Ancient therapy technique leaves red, purple spots on Olympian Michael Phelps

Published: Aug. 8, 2016 at 5:50 PM CDT
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Michael Phelps is the most decorated Olympian of all time. Now people are noticing him for something other than those medals: red and purple spots. Those spots are welts and bruises from a type of sports therapy.

The therapeutic technique known as cupping dates back thousands of years. It is practiced worldwide including in the Ozarks.

"They leave it on there for quite a long time, and that slowly draws circulation to that area," said Andrea Mouser, a therapist at Aquatic Fire Healing Arts in Springfield.

Mouser regularly uses variations of the practice on her clients.

"I've gotten some pretty amazing results when you have like really tight muscles in your shoulders," she said.

Instead of compressing, as is done in a traditional massage, the suction of the cups lift the muscles up to four inches from the body, Mouser said.

The red welts on Phelps' body had a lot of people asking what was going on. The answer is cupping.

"My first thought was cupping's going to be the new fad just like the taping was after the last Olympics," said Mercy athletic trainer Brandon Hetzler.

"We've used it in here for the past several years but more along the lines of soft tissue work," he said.

Hetzler says the Olympic trainers use cupping to improve lymph flow, aid with swelling, and clean up trigger points.

The technique is not just for athletes.

"It's actually coming out of the athletic field and more into everyday relaxation massage, too," Mouser said.

"I get a lot of tension in my upper back," said Jennifer Brice, one of Mouser's clients.

Brice experienced cupping for the first time Monday.

"Good," Brice said. "My back's not as tight as it was before."

"It works for a lot of people. It works. Bottom line, it works," Mouser said.

Hetzler pointed out cupping is just one part of a larger plan for Phelps. He said it can be beneficial for athletes but, on its own, it is not a 'cure all.'