If you’ve been watching the Olympics, you’ve probably noticed that Michael Phelps – as well as other swimmers and athletes – have what appear to be purple, circular bruises on their arms, shoulders and back. Well, Phelps and his spotted colleagues aren’t hurt. If anything, they’re trying to avoid injury.

So, what is it that you see? It’s called cupping, and it’s a traditional Chinese medicine.

“It’s the application of suction cups to different parts of the body in order to promote healthy circulation and restore tissue function underneath where the cups are,” Dr. Noah Rubinstein, senior acupuncturist at the YinOva Center, said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “The reason they’re doing it is because they are using their muscles a lot and they are injuring themselves and they’re trying to promote heathy circulation and reduce inflammation and keep themselves in the game.”

How often someone gets cupped – or whether they get cupped at all – is determined on a case-by-case basis.

“It depends,” Rubinstein said. “For most people, we might do it every week or every other week. For what they’re doing down there, they’re not doing it over the same areas every time. It depends on where they’re hurting.”

While this technique is being used on Olympic athletes, “Weekend Warriors” could also get a treatment here and there as needed. That said, it’s probably not necessary.

“If you’re taking care of yourself and you’re not getting hurt and you’re eating well and making sure that you’re maintaining your performance, you don’t really need it,” Rubinstein said.

Rubinstein actually performed cupping on Brian Jones in studio.

“You can see that it’s kind of sucking the skin and the muscles up into the cups a little bit,” Rubinstein explained. “What that’s doing is it’s doing a couple things. It’s releasing the fascia from the muscles. The fascia is like the sheath around the muscles. And then the muscle fibers and the filaments themselves that become bound up kind of like stuck velcro, this helps to release it. So this helps to break up those muscles (and) reduce the muscle spasms that can come and just general chronic cramps.”

Cupping can be also be used to treat respiratory and digestive problems, among other ailments.

“We’ve been doing this (for a long time),” Rubinstein said. “This goes back centuries in Chinese medicine – and it’s not just Asian and Chinese medicine. I have patients who come from all over the world who remember their grandmothers doing things like this. Eastern Europeans do it, South Americans do it. Cupping is a really common thing around the world.”

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