Even though he was back to his gold medal form in the pool on Sunday night, Michael Phelps looked like he was playing hurt. On his back and shoulders, which are pretty important for swimming, Phelps displayed what looked like giant circular welts. But, as elite athletes tend to do, Phelps invited this pain.
According to the New York Times’ Well blog, the dots are the remnants of a therapy known as cupping. It’s an ancient Chinese practice that coaxes blood to flow to the affected area. That can help muscles heal faster. Thanks to the wonders of social media, here’s Phelps getting the treatment long before Rio:
The therapists that perform the treatment use heat or air to create suction between the cup and the skin. It lasts for a few minutes, so it doesn’t hurt too much. But it’s enough to bruise. The Times says it’s basically the same kind of bruise as a hickey.
Other Team USA stars are also sporting the bruises, indicating it may be poised for craze status. But before you start donning the purple dots, be warned. This Eastern therapy isn’t scientifically proven. One researcher warned the Times of a “placebo effect.” NBC News talked to other researchers who said that more study is needed, noting that any positive results on “merely anecdotal.”
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