When Michael Phelps climbed out of the pool after yet another victorious lap at the 2016 Olympics, all eyes were on his, er, back. Why, you ask? Because he was sporting some rather interesting circular marks all over his swimmer’s shoulders. Marks we’ve also seen on Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Aniston and Victoria Beckham. No, they’ve not all been in the same freak accident - they’ve all been indulging in the ancient Chinese ritual of cupping.
What to expect?
Cupping uses suction to draw the skin (usually on your back or shoulders) into the cup by creating a vacuum by heating and cooling the air, or using a mechanical pump. Then, the cup is left in place for five to fifteen minutes. The results are pretty impressive - it tackles everything from pain relief, deep scar tissue discomfort, muscle knots and swelling. Consider it a one-stop anti-inflammatory treatment for all your aches and pains.
it tackles everything from pain relief, deep scar tissue discomfort, muscle knots and swelling.
How does it work?
While it has roots in traditional Chinese medicine, cupping has also popped up in ancient Persian medicine, too. There are generally speaking two kinds of cupping - dry and fire. Dry cupping uses a method where a small area of low air pressure is created, then the cup is placed on the affected area, which is usually lubricated to allow the cup to slowly slide over the skin. Fire cupping isn’t as scary as it sounds - a cotton ball is soaked in 99% alcohol and then lit. Using forceps, the cotton ball is placed inside the cup then quickly removed to heat the cup, and causes suction as it cools down.
Good to know
Both methods cause some bruising which can last a number of days or weeks, as the blood vessels have constricted and expanded so rapidly, but the treatment shouldn’t be painful.
While in days gone by cupping was thought to treat a number of serious ailments, today it’s favoured by athletes and A-Listers alike for the relief it brings to tight muscle knots and areas of tension. It’s perfect for gym-induced aches or knots brought on by poor posture or hunching - hello, office workers.