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
Episode #30 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The State of College Athletics with Dr. David Ridpath: Problems and Potential Solutions – Ridpath is a sports administration professor at Ohio University and a long-time member of The Drake Group, a college sports reform think tank.
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Episode #29 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Honorable Tom McMillen Visits League of Fans’ Sports Forum – McMillen is a former All-American basketball player, Olympian, Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Congressman. We discuss the state of college athletics today.
Episode #28 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Chat With Mano Watsa, a Leading Basketball and Life Educator – Watsa is President of PGC Basketball, the largest education basketball camp in the world. We discuss problems in youth sports today.
Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families.
Episode #26 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Fix Youth Sports? – John O’Sullivan is Founder and CEO of Changing the Game Project and author of “Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids.”
Episode #25 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Physical Education Should Be a Critical Component of K-12 School Design – Michael Horn is co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.
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.
- Reed Appears on Ralph Nader Radio Hour League of Fans’ sports policy director, Ken Reed, Ralph Nader and the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner discussed a variety of sports issues on Nader’s radio show as well as Reed’s updated book, How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan. Reed's book was released in paperback in February, and has a new introduction and several updated sections.
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.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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