What are the Mysterious Markings on Michael Phelps and other Olympic Athletes?


Coverage of the summer Olympics in Rio have revealed an ancient Chinese healing practice being used this time by American athletes! The circular markings on these Olympians in Rio are from cupping.

Cupping is commonly used in the rehabilitation of athletes in China, Japan, Korea and other Asian countries.  Sports team doctors in China learn this method as part of medical training and physical therapy for athletes and performers, this is because the development of Chinese orthopedics is rooted in the traditions of martial arts where trauma medicine is part of the discipline. In addition to cupping a variety, of physical and medicinal techniques such as massage, acupuncture, herbs, electric stimulation and moxibustion are utilized during training or after a game. These methods can help athletes relax, relieve muscle tension, fatigue and promote physical recovery.


Cupping along with acupuncture is a natural modality that has helped with injury recovery and contributed to the outstanding athletic performance of these Olympians.

Cupping is one of the oldest methods used in traditional Chinese medicine by acupuncturists. It can also be used in the home as folk medicine to treat simple illnesses.

It is based on the foundational principle of Chinese medicine “where there is pain you will find a blockage of Qi and Blood, where there is free flow of Qi and Blood there is no pain”.

This centuries old technique uses glass cups to create suction on the skin surface. The suction created by the cupping draws blood to the affected area, loosening muscles as well as moving the fascia (connective tissue surrounding the muscles). This promotes the movement of Qi and Blood helping reduce soreness and speeds the healing and recovery of overworked muscles. Depending on the condition being treated, the cups are left in place from 5 to 10 minutes.

The treatment will leave bruises on the skin for several days that is superficial; cupping should not hurt the recipient.

Whether science gives a stamp of approval or not, the athletes who use it swear by it, saying it keeps them injury free and speeds recovery.

Science weighs in: The scientific theory of why cupping may work is that cupping causes local inflammation triggers the immune system to produce cytokines, small proteins that enhance communication between cells and help to modulate the immune response. Thus it can help relieve the stiffness of muscles and calm the nervous system.

Other uses: in traditional Chinese medicine cupping is used to treat respiratory conditions such as bronchitis, asthma and congestion; arthritis, GI disorders and certain types of pain.

Whether working by increasing circulation, stimulating nerves, or releasing endorphin’s centuries of experience have shown how powerful cupping is for healing the body naturally.