The athletes at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, Brazil are not the only ones who caught the attention of sports fans. Many audiences were also asking about the red dots all over several of the athletes’ bodies such as the marks found on Olympic champion Michael Phelps.

Some joked that Phelps fell asleep on his 19 Olympic gold medals but these red marks are actually the results of an age-old practice called cupping therapy. This method involves placing heated glass cups over a person’s skin.

Chinese medical practitioners invented this therapy 6,500 years ago. This method works by relieving whatever pain a person may have after performing some strenuous activities. These marks look red because these are bruises that result when tiny blood vessels under our skin burst.


Among the notable supporters of this therapy are the US team. In an interview with USA Today, gymnast Alex Naddour shares that this is the secret that kept him healthy this year. It is better than any treatments he had experienced before.

In spite of the widespread popularity of cupping therapy, research conducted on this practice remains limited. Moreover, medical experts do not believe that this practice is effective. Some even say that it is just another way to take money from people.

“There’s no science behind it whatsoever,” says David Colquhoun, a professor of pharmacology at the University College London, during a recent interview with the the Independent. “There’s some vague conceptual connection with acupuncture, and is often sold by the same people. But how could it possibly do anything? It’s nonsense.”

Colquhoun adds that this will not give the US athletes an advantage over the others and they are simply wasting time. Some may even be curious and do this themselves but experts prohibit people from trying this at home.