Phelps cuppingViewers of the recent Olympic Games may have spotted some rather interesting and telling features adorning the physiques of certain Olympians. If you tuned into the swimming and gymnastic events you may have noticed clusters of vivid circular bruises on the backs and arms of some competitors revealing that athletes have cottoned on to cupping: it would seem that in the 21st century this ancient Chinese healing technique – practised by acupuncturists at Clerkenwell Clinic – has been having something of an Olympic moment.

But what exactly does cupping involve, and why have some of the world’s greatest athletes adopted the practice in support of their peak performance?

Practitioners of cupping place specialized cups upon the skin, using heat to create suction between the two – this pulls the skin lightly up and away from the underlying muscle. Typically this suction lasts no longer than a few minutes, enough time for the capillaries beneath the surface of the skin to rupture causing the distinct purplish stamps seen on athletes including Olympic champion Michael Phelps.

Physiologically, cupping is said to draw blood to the treated area, reducing pain and hastening the healing of muscles that have been overworked. Athletes who’ve adopted the technique swear by its ability to keep them injury free and speed recovery and a number of them – including Phelps – have extolled its virtues on social media.


And what about the less Olympian among us?? How might cupping benefit you and me? The practice is used alongside acupuncture and moxibustion here at the Clinic. The physical stimulation and negative pressure the procedure exerts on the body is generally considered to encourage circulation, boost qi and regulate qi and blood which help strengthen immunity.

Dr Leonid Kalichman of the Ben Gurion University in Israel who recently co-authored a commentary reviewing cupping research says he believes the treatment has a distinctive physiological effect whereby the cause of local inflammation triggers the immune system to produce cytokines, small proteins that enhance communication between cells and help modulate the immune system.

So why not take a tip from an Olympian – and book yourself a treatment.