Why Were So Many Olympic Athletes Cupping?

If you watched the 2016 Rio Olympics, and especially the swimming events, you probably noticed some unusual bruise-like marks on the skin of your favorite athletes. What were these unusual marks? These marks came from a massage practice known as “cupping” that helps increase blood flow and performance for athletes. Here’s the low down on what cupping therapy is, and whether or not it could be beneficial for you.

cupping massage

What Is Cupping?
Cupping is a newly popular technique that has deep roots. This ancient Eastern technique uses glass suction cups to lift the surface layers of muscle tissue to allow fluid, lymph and blood that has built up in the muscle to flow back where it belongs. Many who have cupping therapy done report reduction in pain, increase in mobility and improvement in blood flow.

Specifically, cupping therapy uses sterile glass cups that have been lit on fire and then placed on the skin. The fire removes the oxygen from the cups so that they suction to the skin. Cupping therapy can also be performed using a plastic gun that suctions out the air to allow the cup to attach to the skin. Once attached, the cups pull up the top layer of muscle to allow fluid built up in the muscle tissue to release and flow where it should be.

Cupping therapy works opposite many deep tissue massage treatments, because it lifts the muscle instead of pressing into the muscle. It also reaches deeper into the muscle to help heal injuries that massage has not been able to touch. It does not cause much pain, though the bruising can last around 48 hours after treatment.

Benefits of Cupping Therapy
Cupping therapy benefits anyone, like an athlete, prone to repetitive motion injuries. It provides several benefits to patients, including:

  • Removing toxins – Toxins, including calcium deposits and uric and lactic acids, build up in the muscles during training. Cupping helps break these down so they flow out of the body.
  • Reducing inflammation – Reversing pressure between the muscle and bone helps fill the area with fresh blood to reduce inflammation.
  • Improved healing – Improved blood flow helps injured muscle tissue heal more quickly.

This non-invasive treatment option has gained widespread media attention after the Olympics. It is proving to be an effective and fast treatment option for a number of problems, and as such is something to consider for yourself as a patient or for your massage therapy practice in the future.

Kristy Serdinsky, Owner, and Director of Education at NC Massage School. With a background in teaching and administration in charter and private schools, Kristy’s dedication to helping others led her to open a massage spa in Cornelius in 2015. Now, she brings her expertise in education and the massage and bodywork industry to NC Massage School, blending her two passions to create a transformative learning experience.


We provide personalized training in the art and science of therapeutic massage, focusing on advanced-level professional careers, continuing education, and personal growth. Our philosophy is rooted in a holistic approach, which encourages our students to explore personal development of the mind, body, and spirit.


“What has impressed me the most is the instructor’s teaching style. While it is accepted that certain protocols must be followed, their hands-on approach is informative and encouraging.”

– Kaitlyn Boullosa

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