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What Are Those Purple Spots on Michael Phelps?

What Are Those Purple Spots on Michael Phelps?

(Copyright AP)

By    |   Monday, 08 August 2016 03:09 PM

If you’ve been watching the Olympics, you may have noticed the pattern of purple spots on athletes — including swimmers like Michael Phelps — and wondered what they are.

What you’re seeing is not some bizarre leopard-spot tattoo, bruises, or skin reactions to contaminants in the pool. In fact, those circular spots are the result of a therapy known as “cupping” to relieve pain.

Marcus Williams, a physical therapist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, explains that cupping dates back to ancient times of eastern medicine, but is making a bit of comeback during the summer games in Rio de Janeiro.

Williams, who has used this technique on many patients, tells Newsmax Health that the practitioners use various sized cups to create suction via heat or an air pump.

The skin is pulled up and away from the underlying muscles, relieving athletes of soft tissue restriction and musculoskeletal pain. The technique leaves a hickey-like mark on the body.

Athletes, like Phelps and the U.S. gymnastics team, are using cupping to relieve muscles of extensive training. In Phelps’ case, an irritated shoulder could end his career. Cupping stimulates blood flow and allows fibers to relax, thus reducing his pain.

Williams notes that clinical studies have yet to identify the mechanism at work that makes cupping effective, but several "working theories" may explain its impact and popularity with athletes.

"Cupping increases blood circulation to the area being treated, which can promote immune response like, local inflammation activity or increased lymph flow — both of which help facilitate the body’s natural healing response," he says. "Another theory is the tensile forces associated with the vacuum effect of the cupping therapy can stimulate ... muscle fibers, which can reduce the pain responses associated with the treatment area.

"Lastly, a lot of practitioners [target] acupressure points, which has been associated with the release of pain-relieving hormones. So, there’s some dense questions being sifted through, but currently no definitive answers."


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Those purple spots you may have noticed on Olympic athletes, including Michael Phelps, are the result of 'cupping' therapy.
michael, phelps, purple, spots, cupping, olympics
Monday, 08 August 2016 03:09 PM
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