Newspaper article International New York Times

Old Chinese Remedy Is Spot on for Olympians

Newspaper article International New York Times

Old Chinese Remedy Is Spot on for Olympians

Article excerpt

The telltale dots actually are signs of "cupping," an ancient Chinese healing practice that is experiencing an Olympic moment.

Olympics trivia: What has 19 gold medals and a bunch of purple circles?

If you watched a certain swimmer's Rio Games debut, when he propelled the United States 4x100-meter relay team to a gold medal, you know the answer: Michael Phelps.

While it may look as if Phelps and several other Olympians with those skin marks have been in a bar fight, the telltale dots are actually signs of cupping, an ancient Chinese healing practice that is experiencing an Olympic moment.

"Because this particular recovery modality shows blemishes on his skin, he walks around and looks like a Dalmatian, or a really bad tattoo sleeve," said Keenan Robinson, Phelps's personal trainer. "It's just another recovery modality. There's nothing really particularly special about it."

Practitioners of the healing technique -- or sometimes the athletes themselves -- place specialized cups on the skin. Then they use either heat or an air pump to create suction between the cup and the skin, pulling the skin slightly up and away from the underlying muscles.

The suction typically lasts for only a few minutes, but it is enough time to cause the capillaries just beneath the surface to rupture, creating the circular, eye-catching bruises that have been so visible on Phelps, as well as members of the United States men's gymnastics team. If the bruising effect looks oddly familiar, it is because it is the same thing that happens when someone sucks on your neck and leaves a hickey.

"I've done it before meets, pretty much every meet I go to," Phelps said on Monday. "So I asked for a little cupping yesterday because I was sore, and the trainer hit me pretty hard and left a couple of bruises."

Physiologically, cupping is thought to draw blood to the affected area, reducing soreness and speeding healing of overworked muscles. Athletes who use it swear by it, saying it keeps them free of injury and speeds recovery. Phelps, whose shoulders were dotted with the purple marks as he helped power the relay team, featured a cupping treatment in a recent video for a sponsor. …

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