Athletes like Michael Phelps have already hit the podium as champions in this Olympic Games, but rather than focusing on the gold medal on his chest, many people are wondering about the red or purple circles all over his body.
What are these giant circles and are they safe?
The large bruises you see on these athletes is the result of a healing practice called cupping. It’s a traditional medicinal technique used in China, Egypt and the Middle East, but many athletes say it helps to soothe sore muscles and improve blood flow throughout their bodies.
Cupping involves placing a heated suction cup on sore parts of the body, then sucking up the skin. This is said to cause the blood vessels to rupture, creating these intense red or purple circular spots which may last up to two weeks after treatment.
Many Olympians participate in the treatment and have advocated that it improves circulation and muscle stimulation and that it aids in recovery after tough physical challenges.
Research on the procedure is inconclusive as to whether cupping actually makes a difference in the body’s abilities. A study funded by the Beijing University of Chinese Medicine found that those who tried cupping treatments experienced less body pain than those who didn’t, but researchers say this could’ve just been a placebo effect.
Still, you’ll likely see many more of the world’s best athletes sporting these red or purple circles throughout the Olympics as they go for gold!