You might have seen athletes around Mt. Pleasant and Charleston sporting the ubiquitous purple spots—or even seen celebs like Michael Phelps and Gwyneth Paltrow tout the wonders of CUPPING in the press.   So what is up with all of that bruising?   

This week we break down what exactly CUPPING is and WHY it’s all the rage among athletes!


According to cupping expert Michael Mancuso, as quoted in People Magazine, “[Cupping is] a ‘suction cup-like tool’ used to apply negative pressure to a person’s underlying sore tissue.  The patient then moves into a position that stretches out that spot. The cups stay in place for about five to 10 minutes.”


MindBody explains that cupping is almost like an ANTI massage: “Rather than applying pressure to muscles, the suction uses pressure to pull skin, tissue and muscles upward…the underlying tissue is raised, or sucked, partway into the cup.”   While you will get tissue relief with massage, cupping goes about targeting the tissue in a radically different way.


According to Kevin Rindal, who works with USA Swimming and Michael Phelps specifically (as quoted in Time Magazine): “The intent [of cupping] is to minimize fascial restriction so the motion is more smooth..Instead of pushing down on muscle and fascia, as massage does, cupping pulls the layers of muscle and fascia apart, much like separating the layers of a flaky pastry, so fluid can flow more easily in between them to keep them well-oiled.” 

Or in more simple terms: ‘The purpose of cupping is to enhance circulation, help relieve pain, remove “heat” and pull out the toxins that linger in your body’s tissues.”  So after hitting it hard at the gym, cupping can help recovery time.  Many believe that this process is very beneficial to functional fitness.


According to Harvard Medical School, YES. “Most experts agree that cupping is safe. As long as those treated don’t mind the circular discolorations (which fade over a number of days or weeks), side effects tend to be limited to the pinch experienced during skin suction.” 

Worried about cupping impacting your upcoming workout?  Don’t sweat it! In fact, Men’s Journal explains: “Though cupping continues to have skeptics, it is growing in popularity with world-class athletes thanks in part to several studies that say it can provide short-term pain relief.”


“The sucking causes small blood vessels under the skin to break, and a cup-shaped bruise to form,” explains Rachel Vreeman, MD, in Health Magazine.  And while it may look freaky or even painful, Freeman promises that it isn’t as bad as it seems: “Cupping basically feels like getting a hickey.”


While every athlete is different, many people find cupping beneficial.   It’s true that there is not a lot of conclusive medical research on cupping (most scientific studies on the topic have been sited for being limited).  However according to Science Direct, “Cupping therapy, following a few thousand years of use, development and perfection, has been increasingly accepted by variety of cultures and people. Its application is extensive, its efficacy is good, its cost is low, and its easy application and safety without adverse side-effects resulted in many practitioners introducing cupping therapy into their practices.”

And most anecdotal evidence proves that cupping has major benefits.  Take this firsthand account from Elle Magazine’s Kristina Rodulfo: “Immediately after cupping, my upper back felt opened up, tension disappeared, and hours of slouching in front of a screen were undone. Post-workout soreness radiating from my lower back dissolved. Despite how gruesome it looked, my back didn’t feel terribly hurt, just a little tender in the following hours. That night, the marks darkened to a red-purple color that already started disappearing after one day. They should be gone completely within five days or less.”