TV & Movies

Cupping Isn’t Just For Olympians

The ancient practice may be as useful for the desk-bound as the podium-bound

“It’s a huge moment for cupping,” says Jason Tarter, a traditional Chinese medicine practioner at the Traditional Healing Centre in Aurora, Ont. I’m his third interview of the day, following the media buzz surrounding photos of several U.S. Olympians—including, most famously, gold medal-machine Michael Phelps—sporting sets of uniform, circular bruises on their legs, backs and chests. But this isn’t the first time the ancient practice has trended: Gwyneth Paltrow made the bruises a trendy body mod back in 2004, while Justin Bieber and Kim Kardashian have also tried it out.

(Photo: CHARLES SYKES/REX/Shutterstock)

“Summertime is typically not cupping season,” says Tarter, although this circa 2004 Gwyneth Paltrow photo suggests otherwise. (Photo: CHARLES SYKES/REX/Shutterstock)

The practice involves quickly passing a heat source (Tarter uses a flaming cotton ball gripped by a set of forceps) under a special glass cup; the heat creates a suction effect and the cup is placed directly onto the skin—this process is repeated with new cups until the desired area is covered. The cups then remain on skin for up to 20 minutes, depending on the condition that’s being treated, with the suction allegedly reaching deeper muscles than what your RMT can access during a manual massage. And those telltale bruises? Call it the hickey effect: while Tarter says that the procedure is painless, the suction does cause broken capillaries. (Interestingly, he suggests the colour of the bruising can reflect one’s physical and emotional state: “Someone who has a lot of pain, anger, frustration, stress—their bruising tends to be dark red or purple.” Note to Michael Phelps: R U OK?)


Gold-medal machine Michael Phelps is into the cups (Photo: Rex Features)

While cupping is not for everyone—Tarter notes that pregnant women, people with chronic skin conditions (psoriasis, acne, eczema) and anyone wanting to treat a fresh, still-inflamed sprain or strain should avoid it—it can be a good option for both the desk- and podium-bound.

“I see a huge amount of people who have tight shoulders, and afterwards they can move their shoulders a lot more,” he says. “If I’m stressed out and get a cupping treatment, I feel so much better afterwards.” (Um, SOLD.) But while Tarter is very obviously pro-cupping, he doesn’t consider it a standalone treatment and typically incorporates it alongside other TCM practises, such as acupuncture. That said,with all the current buzz, it wouldn’t be surprising to see “cupping studios” coming soon to so-trendy-it-hurts neighbourhoods like Toronto’s King West. Entrepreneurial types, you read it here first.

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