Cupping: How it Works and What Are Those Spots?

The most accomplished Olympian in the world, Michael Phelps, is a cupper.

He posted pictures on his Instagram page with glass cups strategically suctioned to his hamstrings; and on an Under Armour commercial, footage of him getting cupped is edited right next to the rest of his traditional training.

So what is cupping?

"Cupping is an ancient Chinese therapy that is used for any type of muscular pain, as well as, several other conditions," said Bryan Ellett, MAOM, L.Ac., of Lake Highlands Acupuncture.

We set him up in the NBC 5 gym to show us how it works.

"Well, basically I create a vacuum in a glass, like a small glass jar using fire, which is kind of exciting, and place that on the skin,” said Ellett. “It pulls the skin and the muscle, some of the muscle up into the jar, which is the suction that creates the effect."

He explained that lifting the skin off the muscle or bone allows more blood to flow to the targeted area and improve circulation. It's believed to help the body recover faster, but is also leaves marks.

How Cupping Works

"The marks are blood that has been stuck in these tense tissues,” said Ellett. “It has been pulled by the vacuum and closer to the surface of the skin where there is space for it to then dissipate, so that new fresh blood can come in and heal the tissues."

For our volunteer and first-time cupper, Nick Muthersbaugh, he said he noticed a positive difference in his tense shoulder muscles.

“I would totally look into this as an athlete," Muthersbaugh said. "I lift on a consistent basis, so anything that can help heal quicker would be awesome.”

Ellett said having your entire upper body cupped usually takes about 30 minutes, and he would charge $50 for that size of treatment.

The benefits last as long as those redish-brown marks that cupping leaves behind, which is roughly two weeks.

Ellett said many people can benefit from cupping, including people with allergy issues, and those trying to lose weight.

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