Leave to Michael Phelps to stimulate controversy. Fans will remember the press fanfare around Phelps smoking from a bong in 2008.
It should come as no surprise that this year’s Olympics has the press waiting for Phelps to do something newsworthy. They found it.
Pictures of Phelps’ back with bruising from cupping have been circling the internet for days, raising questions. What is cupping? It worth it?
We’ll do our best to answer these questions by looking at the historical and modern applications of this technique, asking if it is or is not science? But first, what is it?
What is it?
Cupping has roots are in Traditional Chinese Method (TCM), which leverages the meridians in the human body for treatment. Those meridians are like pathways, where the body’s vital energy (called chi) travels, connecting organs and functions.
The facing practices of TCM are acupuncture, herbal medicine, massage and more. Cupping falls into the more category.
Cupping involves applying glass or plastic cups to the flesh, with the intention of opening up blood flow in those areas.
Practitioners suck out the air inside the cup, creating a vacuum against the skin, also creating a broken blood vessels. [Read: hickeys.]
Fans swear by the effectiveness of this treatment.
The History of Cupping
TCM is 2,500 years in the making, but according to Wikipedia, cupping may be over 6,000 years old. That means people have been getting hickeys to treat ailments since before recorded history.
Other sources suggest that cupping has only been around since 1500 B.C., but not just Eastern medicine. Over the eons, Egyptians, Greeks, and Western practitioners have plied the techniques of cupping.
In any case, it’s older than Blue Cross.
The venerability of cupping certainly lends some credence to the practice. If it’s been around that long, there must be something to it, right?
More Recent Appearances
In recent history, cupping has been a panacea for various celebrities.
Cupping hickeys have graced the backs of actresses Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Aniston, and Nicole Richie to name a few. Athletes such as Vic Black from the Mets, and performer Justin Bieber have also donned the marks of cupping.
Amongst Olympians, Phelps isn’t alone. US gymnast Alexander Naddour also has dipped into the cups.
In Doctor Seuss’s book, The Sneetches, characters called Sneetches divided socially by those with “stars upon thars,” and those without. As with all Seussian texts, chaos ensues with characters adding and removing stars to fit in, but the ultimate message of the Sneetches isn’t lost on this author.
Just because everybody jumps off a bridge…
Is it Science?
So, is it science? Not by any western definition.
Cupping practitioners work in the same strata as chiropractors. They have to pass exams to practice, but they are not medical doctors.
Some insurance plans will cover treatment, but no medical texts nor credible western schools of medicine teach cupping as a scientific method for treatment.
That said, there are plenty of schools, some even prestigious who teach Traditional Chinese Method.
Within these schools it is possible to receive one’s masters or PHD, but as a course of study.
No doubt, we’ll hear more of cupping in the coming months, thanks to Phelps and people. For those of us who need to be right or wrong about things, this issue will burn a hole in our collective minds.
Good luck finding a consensus of opinion. If you ask people who’ve had it done, they’ll swear by it. If you ask a scientist, they’ll likely tell you it’s hogwash.
Maybe you go try for yourself, draw your own opinions… and blood.