If you were tuned into the Summer Olympic Games, you were likely very interested to see swimming sensation Michael Phelps add to his career medal count. And when you did see him on the TV, you were likely very intrigued at those huge purple circles on his body. They weren’t bruises, tattoos, or hickeys—nope, they were the result of a phenomenon that’s crossed over to several sports, including golf and tennis…and even personal fitness trainers! The phenomenon is known as cupping.
Cupping is a method of ridding the body’s muscles of soreness and injuries, as well as increasing muscle flexibility. Suction cups are attached to a particular area of the body for 10 to 15 minutes, and a return to sports activities is sped up.
Michael Phelps continued his assault on the swimming world using the method in Rio. Other American swimmers followed suit, and the U.S. dominated in the pool this summer.
Serena Williams is the Michael Phelps of professional tennis, and she subscribes to the cupping theory as well. 22 career major titles can’t be wrong.
What about golfers? Yes, they’re on board as well. In a recent Golf Digest interview, Dr. Ara Suppiah, who’s the physician for the U.S. Ryder Cup team said, “Think of it this way: Imagine playing golf in a tight jacket. It really restricts your swing. But then you unzip it, suddenly you feel like you’ve got more room to move.” He’s introduced cupping to the PGA tour pros he treats. For the casual golfer, he provides this suggestion, “I think the real benefit for recreational golfers would be that it increases mobility. Cupping can help. I’ve seen a 30% increase in range of movement with just one treatment.”
While attending the Golf Fitness World Summit, I had the opportunity to experience a Cupping treatment with Dr. Marc Wahl who works with PGA players Jimmy Walker, Brandt Snedeker, BJ Holmes and Brooks Koepka.
I occasionally experience low back pain and after flying, sitting for hours at the conference and walking through New Orleans, my back was ready for some attention. After a short consultation, work began on my spine. I lay prone on a treatment table and Dr. Wahl began applying a series of suction cups along both sides of my spine. Ideally the skin should round up like a hamburger bun under the suction, if there are adhesions or inflammation, the area to me looked like dough that forgot to rise. This area was found on the right side of my low back. To break this up, Dr. Wahl removed the large suction cup and added a small suction cup on the inflamed area, then put the larger cup over the smaller. After having the cups placed along my spine, the suction was increased – this was intensely uncomfortable. I’m thinking, ok I can lay like this for 10 minutes, I can deal with this discomfort. At that moment, I was asked to come up in a quadruped position. I won’t tell you my thoughts, however, I cautiously raised myself to all fours. The intensity increased dramatically, and I was thinking maybe childbirth was easier. My skin was already pulled tight and raising up, made it even tighter and if that wasn’t enough, Dr. Wahl started working me through a cat and cow position then rotated my hips side to side. OUCH!!! I was screaming inside. Bringing me back down to the table, the suction was released and cups removed. I felt an amazing release throughout the entire spine, increased blood flow thru my entire body and the first words I spoke were, ”I feel three inches taller”. My spine felt decompressed, the blood and oxygen were flowing, my lower body mobility increased and back pain was gone. However the treatment was Tuesday, today is Saturday and the circles and slight bruising on back are reminders of the experience. I can definitely see the benefits of this treatment, however I realized I have a vanity issue – living in SWFL, wearing sundresses, workout wear and swimsuits was a challenge with the looks I received when people saw my back. The circles were a great conversation starter. I am grateful for the experience and am glad to have the opportunity to work with Dr. Wahl, I will probably stick to foam rolling, massage and acupuncture treatments, saving cupping for special occasions.