Michael Phelps Cupping Therapy: What Are Those Weird Red Circular Body Markings?

Michael Phelps Cupping Therapy: What Are Those Weird Red Circular Body Markings?
Michael Phelps in the 400 IM Karen Blaha CC BY-SA 2.0

Several members of Team USA, including swimming sensation Michael Phelps, have been noticed using the technique of cupping.


The technique involves small jars placed at strategic positions on the body to enhance blood flow. However, the suction leaves behind large red circles. After undergoing the process, Phelps had almost half a dozen red circles on his upper body.

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As reported by FOX Sports, the practice dates back to thousands of years. Back then, the cups, traditionally made of glass, contained a flammable material that was ignited. After it extinguished, the cups were placed at specific locations on the body producing vacuum as the cups cooled.

Swimming World has described the procedure in more detail.

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“Cupping employs suction to tug on the tightest muscles, stretching the fascia,” the website says. “The vacuum lifts the skin off the muscle or bone, allowing the blood vessels to expand and more blood to flow to the targeted area. Increased blood flow is believed to help the body recover faster.”

Things have progressed since then – now a pump, which replicates the process, does the job. However, it leaves behind temporary red marks on the body.

Athletes have adopted the procedure to help them in recovery. This is important for purposes of post practice and during long stretches when a swimmer might compete in a dozen races.

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Phelps’ Under Armor advertisement, which announced his return to competitive swimming, featured the practice.

One repercussion of the procedure is the temporary bruises it leaves behind. The cupping theory is known to cause marks that can last up to two weeks, according to an article in the Slate.

The procedure takes around five to 10 minutes. The athletes feel a pinching sensation which is followed by pain relief after the removal of the cups. The process is known to open blood vessels, thereby increasing blood flow; and so is deemed beneficial before a race.

Thanks @arschmitty for my cupping today!!! #mpswim #mp 📷 @chasekalisz

A photo posted by Michael Phelps (@m_phelps00) on

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