If you have been watching the Olympics, I’m sure that you’ve seen and/or heard about “those strange purple marks” on Michael Phelps and some other Olympians. Those marks are not hickies. Those are marks from a technique known as “Cupping.” Cupping is a form of holistic medicine that has been around for centuries. It has been claimed to help improve circulation and reduce pain. As horrible as the marks may look, they are not actually painful like a bruise. The bruising that occurs is due to capillaries breaking just beneath the surface of the skin, however, unlike the compressive trauma that is preceded by a bruise, cupping bruises do not typically hurt. As a matter of fact, unless you see them, you will forget they are even present. In other words, what you are seeing LOOKS much worse than how it FEELS. However, when you take something as strange and odd like cupping and plaster it across the airways to millions who only see and can’t feel what it is, the natural reaction is horror and disbelief that someone would allow someone else to actually do this to them. Well, don’t knock it until you try it. In this case, not seeing, but feeling is believing.
In 2008, the world was confused about “that strange magic tape” when Kerry Walsh was wearing it. This Olympics, the “performance enhancer” is cupping. The skeptics will be quick to point out, as they were about kinesiology tape, that there is absolutely no science to back its validity and any effects it may have are placebo at best. I love this about western medicine followers. They are always quick to debunk anything that is not backed by science, yet when newer science debunks the old science we hear nothing of it. So while athletes are getting the relief they need (or winning 23 gold medals), the media cries “quackery”.
Based upon the logic of the skeptics, we should still be icing injuries and injecting cortisone into painful joints (both of which have been shown to retard the healing process as well as damage connective tissue repair1,2). Ultimately, if the athlete/patient is getting results from the therapy, it’s working (for them). This is not a blanket statement for any approach or particular injury (at first, do no harm). If my 8 year old says she need a band aid for her finger because it hurts, I’ll give it to her knowing full well that the band aid won’t “scientifically” do anything, but yet it will make her feel better. Case closed.
1 Khan KM, Cook JL, Taunton JE, Bonar F. Overuse tendinosis, not tendinitis, part 1: a new paradigm for a difficult clinical problem (part 1). Phys Sportsmed. 2000;28(5):38–48. PubMed #20086639.
2 Collins NC. Is ice right? Does cryotherapy improve outcome for acute soft tissue injury? Emerg Med J. 2008 Feb;25(2):65–8. PubMed #18212134.