During the Olympic broadcasts, Michael Phelps’ red circles caught my eye. I had an inkling what the circles were for but I wanted to investigate the evidence what motivated Michael Phelps to incorporate that into his Olympic Games preparation. After doing some research, I discovered the dark red circles were the result of a traditional Chinese medicine technique called Myofascial Decompression (MFD) also known as “cupping”.

The cup is usually made from bamboo, glass or plastic. Fire cupping is often used where one quickly heats the inside of the cup with fire. Suction is then created when placed on the skin. Typically, 4 to 6 cu
ps are used when adhering to the skin for about 15 to 20 minutes.

According to Acupuncture Today, “The negative pressure created by the suction stimulates the local acupuncture point, this increases the Qi (energy) and blood flow through the meridian to loosen up tight muscles, to relieve pain, and to detoxify and re-balance organ function.” The discoloration is made from the breaking of capillaries on the surface of the skin. The main benefits are encouraging the inflammatory response of the body and speeding up muscular and soft tissue recovery after injury and strain.

Brandi Ross, a certified athletic trainer from UC who also works with athletes at the Olympic training center says, “I’ve been using MFD in my practice for over a year now. I’ve used it therapeutically to treat almost any injury, from plantar fasciitis to hamstring strains to myofascial restrictions unrelated to injury. I’m surprisingly pleased with how many of the athletes are asking for repeat treatments. Although they all complain about how sore it makes them, they are pleased and excited with the outcomes: increased flexibility, fewer restrictions, and an overall feeling of being better”.

This therapy has spread to other elite sports such as boxing, gymnastics and tennis.

Whether it works or not is up to debate. More research is needed. For now, elite athletes are utilizing cupping therapy to help heal from injuries, speed recovery between workouts and boost their performance.

If you are interested in trying cupping, here is a link to find practitioners in the United States including Montana. For more info, I’ve included a link of a CBS video explaining the benefits of cupping including a demonstration of fire cupping.

Nicole Hunt

Please contact me anytime with questions

*Image(s) from Google search images