What Are the Purple Dots on Michael Phelps? Cupping Has an Olympic Moment
RIO DE JANEIRO — Olympics trivia: What has 19 gold medals and a bunch of purple circles?
If you watched a certain swimmer’s Rio Games debut on Sunday night, when he propelled the United States 4×100-meter relay team to a gold medal, you know the answer: Michael Phelps.
While it may look like the athletes have been in a bar fight, the telltale purple dots actually are signs of “cupping,” an ancient Chinese healing practice that is experiencing an Olympic moment.
In cupping, practitioners of the healing technique — or sometimes the athletes themselves — place specialized cups on the skin. Then they use either heat or an air pump to create suction between the cup and the skin, pulling the skin slightly up and away from the underlying muscles.
The suction typically lasts for only a few minutes, but it’s enough time to cause the capillaries just beneath the surface to rupture, creating the circular, eye-catching bruises that have been so visible on Phelps as well as members of the United States men’s gymnastics team. If the bruising effect looks oddly familiar, it’s because it’s the same thing that happens when someone sucks on your neck and leaves a hickey.
Physiologically, cupping is thought to draw blood to the affected area, reducing soreness and speeding healing of overworked muscles. Athletes who use it swear by it, saying it keeps them injury free and speeds recovery. Phelps, whose shoulders were dotted with the purple marks as he powered his 4×100 freestyle relay team to a gold medal Sunday, featured a cupping treatment in a recent Under Armour video. He also posted an Instagram photo showing himself stretched on a table as his Olympic swimming teammate Allison Schmitt placed several pressurized cups along the back of his thighs. “Thanks for my cupping today!” he wrote.
从生理学上讲，拔罐是为了把血吸到患部，减轻酸痛，加速过度疲劳的肌肉恢复。用过这种方法的运动员称，它能让他们免于受伤，加速康复。周日菲尔普斯力助美国队赢得4×100自由泳接力赛金牌时，他的肩上布满这种紫色印记。在前不久发布的Under Armour运动服装品牌的视频中，他在接受拔罐治疗。他还在Instagram上发了一张照片，展示自己平躺在桌子上，他的奥运会游泳队队友艾莉森·施米特(Allison Schmitt)在他的大腿后侧放置了几个加压的罐子。“谢谢今天给我拔罐！”他写道。
While there’s no question that many athletes, coaches and trainers believe in the treatment, there’s not much science to determine whether cupping offers a real physiological benefit or whether the athletes simply are enjoying a placebo effect.
One 2012 study of 61 people with chronic neck pain compared cupping to a technique called progressive muscle relaxation, or PMR, during which a patient deliberately tenses his muscles and then focuses on relaxing them. Half the patients used cupping while the other half used PMR. Both patient groups reported similar reductions in pain after 12 weeks of treatment. Notably, the patients who had used cupping scored higher on measurements of well-being and felt less pain when pressure was applied to the area. Even so, the researchers noted that more study is needed to determine the potential benefits of cupping.
Another experiment involving 40 patients who suffered from knee arthritis found that people who underwent cupping reported less pain after four months compared to arthritis sufferers in a control group who were not treated. But the cupped group knew they were being treated — it’s not easy to blind people about whether a suction cup is being attached to their leg or not — and so the benefits might have been due primarily to a placebo effect.
Still, a placebo effect can be beneficial, and for athletes at the Olympic level, any legal edge, however tenuous, may be worth a few eye-catching bruises.
“A placebo effect is present in all treatments, and I am sure that it is substantial in the case of cupping as well,” said Leonid Kalichman, a senior lecturer at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel, who recently co-authored a commentary reviewing cupping research in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies. "A patient can feel the treatment and has marks after it, and this can contribute to a placebo effect.”
“所有治疗都有安慰作用，我确信它在拔罐中也占很大成分，”以色列内盖夫本-古里安大学(Ben-Gurion University)的高级讲师列昂尼德·卡利切曼(Leonid Kalichman)说。前不久，他在《身体锻炼和运动治疗报》(Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies)上与他人联合发表了一篇拔罐研究的述评文章。“患者能感觉到治疗，而且会留下印记，这会起到安慰作用。”
Even so, Kalichman said he believes the treatment has a real physiological effect as well. It may be that cupping, by causing local inflammation, triggers the immune system to produce cytokines, small proteins that enhance communication between cells and help to modulate the immune response.
A few years ago the Denver Broncos player DeMarcus Ware posted a photo on Instagram showing his back covered with 19 clear cups as a therapist held a flame used to heat the cup before placing it on the skin. Celebrities including Jennifer Aniston and Gwyneth Paltrow have also been photographed with cupping marks on their skin.
几年前，丹佛野马橄榄球队(Denver Broncos)的球员德马库斯·韦尔(DeMarcus Ware)在Instagram上发了一张照片，展示自己的背部放着19个透明杯子，治疗师用火把杯子加热，放到皮肤上。詹妮弗·安妮斯顿(Jennifer Aniston)和格温妮丝·帕特罗(Gwyneth Paltrow)等名人也被拍到皮肤上有拔罐的印记。
Last year, Swimming World magazine noted that some college programs had begun using cupping therapy as well as the former Olympian Natalie Coughlin, who has posted a number of photos of herself undergoing the treatment.
去年，《游泳世界》杂志(Swimming World)指出，有些大学项目开始使用拔罐疗法，前奥运会游泳选手纳塔莉·考夫林(Natalie Coughlin)也发了几张自己接受拔罐治疗的照片。
The American gymnast Alexander Naddour was sporting the purple dots during the men’s qualifying rounds on Saturday in Rio de Janeiro. He told USA Today that he bought a do-it-yourself cupping kit from Amazon. “That’s been the secret that I have had through this year that keeps me healthy,” Naddour told USA Today. “It’s been better than any money I’ve spent on anything else.”
周六，美国体操运动员亚历山大·纳道尔(Alexander Naddour)在参加里约奥运会的男子体操预选赛时，也露出紫色圆圈。他在接受《今日美国》(USA Today)采访时说，他在Amazon上买了一套自助拔罐器具。“那是我今年保持健康的秘诀，”纳道尔对《今日美国》说。“它比我在其他任何东西上花的钱都值。”