It’s official: Australia has capped off its best-ever Olympic Games in the pool after the national swim team claimed a record-breaking nine gold medals. It’s not just our gold rush that has everyone talking, but the strange circles spotted on some of the swimmers.

If you have been enjoying this year’s swimming program in Tokyo, you may have noticed some of the athletes, including our own Kyle Chalmers, are covered in dark red circles almost looking like bruises. No, they haven’t been wrestling with an octopus in their spare time! The reason behind this is an old therapy that is becoming increasingly popular in the sport – cupping. 


Michael Phelps – the most successful US gold medalist was the first to debut these markings at the 2016 Rio Olympic games and since then it has been spotted on multiple swimmers from around the world and has kick started a huge interest in the treatment technique. Which begs the question – What is cupping and how dopes it work 

What is cupping?  What does it Do? 

Cupping is a technique commonly used in Myotherapy and other related therapies.  It involves placing suction cups, either made of plastic, glass or ceramic onto the skin which creates a vacuum sensation which stimulates a physiological response.  The most obvious response is vasodilatation (the widening of blood vessels as a result of the relaxation of the blood vessel muscular walls) and circulation of the blood vessels under the skin. However, there are multiple theories and other researchers suggest that there are other Vascular, Neurological and hormonal responses that contribute to the therapeutic outcome.   


Ultimately cupping promotes blood flow which is thought to have a number of therapeutic outcomessuch as reduced pain and muscle tension, reducing muscle fatigue and assisting with the bodies healing process. Instead of compressing the muscles and fascia we are separating and decompressing, think of it like thin layers of flaky pastry!  


For swimmers, this is of benefit to  promote faster recovery and to prevent the buildup of any lactic acid and other metabolites in the muscles as this normally contributes to poorer performance during training and competition for the athletes. Not a good thing if you’re racing heats in the morning and have a finals race in the evening of the same day while potentially taking part in multiple races over a week. 


So, where did cupping come from?  

Cupping is an ancient health treatment that was mostly used in the Middle Eastern and Asian countries, that can be used for a broad range of conditions. It is a form of alternative medicine that has been around for centuries. In modern times, cupping has re-emerged as a popular treatment technique that has become popular amongst many sports people.   


What are the Bruises? 

The “bruises” on the skin are painless and are the natural presentation of the ruptured capillaries in the skin from vasodilation that leave redness behind after partaking in cupping therapy.  These markings will fade over the course of 1 day to sometimes 1-2 weeks and are not associated with any ill effects.  



Does Cupping Work?  

For a long time the jury has been out on the value of Cupping.  To this day there are a number of scientists that aren’t convinced1.   However recent studies have demonstrated the benefits of cupping for managing Neuromuscular fatigue3 whilst others have shown moderate evidence to suggest that cupping may be beneficial for other musculoskeletal injuries such as neck pain, migraine, and osteoathritis6.    


As the technique again becomes more popular there are certain to be more studies on the technique.  




If you’re curious about finding a new treatment technique to help you recover faster and train harder, check in with your Myotherapist to ask about the suitability of cupping for your care. And have no fear, the bruises don’t hurt at all! They do make quite the ice breaker statement! 

 About the author

After 15 years of international competitive Taekwondo, Adele has always been fascinated by how the human body functions and heals. Adele feels that analysing the main components of people’s everyday lifestyles and interests allows her to identify and provide specialised ways for a specific individual to help aid in strengthening, rehabilitating and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Adele executes this through a “hands-on approach”, which includes trigger point therapy, dry needling, cupping, myofascial release and treatment of musculoskeletal pain and dysfunction.


  1. Science Direct. 2017. The medical perspective of cupping therapy: Effects and mechanisms of action. [online] Available at: <http://The medical perspective of cupping therapy: Effects and mechanisms of action> [Accessed 29 July 2021]. 
  1. Research Gate. 2016. Rio Olympics and Athletes with Red Spots. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 29 July 2021]. 
  1. NCBI. 2021. Immediate and Delayed Effects of Cupping Therapy on Reducing Neuromuscular Fatigue. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 29 July 2021]. 
  1. NewsComAu. 2021. Why swimmers are covered in weird spots. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 29 July 2021]. 
  1. 7NEWS. 2021. Why swimmers are displaying weird spots on their skin during the Tokyo Olympics. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 29 July 2021]. 
  1. Hou Xiao, Wang Xiaoling, Griffin Lisa, Liao Fuyuan, Peters Joseph, Jan Yih-Kuen, 2021, Immediate and Delayed Effects of Cupping Therapy on Reducing Neuromuscular FatigueFrontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology vol 9 –