Quick one: Why are so many Olympic athletes covered in purple bruises?

If you're a lass with eyes, chances are you've been watching the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. Specifically, the swimming. Cause everyone knows that's where it's all at, right? 

Jussst enough.

I—it's just the best. 

But along with swimming coach Dean Boxall going absolutely ape s**t following Ariarne Titmus' huge win (YTG), we'd like to talk about the fact that so many swimmers at this year’s Olympics are just quietly covered in dark splotches? 

Watch: Susie O'Neill on her 'failure' at the Sydney Olympics. Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia

You know the ones we're talking about, yeah? The kind of bruises you get when you go paint balling or something?

Here's Kyle Chalmers sporting them:

U ok? Image: Getty


And Japanese swimmer Akira Namba:

Image: Getty

Intense! Confusing! Looks sore!

Approximately everyone is trying to figure out exactly how all the athletes have managed to give each other perfectly circular hickeys. It's impressive, and definitely worth a medal in itself.

BUT. Apparently it's actually a super common thing not only athletes get, but us normal people get too.

It's called cupping, and it's a therapy that involves using special... cups... to help stimulate muscles and blood flow. Resulting in some gnarly bruises that make you look like a fkn bada$$.


So, let's take a look at everything we didn't know about the popular process.

What is cupping?

Okay, so cupping isn't exactly a new thing. It's actually been around for YONKS and is an alternative therapy that originated in China. 

In short, cupping involves placing glass cups on the skin to create suction, and it can help with things like circulation and pain relief.

"When a cup is placed on the body, and suction applied, that constant pressure draws blood to the surface of the skin," explains acupuncturist Rodney Capriotti from Innovative Health.

"The fresh blood flows through as it should, and continues to process through the body; whereas any old (or toxic) blood is drawn up through the capillaries to the skin area, allowing the fresh blood to flow in the deeper areas, replenishing the body."

So, why are athletes (swimmers in particular), so cracked on the whole cupping thing? 

Well, according to Capriotti, this kind of therapy allows accelerated healing, meaning the body can be at peak performance. Which is ideal when you're competing in the Olympics, no?

"When there is ‘wear and tear’ in specific areas of the body (for example the shoulder and back for swimmers), the body naturally creates stagnation (scar tissue), and slows blood in these areas (basically making it 'gluggy')," he explains.

"By removing this stagnation from the body, the athlete will feel a lot looser, have any aches or pains diminished, and will feel a sense of 'freshness' to their movement, which will help their performance."

And the dark spots that we're all seeing on the athletes? They're not really bruises after all. Apparently these are due to 'old' blood cells chilling just beneath the skin. 

"The 'bruised-looking' dark marks that are seen on the body are not actually bruises, but more marks of old blood cells coming to the surface of the skin. When you touch these marks, no pain is felt," said Capriotti.

Along with the above benefits, this ancient Chinese medicine is also believed to align and relax the flow of 'qi' (the Chinese word for ‘energy) in the body. 

What's involved?

During a treatment, a glass suction cup is basically placed on your skin. The cups are usually warmed or heated beforehand and then placed on your skin - creating a vacuum that pulls the skin and muscle upward inside the cup.


The process differs slightly depending on what kind of method you're going for. 

There are three different types of cupping - dry fire cupping, dry suction cupping and wet cupping.


Dry fire cupping is the traditional method and is where fire is put inside a glass cup to create a vacuum and placed onto the body. According to Capriotti, this allows the body to naturally "suck upwards inside the cup". 

"This is the best/safest type of cupping as it allows the body to get “sucked up” as much as it naturally needs to," he said. "This is usually performed by a fully trained Chinese medicine doctor or acupuncturist with proper training."

Cute! Image: Getty

Next is dry suction cupping. This method uses plastic cups with a lever that controls the amount of suction. 

"This is a quick and easy way to perform cupping, and also a way you can do cupping on yourself (if you are not a professional). This is generally used by physio and massage therapists who don’t have full Chinese medicine training to know how to do the traditional way."

The third and final technique is wet cupping – a technique which Capriotti said is performed by Chinese medicine professionals whereby the skin is pricked, and the cup is then placed on top. 

"This suction allows the 'old' blood to exit the body. The blood can range from light red, to dark red, to purple, to black, depending on how 'sick' that specific area of the body is."

Are there any side effects?

"There are no major side effects to cupping, however if the suction is done too hard, or performed for too long, blisters may occur, and it’s also the time where actual bruises will appear," Capriotti.


"These bruises will be sore to touch, unlike the ‘dark marks’ that don’t work when cupping is performed correctly."


What are the benefits?

So, now we know all about cupping - but does it *actually* work? Are all these benefits backed by ✨science✨?

Well, in 2012, there was this huge review on cupping - involving 135 studies. It was found that the therapy was not only beneficial for muscle pains and aches but also conditions such as shingles, facial paralysis, acne and spinal issues.

However, since then experts have said that more studies are needed to prove its effectiveness. So, the (science) jury is still out.

But! That doesn't mean it doesn't work. You'll find that many people tout the benefits of cupping when it comes to pain relief and assisting in recovery. And, hey - if it's good enough for the athletes, then it's good enough for us!

"Cupping isn’t only performed on professional athletes; it is performed on any person who wants it. Some people receive it for general health to keep the blood flowing optimally, whereas some people have it performed for specific aches, pains or injuries," said Capriotti. 

"Whatever you are receiving cupping for, it is highly recommended to have it performed by a fully trained professional (such as a Chinese medicine practitioner); this will ensure side-effects do not occur, and results are optimal."

Feature image: Getty

Have you ever tried cupping before? What was your experience? Share with us in the comment section below.

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