Superstar American swimmer, Michael Phelps, left spectators bewildered during the 4x100m freestyle relay at the 2016 Rio Olympics earlier this week.
And no, it wasn’t because Phelps yet again led the US team to victory. Instead, the gawking stares were directed at the athlete’s back. Adorned with bulbous purple bruises, making him look like something straight out of a sci-fi film.
However, anyone familiar with traditional Chinese medicine knows that those marks are not the result of an alien abduction, but instead come from cupping therapy.
Cupping therapy has been around in China for a long time. The theory is that toxins from within the body can be gathered and sucked up to the outer layer of the skin. Practitioners claim that the treatment promotes good blood flow and psychological balance in order to ensure natural healing of the body and muscles. More recently, cupping therapy has become all the rage among celebs and athletes alike, who swear by its effectiveness and healing properties.
“Imagine if you have a tent and some of the cords are too tight, it’s going to distort how the entire tent functions,” explains Kevin Rindal, one of only four chiropractors in the world that Phelps will allow to work on his body. “The athlete’s muscles have to be in perfect tension. If it’s too tight on one side, neurologically it can cause other muscles to not fire as well.”
It’s impossible to say whether the therapy has given Phelps an advantage or not, he was already pretty good at swimming before. But, the swimmer himself remains convinced that cupping gives him an edge, and he just won his 19th Olympic gold medal, so who are we to argue?
“I have done it for a while but I haven’t had bad ones like this for a while. That’s where they usually hurt the most,” Phelps says while rubbing his right shoulder. “I’ve done it before pretty much every meet I go to. I just asked for a little cupping yesterday because I was sore and the trainer hit me pretty hard with one and left a couple of bruises.”
Will Phelps purple-dotted back help bring cupping even more into the mainstream?
Well, whatever Phelps is doing, the athlete remains unstoppable. Lets just hope he doesn’t get carried away with cupping like this 63-year-old man from Sichuan.
By Robin Winship
[Images via People’s Daily / NetEase]