Why are some Olympic athletes sporting large purple spots?

The circles appearing on the arms, legs and backs of U.S. athletes like Michael Phelps, Natalie Coughlin and Alex Naddour result from a practice called cupping.

If you haven’t heard of it, that’s not because the practice is new — it’s actually ancient. Cupping is one of the oldest forms of Chinese medicine, dating back to the fourth century, according to Acupuncture Today, a newspaper about alternative medicine.

Standard cupping involves a glass cup and a flammable substance which heats the cup while it’s on the skin. When the flame goes out, suction is created.

In more modern cupping, called “air” cupping, a suction pump is attached to the cup, creating the vacuum-type pull on the skin, according to Acupuncture Today. Sometimes the skin is punctured before air cupping to draw out a small amount of blood. That’s known as “wet cupping.”

Based on photos posted by some Olympic athletes, they are practicing dry, air cupping, which causes surface capillaries to break, creating the purple bruise-like spots.


The effectiveness of diagnosis and treatment will vary. SOPHIA Natural Health Center does not guarantee certain results.

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