RIO DE JANEIRO (WFLA/AP) — After the American men’s 4×100-meter relay team won gold, Michael Phelps reached down to help anchorman Nathan Adrian out of the pool.
While he did it, millions of Americans watching at home saw several purple dots on his back and shoulder.
Some kind of new tattoo? Did he take a nap on a bed of tennis balls? It was quite a talking point on social media.
It’s actually part of an ancient technique that’s become more and more popular among Olympic athletes.
It’s called ‘cupping’ and this Chinese healing practice that’s been around for thousands of years, is now having its Olympic moment.
‘Cupping’ involves glass cups that are placed on the skin. The cups create a suction and pull on the skin. This is either done through a machine or the massage therapist will heat the glass with a flammable substance like alcohol, herbs, or paper.
The vacuum that’s formed by these cups relaxes the muscles and helps athletes quickly rejuvenate. The cups are left there for anywhere from 2 to 15 minutes.
“We’re lifting skin, connected tissue, muscle and again an opportunity to bring that blood flow into the tissue that much quicker,” said massage therapist Stacie Nevelus.
If there’s a lot of tension or toxins in the muscles, dark hickeys could be left behind.
“You get enhanced performance, you get flexibility, you can pull that lactic acid off that much quicker and you’re also bringing fresh blood and oxygen so it helps them rejuvenate that much quicker, they’re able to get back out and train,” said Nevelus.
The bruising can remain for days, and athletes like Jackie Miller say it doesn’t hurt. Miller competes in triathlons and has been receiving cupping therapy for years.
“Sometimes it’s a little uncomfortable if I have a sore spot and she puts it on pretty deep, it might be a little uncomfortable but it doesn’t hurt. Maybe a slight pinch, it’s like somebody is pinching you a little bit,” said Miller.
Miller swears by the technique.
“She’s really honestly kept me injury-free. There are some weeks where I train upwards of 25 hours a week and I really never had a serious injury in all these years,” she said.
Cupping also has other benefits too. Some use it for facelifts, body contouring, and to smooth out old scars.