August 21st brought the close of the 2016 Olympic Games where amazing athletes from all across the world showcased their talent, drive and athleticism. Many moments caught the world’s attention including Michael Phelps collecting his 28th Olympic medal. Though incredible, his Games performance wasn’t the only thing catching the eye of viewers. What were those dark-purple, painful-looking circles all over his skin?

New techniques are always being adapted to athletics as competition grows increasingly fierce but what you saw on Michael Phelps was anything but new. Cupping, or myofascial decompression, is one of the oldest alternative therapeutic methods of traditional Chinese medicine. It is used for a variety of conditions where improved blood flow and an accelerated healing process would be beneficial.

The dark, purple round marks on Michael Phelps’ skin created by cupping is due to the local suction that occurs during treatment. The cup is placed over the targeted area and a vacuum is created to lightly draw skin and the superficial muscle layer into the cup. Either heating and subsequent cooling of the air in the cup, or a mechanical pump creates the suction mechanism. The result of this is increased circulation and fascial stretching at the affected area. As new blood is forced into the tissue around the cups, the body accommodates for this change by developing new vessels to feed the tissues with nutrients and oxygen. Along with increasing blood flow, cupping also causes an acute inflammatory response to the area. If not chronic, inflammation is essential to healing. During this process the body releases white blood cells, platelets and other healing chemicals that are beneficial to damaged tissues. Cupping also dilates the pores and opens lymphatic pathways to drain excess fluids and toxins from the affected area. Lastly, the suction and negative pressure created by cupping softens thigh muscles, loosens adhesions and lifts connective tissue.

Here at The Wellness Bank, we offer different methods of cupping within our therapeutic massage practice. Silicon cups are used for running cupping in which the cups are moved along the tissue of the affected area during treatment. Running cupping more affectively promotes increased movement of blood and muscle from the fascial layer. Vacuum therapy cupping is used when a strong suction is needed. With this method, static cupping pulls any toxins from the surface of the specific area. We also have facial cupping available for conditions such as TMJ, trigeminal neuralgia or to reduce puffiness in the face.

If you would like to learn more about cupping or experience it first-hand, call (424-247-9112) us to set up an appointment with therapeutic massage therapist, Jenn Haddad or visit her website here.