Throwing Shade

Does cupping technique work? We tested it, and here’s what we found

The most shocking part of Michael Phelps’ performances at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio De Janiero had nothing to do with his swimming.

It had nothing to do with his technique or hair color (looking at you, Ryan Lochte).

More than anything, people were freaking out over the giant purple marks on the swimmer’s back and shoulders.

“What in the world is all over Michael Phelps?” said everyone on Facebook and Twitter.

Not to worry, the internet came in for the save. Media outlets were quick to explain large circular bruises are a skin souvenir from cupping, an ancient Chinese therapy that uses heated glass or plastic cups placed on the skin to draw out toxins and help with muscle soreness, among other things.

Then the cupping bruises on Phelps and other athletes became laughable.

The number of folks on Facebook and in real life calling the bruises “hickey therapy” was laughable at first, but then it got us curious — does cupping really work?

The Sun Herald reached out to a massage therapist to find out what all of the fuss was about. And naturally, one of us had to get on the massage chair to see if cupping would really help.

Don’t worry, I immediately volunteered as tribute.

Brandi England, a licensed massage therapist (Mississippi license no. 2048), set up her chair in our studio and had me take my shirt off and get comfortable. She warned me the suction may feel a little tight or uncomfortable at first but by the middle of the session I’d be so relaxed I may be drooling.

I saw the bruises. I was skeptical. I highly doubted I would drool or fall asleep as she took the suction gun and prepared the first cup.

My skin tightened as it became encased by the cup, but as I breathed in, I became more relaxed as England continued the process down my back. And three minutes later, I was drooling. Then I fell asleep.

By the time the cups came off, my lower back seemed a little more irritated than my upper back, and England explained it’s because the cups drew out harsher points of pain.

England was correct. I often have lower back pain as a result of weightlifting. Another dark area developed on my shoulder blade.

After the session, I felt refreshed and energized and did not mind the bruises on my back. I was told to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated or I may feel sick. I drank as much water as possible before falling asleep Saturday.

By Sunday, my back was a tad sore from the bruises, but I felt absolutely no pain where I usually wince. It’s often hard for me to relax my shoulder without experiencing neck pain, and I had no problem at all Sunday morning.

Many people commented on a photo of the process I posted to Facebook. They were skeptical. One person even said it “defies” science and could cause blood clots. Well, I’ll just agree to disagree.

Though I am disappointed I didn’t wake up looking like Michael Phelps’ twin, I am very excited with the results from one 20-minute cupping session. England said the technique is useful for just about anyone, including athletes, people who experience chronic pain and those who often get migraines.

I’ve already scheduled another session with England because I was so satisfied with the results.

So would I suggest cupping the next time you make an appointment for a massage? Absolutely.

England offers the service as well as other massage services in a private room at Twisted Anchor Tattoo Gallery in downtown Ocean Springs. She also makes house calls.