By David Highfield

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Cupping has been used in China for thousands of years, but it’s getting a lot of attention this week, because of the Olympic athletes who are using it.

United States swimmer Michael Phelps could be seen with purple circles on his body while competing over the weekend. The same were seen on American gymnast Alex Naddour.

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Naddour says he’s tried everything to help his body recover after an event — massages, hot tubs, even cortisone shots — but nothing has worked as well as cupping.

So what is it? Engkeat Teh is a licensed acupuncturist in Shadyside.

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“Cupping is sucking air out of a cup and in, so that the muscle is inserted into this little cupping area. And what cupping does is it helps facilitate the removal of metabolic waste that have built up due to stress, over training, pain, daily life,” he explains.

The suction typically lasts for just a few minutes, but it’s enough to cause the capillaries just beneath the skin surface to rupture, creating the purple circles.

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“It looks like a bruise, but if you were actually to press on it, it’s not painful.” he says. “Depending on how purple it is, or how deep the injury is, it can last for a few days, it can last up to a week, so it can vary,” Teh said.

Athletes who use it, swear by it — the effects can last up to a few days, or weeks, depending on how often they get re-injured.

“Usually people see a decrease in tension in that actual muscle, they feel much more relaxed. It’s basically like unclogging your drain, there are so many things that have collected in that area so you see a relief in the tension of those muscles,” Teh said.

He acknowledges there is not a lot of science to back it up, but he says experience tells him it does.

“A lot of this stuff is imperical, done by experience. I’ve seen it clinically speaking,” he says.

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The Olympic medals will tell the story.

David Highfield