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Featured Image Credit: Kyle Chalmers/Instagram
By Stewart Perrie
An ancient Chinese practice touted for alleged medical benefits is the reason behind a strange trend at the Tokyo Olympics.
Several athletes have been spotted sporting dark, circular welts all over their bodies.
Many have questioned whether a late-night paintball session or maybe even a disastrously bad hickey was to blame for the markings.
However, it's simply just a procedure called cupping.
It involves placing hot glass cups onto the body, which are so warm that they seal around the skin and cause a vacuum.
This pressure inside the cup sucks on the skin and allegedly helps promote blood flow and release tension.
It's been used for centuries in China and was popularised at the Rio Olympics when Michael Phelps admitted to using it.
Australian swimming champ Kyle Chalmers was seen on the starting blocks at Tokyo 2020 with cupping marks all over his back and shoulders.
He has been recovering from shoulder surgery late last year and it could have been utilised to manage his pain.
Japanese swimmer Akira Namba has also been seen with cupping marks, along with divers and gymnasts.
People watching the Games at home have certainly noticed the trend at the Tokyo coverage.
However, it's not yet fully clear whether the practice does anything beneficial.
A study published in 2019 determined that 'large randomised clinical trials, systematic reviews and meta-analyses' are needed to work out whether any benefits actually exist or if it's all in the recipient's head.
"One of the controversial views concerning cupping therapy is that it has only a placebo effect," the study said.
"This placebo theory about cupping therapy will remain alive until a reliable and valid mechanism is found out."
The research noted 'converging evidence that cupping can induce comfort and relaxation on a systemic level and the resulting increase in endogenous opioid production in the brain leads to improved pain control'.
Hey, even if it's a placebo, it could help get an athlete in the headspace to compete against the planet's best on the world stage.