By Ken Reed
Michael Phelps swears by it. So do many track and field athletes (including my daughter, who runs track at the college level), as well as several celebrities, including Jennifer Aniston and Gwyneth Paltrow.
Chinese Cupping is an ancient practice in which cups are placed on the skin in a way that creates suction, pulling the skin into the cup. Proponents of cupping say that pulling the skin off the body increases blood flow, which relieves muscle and ligament pain. Other believers say cupping helps alleviate a variety of ailments and conditions, from acne to fibromyalgia.
After cupping, patients are left with one-to-two inch reddish-purple dots, which often look like circular bruises.
Cupping drew international interest during this year’s Rio Olympic games when stars such as Phelps were seen by millions of viewers with purple circles over their bodies. Phelps said he uses Chinese cupping to relieve sore muscles.
Here’s the question: Is there any scientific evidence that cupping really works?
According to WebMD, a report “published in 2015 in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, notes that it could help with acne, herpes zoster, and pain management.” But it’s also noted that many of the research studies to date could be biased and more studies are needed.
Steven Novella, M.D., writing for the website Science-Based Medicine, says Michael Phelps was a walking advertisement for pseudoscience at the Rio Games.
“The bottom line of all of this is that research into cupping is mostly negative or of poor quality and with high bias,” writes Novella.
“There is no good compelling evidence for any real physiological effect from cupping.”
Still, some athletes swear by it. This could be due to the phenomenon known as “the placebo effect.”
Cupping could give athletes a psychological boost, according to Dr. Robert Glatter, a physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York and formerly a physician for the New York Jets.
If an athlete feels better mentally it could positively enhance his or her performance. And if getting what amounts to a large hickey helps an athlete win a race or achieve a personal best, many will do it. Especially since cupping is basically harmless. The cupping procedure can be a little painful and there’s a slight risk of infection but generally it’s a low-risk alternative treatment.
Alas, the problem with the placebo effect is that the benefit tends to gradually go away over time.
And when that happens, Chinese cupping will be tossed into the giant dumpster marked “Sports Snake Oil.”
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
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Episode #16 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Andrew Maraniss: Outstanding Author of Books That Focus On the Intersection of Sports, History and Social Justice.
Episode #15 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Talking Sports Psychology with Dr. Tim Rice. We discuss the growth of sports psychology at all levels, the positive impact that a number of high profile athletes have had by opening up, and the importance of everyone involved in sports caring for the whole athlete, mind and body.
Episode #14 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Making Sense of the Injury Pandemic in Major League Baseball – Gary McCoy is a strength, conditioning and high performance coach who has worked with several Major League Baseball organizations.
Episode #13 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Conversation With Long-Time MLB Exec Dan Evans About What’s Right With Baseball and What Could Be Better – Evans is a former general manager for the Los Angeles Dodgers and is currently a consultant for Go the Distance Baseball, which owns the Field of Dreams movie site.
Episode #12 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Fun Chat With Dan Gutman, Author of the Baseball Card Adventure Series for Kids
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
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