Team USA Athletes Are Cupping Themselves at the Rio Olympics For No Good Reason August 8, 2016

Team USA Athletes Are Cupping Themselves at the Rio Olympics For No Good Reason

If you’ve watched the Olympics, you may have noticed a few big-name athletes — including swimmer Michael Phelps and gymnast Alex Naddour — with large circular welts on their bodies. It’s the result of a process called “cupping,” in which you put suction cups on parts of your body to make the blood flow faster. Or so they think.


Like many on the American men’s team, Naddour has found cupping provides relief from the soreness and pounding that come from gymnastics.

“That’s been the secret that I have had through this year that keeps me healthy,” Naddour said. “It’s been better than any money I’ve spent on anything else.”

For those like Naddour who swear by cupping, they say it helps because it releases the tendons and muscles [by] pulling them up rather than having them pressed as they would be in a massage.

A photo posted by Alex Naddour (@alex_naddour) on

There’s just one problem with this technique: It’s all bullshit.

There are no scientific tests confirming its efficacy. No clinical trials. No evidence that it actually helps.

The American Cancer Society even offered this response to those who tried Cupping as a way to treat their disease:

Available scientific evidence does not support cupping as a cure for cancer or any other disease. Reports of successful treatment with cupping are mainly anecdotal rather than from research studies.

So why would people like Naddour claim the method works wonders?

For the same reason some people swear their psychic is amazing, that juice cleanses really work, and that acupuncture cures ailments. It’s all in their heads.

If it gives them the confidence to win, more power to them. It’s no difference, though, from telling a basketball player he’s wearing magical shoes. It’s just a placebo. Athletes seem especially prone to accepting this kind of pseudoscience. They’ll wear special socks during big games, refuse to shave their beards during the playoffs, go through a certain ritual during warm-ups, etc. Yes, it gives them confidence. It’s be foolish, however, to think their actions have any real, tangible effect.

Phelps, Naddour, and everyone else trying this technique may be fine athletes, but they’re horrible critical thinkers. And they have the marks to show it.

***Edit***: Just to respond to some comments I’ve seen online, what’s the big deal if the (purely mental) boost helps the athletes perform better? None on their end. The biggest concern I have is that other people, who watch the athletes on TV, will spend lots of money to receive cupping treatments themselves. They’ll think there’s real power in the treatment. There isn’t. It’s a waste of cash.

(Image via Shutterstock)

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