What’s with the red spots on some Olympians?

Mon, Aug 15, 2016

By now you’ve probably seen images of Olympic athletes in Rio that feature hickey-like reddish circles on the athletes’ bodies.


The phenomenon, seen on Olympic competitors such as Americans Michael Phelps (swimming) and Alex Naddour (gymnastics), has raised the collective curiosity of audiences and casual onlookers alike prompting many to ask: What is that?


The answer? It’s the result of an alternative medicine practice called cupping – an ancient therapy mostly used in the Middle East and Asia.


Cupping entails placing round glass suction cups on an athlete’s sore body parts. The cups create suction which is said to enhance blood flow to the area thereby promoting healing, improved circulation and recovery.


Does it work?


“I’ve done it before meets, pretty much every meet I go to,”  the blog, Well, by the New York Times quotes Phelps. “So I asked for a little cupping … because I was sore and the trainer hit me pretty hard and left a couple of bruises.”

Dr. Lynn Wagner of BayCare Clinic in Green Bay, Wisconsin, says cupping may work for some. Wagner is an alternative lifestyle medicine physician with BayCare Clinic.


“There is one study in particular that suggests cupping, in the short term, may help reduce pain,” she said. “That study was published in the Journal of Traditional Chinese Medical Sciences and essentially said cupping offers a degree of pain relief compared to when no other treatment options are used.”


As the Olympics continue to play out, the therapy is likely to keep watchers talking about the pepperoni-like marks – and gawking.


“It’s created a great opportunity to discuss alternative approaches to medicine,” Wagner said. “Not everyone will jump on that bandwagon, but it might be the perfect remedy for some.”


Integrative Lifestyle Medicine BayCare Clinic is a patient care philosophy designed to treat the whole person – mind, body and spirit – not just your disease or illness. Call 920-327-7056 for information or request an appointment online.


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BayCare Clinic,, is the largest physician-owned specialty-care clinic in northeastern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It is based in Green Bay, Wisconsin. BayCare Clinic offers expertise in more than 20 specialties, with more than 100 physicians serving in 16 area communities. BayCare Clinic is a joint partner in Aurora BayCare Medical Center, a 167-bed, full-service hospital. Follow BayCare Clinic on Facebook and Twitter.