Some of the athletes at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro have circular purple marks on their skin. These are the byproduct of an ancient Chinese therapy called “cupping”, where heated cups are placed on the skin to create suction. This is said to help draw out toxins, stimulate blood flow and sooth sore muscles. But does it work?
Why are so many Olympians – mostly members of Team USA – sporting big red circular marks on their bodies? The simple answer is that they are fans of “cupping” – an alternative health technique that involves pressing hot jars on to the body. This creates suction, which is claimed to increase blood flow to those areas. The swimmers and gymnasts who use it say it helps relieve soreness in their battered bodies.
It would certainly help relieve overburdened wallets, but there is no evidence it does anything else. Eating jam out of those jars would probably have a more significant physical impact, though it might not be the most nutritionally savvy strategy.
But then again, this is the Olympics. Aside from proving that Olympians are just as credulous as celebrity cupping fans like Jennifer Aniston and Gwyneth Paltrowwhen it comes to pseudo-science, there’s something more interesting at work here.
Years and years of relentless, gruelling, exhausting training have brought these bodies to this moment. Now they are at the very culmination of that process. There is no more training they can fit in, nothing left to do but get out there and perform, while the eyes of the world watch them. Suddenly, it’s not the body that matters but the mind. The pressure is immense – and unimaginable to most of us.
In that pressure cooker, if you get your head in the right place by some hokey but essentially harmless alternative therapy that your teammate swears works for them, it must be really hard to see the down side. Why wouldn’t you give it a try? Even though it’s totally unproven as an effective therapy, cupping involves lying down, being forced to relax, while someone does something painless to you that they authoritatively claim will make you feel better. They might as well just rename it the Placebo Treatment – but that’s exactly what the circumstances call for. A tiny moment of releasing the pressure of all that expectation and tension.
The byword in sport these days is “marginal gains” – tiny, incremental adjustments in kit, technique and training that, when added together, make for big improvements. Think of cupping as the anti-science version. After all, most athletes have their own rituals and superstitions – and if a lifetime of dreaming of gold came down to a few minutes of your life, you would take every edge you can get too, and feel all the better for it.
Culled from: theguradian