You may have noticed that some of the athletes at the Olympic Games in Rio this summer were covered in bizarre circular marks. It turns out that these unusual marks aren’t evidence of alien abduction. Instead they are signs of cupping therapy – a process that involves applying lightly flammable liquid glass cups to areas of swelling, creating suction on the body. So what’s the deal with cupping? And why are we likely to see more of it around East London?
Claim: helps reduce pain
Cupping is a form of ancient Chinese medicine that is said to help treat painful parts of the body. Josh Axe, a ‘doctor of natural medicine and clinical nutritionist’, explains that “Cupping is thought to relax tense muscles and ease stiffness associated with chronic back and neck pains, migraines, rheumatism and fatigue. Some athletes have been known to use cupping therapy to improve performance and reduce stiffness, muscle cramps, joint pains and scar tissue caused by injuries.”
Claim: improves immune system
Some studies show that cupping therapy can help boost the immune system. It has also been used to keep the lungs clear from harmful congestion, and appears to speed up recovery time from respiratory illnesses such as chronic coughs and asthma.
Claim: promotes relaxation
If you have seen videos of cupping therapy, then you’re probably thinking it must be anything but relaxing. Yet its proponents claim that it is comfortable and calming. According to Josh Axe, ‘cupping often helps alleviate physical complaints and allows people to enter a more relaxed state, since it sedates the central nervous system. Once the cups are placed down and suctioned, they might need to remain still for up to 20 minutes, which forces stillness and silence on patients who might otherwise lead very hectic lives.”
Claim: boosts skin health
It’s not only athletes who are rocking the circular imprints. Hollywood stars Jennifer Aniston and Gwyneth Paltrow are also fans of cupping therapy.
Comparative analysis of six studies appears to show that for treating acne the cure rate of wet cupping is higher than for prescription drugs such as tanshinone, tetracycline and ketoconazole.
Claim: improves digestion
Cupping can be an effective way to improve what’s going on inside your gut and reduce symptoms from digestion problems like irritable bowel syndrome.