Cupping at the Olympics, and Beyond

IMG_0262In light of recent photos of Michael Phelps among others at the 2016 Olympics, I thought it was a chance to revisit one of my favorite modalities: cupping. Olympians, mainly from the USA teams, seem to be sporting some awesome circular cupping marks. These Olympians say they are benefiting from cupping techniques to ease aches and pains and help them recover from the rigors of training and competing. This ancient healing practice dates back to roughly 3000 BC.
The suction of cupping is used to increase circulation to soften tight muscles, loosen adhesions, lift connective tissue, bring hydration and blood flow to the tissues, and drain excessive fluids and toxins by opening lymphatic pathways.

The goal of cupping is to release the stagnation of blood and energy (this often takes the form of pain and tight muscles) and to release internal heat (this heat can be from a cold, bronchitis, skin rashes, and hives, among others.) Overall, cupping can help with chronic pain relief, pre surgery prepping and post surgery recovery, to increase sports performance, digestive ailments, muscle pain, anxiety, stress, asthma, pneumonia, fatigue, insomnia, chronic headaches, and neuralgia to name a few.

More traditional cups are glass that require the insertion of a flame to create a suction.There are also bamboo cups and, most recently, the more common pump cups and silicon cups. Cups can stay stationary on the body up to 15 minutes. Cups can also slide over the skin.

With stationary cupping, the skin may turn red or purple as the blood surfaces and bruising can occur, creating perfectly round cup marks. Sliding cups can also create redness and bruising. It’s not uncommon for a practitioner to apply a topical liniment after cupping to enable better absorption locally and promote circulation, pain relief, and detoxification.

In general, cupping is safe but should be used with caution on children, the elderly, diabetics, and those on blood thinners. Sufficient hydration is essential after a cupping session to assist proper toxin elimination.

If you haven’t tried cupping, I would give it shot! But be prepared for some bruising. Perhaps getting cupped before a wedding or important events with photo opportunities may not be the best idea or if you are wary about public opinion as you head to the beach.

Cupping marks are becoming a more common site and I suspect this will continue post Olympic games, as more and more people are enjoying the benefits of this ancient healing technique.


Acupuncturist, herbalist, Maya abdominal practitioner, and reflexologist Christina Morris is the founder of Element Natural Healing Arts. Writing about health and wellness gives her an outlet to express her care and concern for her beloved community. She believes everyone can achieve better health and happiness–emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually.