Friday 22 March 2019

Not for the squeamish: We try out 'cupping' - the Olympic massage everyone is talking about

Jason Kennedy and Cathal Austin

Olympic legend Michael Phelps sent the Internet into meltdown this week after showing off those mysterious, painful looking round bruises on his body.

It wasn't long before we were told those peculiar marks were from cupping, a bizarre therapy that is believed by some to ease muscle pain and stimulate the flow of energy.

Before 2016's Olympians brought it to public attention, stars like Victoria Beckham, Jennifer Aniston and Gwyneth Paltrow used it as a form of beauty therapy.

This is done by applying a a heated bell-shaped jar to the back, which sucks up the skin. This alternative practice has been around for thousands of years and is hugely popular in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

Those who advocate the practice say it's an appropriate treatment for migraines, fertility problems and rheumatic diseases, but the science behind these claims are lacking.

However, athletes who use cupping as a form of therapy or injury prevention swear by it.

"You’re like, ‘OK, I’m sore here,’” American gymnastics captain Chris Brooks told USA Today. "Throw a cup on, and your roommate will help you or you can do it yourself."

"No method hasn’t been tested. No stone hasn’t been unturned. If there’s something that’s out there that somebody believes is going to be beneficial for my situation, I gave it a shot and then we ran with what worked best for my body in particular."

With everyone talking about it, decided to give it a go to test the supposed benefits. We booked our appointment and The Physio Company clinic in Temple Bar.

"Will it hurt?," I asked Chartered Physiotherapist Sara Smits.

"Not at all. You'll just feel a bit of suction," she assured me.

One my one, Sara put six jars close to my spine. With two sucks, it - rather unattractively - suctioned up a large chunk of skin.

Sara didn't lie. It's not painful, but it feel strange. Like there's a heavy bag on my back or like a number of hoovers were getting to work. After a few minutes, the sensation is gone at it feels strangely normal.

"The main principal behind cupping is that the suction created encourages blood and lymph flow, so the cups are placed and moved in a specific order and time," she says.

"It's not very popular in Ireland right now, but we are already seeing an increase in people talking about it."

The massage takes around 20 minutes and left me with six red blotches akin in size to American pancakes. These will hopefully fade in around a week.

Although the listed benefits have not yet come to the fore, Sara says it may take a day for me to feel any better. However, with Olympic heroes proudly showing of their cupping marks, it could be sen to become the latest fad to promote well being and health.

If you would like to try cupping,The Physio Company has clinics across Ireland. To find one near you, visit or call 1890 749 746.

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