Phelps Shows His Spots: The Ancient Medical Practice Many Olympians Are Embracing

Olympic athletes embrace the ancient art of cupping.

[DIGEST: Yahoo! Sports, New York Times, NBC, BBC, Time, NPR]  

When Michael Phelps appeared at his Olympic event in Rio covered in perfectly circular bruises, cupping became the most talked-about athletic health fad of 2016.

Cupping is the process of applying heat to a special cup and then applying the cup to the skin. As the heat dissipates, it creates a vacuum. According to traditional Chinese medicine practitioners, this draws the blood to the surface of the skin, increasing blood flow to places where it might be congested.

“I’ve done it before meets, pretty much every meet I go to,” says Phelps.

Credit: Source.

He’s not the only one. US gymnast Alex Naddour, former Olympian Natalie Coughlin and Belarus swimmer Pavel Sankovich all extoll the virtues of cupping.

“That’s been the secret that I have had through this year that keeps me healthy,” says Naddour. “It’s been better than any money I’ve spent on anything else.”

This isn’t the first time cupping has enjoyed the spotlight. Gwyneth Paltrow displayed the tell-tale circles on the red carpet in 2004, and Jennifer Aniston was pictured with cupping marks in 2013. Now, even Kim Kardashian has jumped on the cupping bandwagon, documenting her first treatment on Snapchat.

While the current proliferation of circular marks may be a fad, cupping itself is not. Cupping was described more than 3,500 years ago on the Eber’s papyrus, one of the oldest medical

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