Cupping: Understanding Phelps And His Purple Bruises

Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports


Editorial Coverage Sponsored By FINIS

Late Sunday night Michael Phelps emerged from the ready room for the finals of the men’s 4×100 freestyle relay. The Greatest of All Time was bundled in a navy jacket before diving in for his debut at his fifth Olympic Games.

As Nathan Adrian barreled home to help Phelps secure his 19th Olympic Gold, all eyes were not on the anchor, but on the purple spots on Phelps’ shoulders as he leaned over the block, cheering his teammate to the wall.

As the world wondered “What are those dots?” Swimming World provided the answers.

Photo Courtesy: Isthmus Acupuncture

Photo Courtesy: Isthmus Acupuncture

Cupping Therapy: Demystifying the Circular Bruises” was published in January 2015 and explained the phenomena.

De-compressive in nature, the way cupping therapy works is that it “employs suction to tug on the tightest muscles, stretching the fascia. The vacuum lifts the skin off the muscle or bone, allowing the blood vessels to expand and more blood to flow to the targeted area.”

The increased blood flow to the targeted area is believed to help the body recover faster.

After his prelims race in the men’s 200 fly—Phelps earned the fifth seed for the semifinals—the first question asked to Phelps involved cupping, which Phelps explained was a part of his pre-meet routine.

“I’ve done it for awhile. I haven’t had bad ones for awhile,” Phelps said.

He added that he typically does it on his right shoulder because “that’s where it hurts the most.”


  1. Dick Beaver

    Sound familiar Dr. Bruce Walker?

    • Bruce Walker

      I am amazed at how many people use this great therapy with success and now it’s out in the news because of Michael Phelps. Others render an opinion about cupping being a waste of time with no basis in clinical experience on how well it works.

  2. Emily Vac

    En que lugar quedo

    • Ellie Purvis

      They do look a lot like love bites though

  3. Nadine Sakr

    Shahy Hantera Soly Hantera

  4. Dyan Braden

    Nguyen Ngoc Han have seen many swimmers with cupping marks on their backs and arms!?

  5. Sirkku Henkari Tampio

    I’ve been amazed all day that this “news” has been today on BBC etc since cupping is an ancient traditional thing outside of swimming

  6. Jon Farthing

    Jean-Marc Soulas the next recovery strategy

  7. Tina Stimson

    In the fens we call them Fen Fairy Bites. Look like some loved up fan has been love biting him all over – got him lots of attention though

  8. Tan Leiz

    I won´t feel bad showing my cupping bruises anymore!

  9. Craig Stump

    Fads and gimmicks. I would think Phelps of all people would be above this nonsense.

  10. Andrew Webber

    It’s just a con. Does absolutely nothing. And if you think it cured you, it’s because there was nothing wrong in the first place.

    • Joshua Udermann

      Says the guy sitting in his armchair about the most decorated Olympic swimmer in history.

    • Andrew Webber

      You can have your own opinions, but not your own facts. All those swimmers have wasted valuable time while some idiot is raking money in.
      I’ll not post a picture of what can happen when cupping goes wrong, but it’s enough to keep anyone out the pool. How would you feel about it then?

  11. Julie Lee

    Really can’t believe this is newsworthy.

  12. Scott Polke

    I love an athlete who try’s anything to heal quicker the honest way! No HGH’s or steroids! Bravo?

  13. Heidi Ho

    Laurie Ann O’Shea

  14. avatar

    I’m a masters swimmer in my sixties and cupping definitely helps me.