gymnast Alex Naddour called cupping "the secret that I have had through this year that keeps me healthy." He has his own personal cupping kit and claims "it's been better than any money I've spent on anything else." If looking like you've been hugged by an octopus is intriguing to you, please contact your local Licensed Acupuncturist to see if cupping is appropriate for your needs.

Selena Wooley, LAc is an acupuncturist at the Alaska Center for Natural Medicine. To learn more about Selena, click here. To make an appointment at ACNM call 907.452.3600.