Who Beat Up Michael Phelps?

Michael Phelps bruises

Newsflash! Michael Phelps has been assaulted in Rio!

Wait, what? Those bruises aren’t from getting beat up for winning everything – AGAIN?

Last week, Phelps looked like he’d been mugged on the streets of Rio as he headed for the pool.

Turns out, he hadn’t been mugged, just Cupped!

So, what is Cupping? What does it do? Does it really help athletes perform more effectively?


Cupping is an ancient alternative medicine practice. In fact, according to the Ebers Papyrus, one of the oldest medical textbooks in the world, Cupping was used by the ancient Egyptians as far back as 1,550 B.C.

It’s also been used by the Chinese and in other Middle Eastern cultures as well.

Cupping is said to reduce inflammation, ease pain, increase blood flow and enhance relaxation and feelings of well-being.

Basically, there are 2 forms of Cupping, dry and wet.

Both types, in the traditional variety of Cupping, involve a therapist placing paper, herbs or alcohol in a cup, setting it on fire, then placing the cup on your skin as the fire dies.


Sounds like fun so far, right?

The cooling air in the cup creates a vacuum, making your skin rise and get red as your blood vessels expand. Cups can be left in place for up to 3 minutes (more in rare or more aggressive forms of the therapy.)

More modern Cupping therapies often use suction to create the vacuum (and avoid burns, maybe?) rather than burnt stuff.

Wet Cupping allows the therapist to move the cups around on the skin, creating a massage-like effect.

There are also versions of the therapy that involve acupuncture needles or small scalpel cuts to the treated area.


Supporters of the practice believe it can remove harmful toxins from the body and promote healing. Of course, if you’re having your skin sliced open as part of the treatment, healing would be a good thing, but moot if you just skip the cutting part. I’m just putting that out there…

There are few scientific studies on Cupping, in spite of its “ancientness.” In a 2012 meta-study, Australian and Chinese researchers found that cupping was an effective complementary treatment for acupuncture and medications for acne, herpes, facial paralysis, inflammation and Cervical Spondylosis.

These findings were backed up by a 2015 study in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine.

The British Cupping Society (I bet those meetings are fun!) says Cupping is effective for blood disorders, arthritis and fibromyalgia, fertility issues, skin problems, migraines, anxiety and depression, high blood pressure, allergies, asthma and even varicose veins.


There are some side effects to be aware of, however. The most obvious one is looking like you got mugged in a Rio favela (bruises.) Some discomfort and burns may also occur, along with mild skin infections.

Finding a Cupping practitioner in your area will likely get easier, now that it’s gone mainstream thanks to Michael Phelps, his bruises and all those medals (not to mention the dozens of other Olympians with bruises, but fewer medals.)

Since I’ve been inundated with questions about Cupping, I thought I’d give everyone the short, simple version of what it is and what it does.

One warning, though. Not every Cupping treatment comes with a bunch of Gold Medals. Pretty sure you’d have to earn those.

Keep the faith and keep after it!

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