The recent Rio Olympics had many memorable moments, from Michael Phelps' latest gold medal haul to the incredible performance of U.S gymnast Simone Biles.
But the Olympics also re-introduced us to a form of alternative medicine known as "cupping."
It was easy to notice the athletes who are adherents of cupping thanks to the large reddish or purple spots the treatment left on their skin. Those marks were made by the use of a vacuum seal on their skin that broke capillaries while drawing blood to the skin.
What Exactly Is Cupping?
Cupping actually isn't anything new as it's an ancient form of medicine that can be traced back to ancient Chinese, Egyptian and Mediterranean cultures. It has many purposes - including to help with inflammation, pain, relaxation, blood flow, and as a deep tissue massage.
How Does It Work?
Modern versions of cupping use a rubber pump to create a vacuum in a cup specifically designed for the purpose. Silicone cups are often used in today's type of cupping treatment and can be placed on different areas of the skin to produce a massage-like effect.
The vacuum inside the cup causes your skin to redden and rise as blood vessels expand. In "wet" cupping treatment, the cup is in left in place for about three minutes. After it's removed, the therapist will make tiny incisions in the skin, after which a second suction is used to draw out a small quantity of blood. It's rare to get more than five to seven cups per session.
What Does Cupping Treat?
Cupping, as mentioned, has many purposes, and some studies have shown that it's used to improve pain, stiffness, mobility, as well as osteoarthritis and chronic neck pain. For athletes, its benefits include relieving soreness and pain that can come with strenuous training and competition. In short, it's designed to speed up muscular and soft tissue recovery after strain and/or injury.
Does Cupping Work?
The jury appears to be out when it comes to the actual effectiveness of cupping. While its uses have expanded beyond sports therapy to include treatment of issues such as migraines and eczema, there isn't - as yet - a lot of scientific evidence that backs it up. On the other hand, there haven't been a lot of scientific studies done on it. However, a 2015 study said that it could help in providing pain management as well as treating acne. And, athletes like Phelps and other Olympians, are staunch proponents of its benefits.
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