What Are the Purple Dots on Michael Phelps?
Have you been wondering why swimmer Michael Phelps and other Olympians are sporting deep purple circles on their limbs and midsections? The telltale purple dots actually are signs of “cupping,” an ancient Chinese healing practice that is experiencing an Olympic moment. In cupping, practitioners of the healing technique place specialized cups on the skin. Then they use either heat or an air pump to create suction between the cup and the skin, pulling the skin slightly up and away from the underlying muscles. The suction typically lasts for only a few minutes, but it’s enough time to cause the capillaries just beneath the surface to rupture, creating the circular, eye catching bruises that have been so visible on Mr. Phelps as well as members of the United States men’s gymnastics team.
Physiologically, cupping is thought to draw blood to the affected area, reducing soreness and speeding healing of overworked muscles. Athletes who use it swear by it, saying it keeps them injury free and speeds recovery. Mr. Phelps, whose shoulders were dotted with the purple marks as he powered his 4×100 freestyle relay team to a gold medal Sunday, featured a cupping treatment in a recent Under Armour video. He also posted an Instagram photo showing himself stretched on a table as his Olympic swimming teammate Allison Schmitt placed several pressurized cups along the back of his thighs. “Thanks for my cupping today!” he wrote.