Michael Phelps created quite the buzz in Rio when he showed up to the platform sporting some concerning bruises. However, we quickly learned that there is no cause for alarm, as they are a common side effect due to cupping.
Cupping is an ancient Eastern physical therapy practice of strategically placing cups on the body to create suction, known in the industry as myofascial decompression. This method stimulates blood flow and decompresses tissues with negative pressure. It’s ideal to decrease swelling, aid healing to acute injuries, and relax tense muscles. It’s no wonder why Phelps turns to cupping to decompress after a long day of competing. But he is hardly the first Olympian to use this technique.
Although cupping is becoming an increasingly popular trend among U.S. athletes, you could have spotted a Chinese swimmer or two sporting the same red circles in Beijing four years ago. Cupping is typically followed up with a massage or paired with acupuncture to expedite the benefits. More than just a way to soothe sore muscles, cupping treats a wide a variety of ailments, such as asthma and arthritis.
K tape takes the silver
Cupping isn’t the only form of physical therapy that’s creating a buzz at the Olympics in Rio. Viewers are getting curious about the brightly colored tape seen on volleyball players. Far from being a fashion statement, kinesiology tape, or k tape, is popular among athletes as they aid recovery and mobility. This ultimately leads to better performance. Like cupping, k tape is another Eastern medical alternative that was developed in the 1970s.
K tape supports or activates a specific muscle when strategically placed, and it allows promotes lymphatic drainage to decrease swelling. It may seem useless to spectators. But it works because the skin is being gently pulled from hard working muscles to increase blood flow, just like cupping. Do you see the trend here?
Not just for athletes, k tape pairs nicely with other forms of physical therapy to treat other ailments, like patellar tendonitis. Naturally, a professional best applies k tape, but the technique is simple enough that most athletes are known to apply it themselves. Another form of therapy that is popular among athletes is the massage system, NormaTec. Best described as an “air massage”, sore athletes slip into a suit designed to compress air. This creates a pressure onto muscles to speed up recovery. As you may already know, recovery time is just as important as time-spent training, so Olympians are starting to get creative.