What is cupping and why are Olympic athletes doing it? - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

What is cupping and why are Olympic athletes doing it?

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RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - You may have noticed many Olympic athletes, including Michael Phelps, have red or purple circles on their backs.

These strange markings are likely the result of cupping, an ancient Chinese healing practice. Cupping is more ancient than acupuncture and has been used for thousands of years traditionally for muscle relaxation, pain management, and injury prevention, as well as for respiratory, digestive, and gynecological issues.

How it works is fairly self-explanatory; a cup is attached to a pump, and athletes put the cup on their skin, which in turn suctions the area covered by the cup. This process is said to increase blood flow and help the user's sore muscles heal, and the spots are a result of the intense suctioning. 

When you see these odd circles on the Olympic athletes' backs, don't worry; the bruises may look painful, but they go away quickly and the benefits are great.

There are many different reasons and ways to cup, and if you're curious about the practice, you can contact Dr. Skye Sturgeon, associate professor and chair of the Department of Acupuncture & East Asian Medicine at Bastyr University. Dr. Sturgeon can tell you why to cup, how to cup, and where to go for cupping, as well as what to consider and watch out for.

You can learn more about Dr. Sturgeon at: http://www.bastyr.edu/people/faculty/skye-sturgeon-msom-daom.