Those purple spots on Michael Phelps chests are there for good reason, it’s called ‘Cupping’ and it’s an ancient Chinese therapy for healing fast. In Rio Olympics, Olympic athletes like Michael Phelps and Alex Naddour have been spotted with deep red circles on their bodies. The odd-looking marks are from an ancient Chinese massage therapy technique called myofascial decompression, or cupping. “It can be used on anyone, really, from Olympic athletes to a 59-year-old desk worker with back pain and stiffness,” says Michael Mancuso, a physical therapist in Rio Olympics who specializes in the technique, which is thought to increase blood circulation.
A “suction cup-like tool” is used to apply negative pressure to a person’s underlying sore tissue, explains Mancuso. The patient then moves into a position that stretches out that spot. The cups stay in place for about five to 10 minutes. “It can be used as a massage technique, it can stretch the tissue out, it can bring local inflammation to an area for healing, or even break up scar tissue after surgery,” Mancuso says. “What you’ve been seeing with the Olympic athletes is probably used to either warm up the muscles before an event, or to release tension afterwards.” While a person may experience temporary pain, “most patients feel immediate relief, and feel looser with increased ranges of motion.”
The red marks they’re left with – like those on Phelps’ back Sunday night as he swam with his teammates to victory in the 4×100 meter freestyle relay – result from blood rising to the skin’s surface, and can last for seven to 10 days, according to Mancuso. The alternative medical treatment may be all the rage in Rio, but it’s hardly the first time the practice has made headlines. Hollywood hotties like Jennifer Aniston donned cupping spots at a movie premiere in 2013. Iron Woman Gwyneth Paltrow and former spice girls member Victoria Beckham have also tried the ancient technique