When Michael Phelps removed his warm-ups last night to compete in the 4x100 freestyle relay, people may have been thrown off by the circular bruises on his right shoulder. It seems that Phelps has been getting cupping therapy, the form of acupuncture right out of Goop and, before that, ancient Chinese medicine.
In cupping, a practitioner holds a flame inside a glass cup then quickly puts it on the skin, which creates a vacuum that draws the skin into the cup. Cupping is thought to stimulate blood flow to the treated area and help relieve pain (other athletes use kinesio tape or KT tape to tug on the skin and improve circulation but that probably doesn’t mix well with water). Gwyneth herself was first photographed with cupping marks at a 2004 movie premiere and the Goop posts followed.
Here’s Phelps during a cupping session in September:
There’s no way to study if cupping truly offers benefits or if it’s a placebo effect because studies like that include a group who get a fake version of the treatment or procedure and you can’t really fake fishbowl suction cups. So it could be in people’s heads or it could really work; we don’t know. But, hey, Phelps pulled the U.S. team into the lead on his second leg last night and they won gold, his 19th.