Cupping Therapy: What Is It And Does It Work? - Men's Health Magazine Australia

Cupping Therapy: What Is It And Does It Work?

You may have noticed some athletes brandishing curious dark circular marks all over their bodies. Don’t be concerned, the marks are actually the result of the burgeoning practice of cupping therapy. But does it actually work?

A growing number of athletes are turning to the bizarre ancient practice known as ‘cupping therapy’ to unlock peak performance. The result of the therapy is easily visible, specifically amongst swimmers, who’s exposed skin make the detection of abnormalities fairly easy. Despite the therapy’s meteoric rise to prominence, there isn’t much in the way of scientific evidence to support its effectiveness.

Suction cup therapy, known colloquially as ‘cupping’ has been around since ancient times. The practice originated in China and the Middle East and involves placing cups on the skin to create suction. The cups are usually warmed, with the heat and suction combining to create a vacuum with the skin. Proponents of cupping say it stimulates muscles and increases blood flow, while also relieving pain. But scientists say it’s simply a placebo.

The 2022 FINA Short-Course Swimming World Championships were held last week. Australia finished second in the medal tally with 13 gold, seven silver and five bronze medals. Short course swimming is different from what you might have seen at the Olympics. Olympic swimming events are held in a 50-metre-long pool, this is known as long course swimming, whereas short course is held in a 25-metre pool.

Whenever an international swimming event appears on television, the same question arises: what are those weird marks all over the swimmers? That question was asked once again with the world championships bringing attention to the sport last week. Not every swimmer indulges in cupping, but there’s one Australian athlete in particular who is known for sporting the tell-tale signs of the therapy. Olympic gold medallist Kyle Chalmers.

Chalmers has been one of Australia’s most successful swimmers at the world championships. He won three gold, three silver and one bronze medal last week, including gold in the marquee 100 metre freestyle event. The dark marks across Chalmers body, the result of cupping therapy, have long drawn fans attention and they were on full display yet again when the 24-year-old tore up the pool in Melbourne.

Legendary American Swimmer Michael Phelps brought cupping to the mainstream at the 2016 Rio Olympics.  When the dark bruises all over Phelps led to some concerned questions, Phelps was open about his use of the therapy, “I asked for a little help yesterday because I was a little sore and I was training hard,” he said.  “I’ve done cupping for a while.”

Cupping has become a trend. Athletes and celebrities alike are testing the therapy to see if the benefits were real. Even Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson gave it a go. “Looks more gnarly than it feels, but overall, I enjoyed the therapy.” Johnson said. “Always looking for new techniques to keep this 250-million-year-old dinosaur body balanced and optimal.”

With the growing competitiveness of high-level sports, athletes are always on the look out for alternative forms of medicine, therapy and training that could give them an edge, but they don’t always work. No matter how many athletes say cupping helps them, it hasn’t actually been proven to do much apart from temporarily damaging skin.

Dr Rohin Francis is a cardiologist and studies internal medicine, he says that numerous studies have found there is only limited benefits to cupping. “The only trials that showed some benefit in some pain syndromes were not deemed of good enough quality to draw any valid conclusions,” he said on Youtube.

A 2019 study published in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine states that the perceived benefits of cupping that see its participants experiencing increased blood flow and muscle performance could actually be a placebo. “One of the controversial views concerning cupping therapy is that it has only a placebo effect,” the study says. Dr Francis has his own message for those who claim to have been benefitted by cupping, “The effect is real for them, but that’s not evidence that it works.”

Across his chest, beneath the massive angel wings, Chalmers has a tattoo of the German phrase ‘Nur die Starken überleben’, which translates to ‘Life is harsh and ugly’. Those words could probably be used to describe the process and result of cupping therapy. But they also show that Chalmers is willing to do whatever it takes to get his body into the perfect state for record-breaking results, even if that means engaging in pseudo medicine.

By Cayle Reid

Cayle Reid is a fan of everything sports and fitness. He spends his free time at the gym, on his surfboard or staying up late watching sports in incompatible time zones.

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