Cupping in Sports

Cupping in Sports


swimmer on swimming pool

If you have been watching the Olympic Games in Rio, you may have noticed strange circular marks on the athlete’s bodies. These red and purple circular marks are the result of cupping therapy which is an ancient form of therapy, dating back thousands of years.

What is all the fuss about cupping at the Rio Olympics about really? Cupping or Hijama is an ancient form of treatment that has been practised in Asia and the Middle East for the past few centuries.

As noticed in news reports and magazines, it has been made famous yet again after high profile Olympians such as Michael Phelps (and a number of other gymnasts) have been seen with the famous dotting pattern on their backs and shoulders. The therapy has many celebrity followers as well including Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Aniston, Victoria Beckham and Justin Bieber to name a few.

For athletes and sports people, the cupping treatment eases pain/promotes healing as they undergo intense training regimes for increased muscle strength before competition. Cupping can assist the relaxation of muscles as well as reducing body aches and pain. When athletes over exercise, they produce uric and lactic acids, which can be glass cupsdetrimental to muscle function.

If one looks at Michael Phelps marks, they are concentrated on the upper right sides of his back which can indicate therapy for a possible frozen shoulder or treatment to loosen muscles that have become stiff due to over exercising. Swimmers tend to have more cupping, I suspect, due to the constant nature of being in and out of cold water, which can slow down blood circulation.

Cupping is not only for Olympic athletes but can also be used for patients suffering from upper respiratory illnesses, acute injuries, chronic pain, fertility or even cosmetic applications.

In ancient times, cupping therapy was used to get rid of blood and pus when treating a skin abscess, but was also expanded to treat tuberculosis and rheumatism. Because cupping was widely used in Chinese culture, the technique was inherited and developed by modern Chinese practitioners. It cupping has established as an official therapeutic practice in hospitals all over China and also our clinic in Sydney. We even now have other modalities trying to adopt cupping as their own by using terms like “myofascial decompressing techniques” which just use alternative biomedical terms to describe the same physiology effects of cupping.

bamboo tube burn traditional street Chinese medicine

bamboo cupping

therapy cupping glass vacuum massage in salon. Alternative medicine procedure, body care healthy lifestyle.

plastic cupping

Modern medical professionals consider that cupping is generally safe for healthy people when performed by a trained health professional. There is current research that found it may be an effective short-term treatment for chronic neck and lower-back pain. Many clients over the years in our Sydney acupuncture and sutherland Acupuncture clinic have benefited immensely

The action of cupping involves applying either glass or plastic cups to the area of discomfort, by the use of either flame heat or mechanical suction a vacuum is created.  This partial vacuum is created inside the cups and the skin is lifted for a few minutes. Cupping in the traditional sense is suggested to lift out disease-causing fluids and stagnate or stuck energy (qi), resulting in localised healing. Whilst we can also suggest the fascia from muscles is stimulated in the opposite many to deep tissue massage

There are many forms of cupping and at the Sydney cupping and Sutherland shire cupping  Clinic utilise many of these for our patients.

Dry cupping: cups that have been heated or have an attached pump are placed on the affected part of the body. The vacuum created by heat or manually by

glass cupping

glass fire cupping

the pump, lifts the skin to expand the blood vessels and creating a bright red mark on the skin.

Sliding cupping:  incorporates different types of massage oils involve the cup sliding up and down the back (or other parts of the body) where suction remains throughout the session. This form of cupping is used to removes knots and provide relief from inflammation. It can be used whilst the patient is still or moving to affect a whole muscle group.

Wet cupping: suction is created like dry cupping but after 3 minutes the cup is removed to reveal a swollen, red patch of skin. Small incisions are made on this patch to draw out the ‘diseased’ blood. This form of cupping it not practiced commonly within clinic


What are the benefits of cupping?

  • Detoxifies metabolic debris in muscle tissue, fascia, and skin
  • Stimulates a whole body relaxation response (parasympathetic response)
  • Increases range of motion, breaks up adhesion, and promotes healing in scar tissue and chronic injury sites
  • Stimulates oxygenation and detoxification of blood while promoting a feeling of lightness and relief of pressure
  • Increases lymphatic drainage and promotes circulation
Bamboo Cupping

Bamboo fire Cupping


You should always seek treatment from a registered Chinese medicine professional.  The cupping marks may take a few days to a week to completely fade and this needs to be taken into account. In Chinese medicine philosophy, cupping opens your pores, which can make you susceptible to catching a cold, therefore it is really important to keep covered. Also of note is not to use cupping if you have any damaged skin, or if you are taking blood thinners.

What can cupping treat?

Tight and stiff muscles: Back pain, sciatica, piriformis syndrome, IT band pain, rotator cuff injuries, and plantar fasciitis

Respiratory conditions: asthma, bronchitis

Emotional balance: anxiety, depression, stress, migraines

High blood pressure by calming the nervous system,

Overall, cupping is a very safe and enjoyable treatment. It is fantastic on its own or as an adjunct to acupuncture or massage therapy. I’ve found that good health is not one thing you do, but the culmination of many good habits and treatments to keep you balanced. Remember to stay curious, try something new, and enjoy the process.


Traditional cupping and Sports cupping is available at both Sydney Acupuncture and Sutherland Acupuncture clinic