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Michael Phelps and Kim Kardashian Are Trying to Make the Ancient Chinese Practice of Cupping Happen

Once you get over that facial expression, note Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps' brown shoulder marks, the visual results of "cupping."

Once you get over that facial expression, note Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps’ purple shoulder marks, the (visual) result of “cupping”; Image: Mark Reis/Colorado Springs Gazette/TNS via Getty Images

Five days into the Rio Olympics, spectators have much to meditate over. Will French gymnast Samir Ait Said ever attempt a hurdle again? How did the world only just register the uncanny resemblance between American archer Brady Ellison and Leonardo DiCaprio? Why do Michael Phelps and several other Olympians appear to have escaped a struggle with a giant octopus? While only time and omniscient beings can resolve the first two musings, the answer to the latter is simple: cupping.

Get your minds out of the gutter. The ancient Chinese healing practice of “cupping” — in addition to helping Kim Kardashian relieve her (perfectly slicked-back pony-induced?) neck pain this Monday — is having an Olympic moment.

The process is simple: practitioners — or the patients themselves — place specialized cups resembling light bulbs onto their problem areas. They then use heat or an air pump to create suction to transform the cup into a sort of skin vacuum, which pulls the skin up and away from the underlying muscles. The treatment lasts for a few minutes. It supposedly works by drawing blood to the targeted area, which in turn reduces soreness and speeds muscle repair. On the downside, you’re left looking like Barney’s cousin, a Dalmatian, etc.

Western science has not been able to determine whether cupping produces a true physiological benefit or whether the effects are simply hickey-like and placebo-induced. A 2012 study of 40 patients suffering from knee arthritis found that people who “cupped” reported less pain after four months than the control group who simply waited out the pain (ouch). However, the placebo factor could not be ruled out, as is the case in many a cupping study. Regardless, Jennifer Aniston, ex-Goop goddess Gwyneth Paltrow, Victoria Beckham, Jessica Simpson, Denver Broncos player DeMarcus Ware and other celebrities, identifiable by their tell-tale spots, swear by the method.

Plus, as Keenan Robinson, Phelp’s personal trainer points out, if it works for you, it works for you. If not, no harm, no foul — while the benefits of cupping haven’t been confirmed, the procedure has no adverse physical effects apart from the bruising. “We know that science says it isn’t detrimental,” Robinson told the New York Times. “We know that science says it does in some cases help out. So we’re at least going to expose the athletes to it years out so they can at least get a routine into it.”

That said, despite what Kim may advise, kids, don’t try this at home — or without a trained professional walking you through the process first. One guy cupped his head to relieve a headache and let’s just say the results weren’t pretty.

[ via The New York Times ]