“Cupping: Half Empty/Half Full” Behavior Lessons Learned



Doc X MD Storyoid©:  The 2016 summer games in Rio found Olympians in search of medaling in events of their chosen skill.

For many this search literally meant more than just winning or losing or the cup being half empty or half full.  It was also for many an exercise in “following the leader” in their quest for gold and using a cup to suck it up and that’s no exaggerated bull.  In any other Olympics, whispers and innuendos would abound around the Olympic Village surrounding the visibility of high profile athletes sporting hickeys instead of medals around their neck.

The  round purple marks on the bodies of many athletes (including swimmer Michael Phelps and gymnast Alex Naddour) were the result of cupping therapy, an ancient Eastern medicine practice that users claim keeps their ailments ranging from muscle soreness to arthritis in check. Cupping’s large purple dots are created by heated glass cups placed on the recipient’s skin.  As the air trapped between the heated glass and the skin begins to cool, it creates a suctioning to begin. The sucking causes small blood vessels under the skin to break, and a cup-shaped purplish mark or ecchymosis to form. The cupping is also done by using a mechanical device to create suction between the skin and the cup without it being warm.  While athletes trust using cupping as a recovery tool to stimulate blood flow there’s little science based documented health benefit to cupping in the scientific literature and what is available is likely related to a placebo effect.

Doc X MD Feelingoid©: The 3 minute Doc X MD funny feelings:© “Placebo Response,” and “Peer Pressure,”  help us understand the sudden popularity of cupping after the 2016 Summer Olympics.  When it comes to the placebo effect, a placebo response could help explain why Olympians enthusiastically defend cupping. Our brains are very powerful. 

If we think that something is going to work, it helps us focus and compete better in every respect. The marks cupping leave behind also play a role in providing a tangible reminder to the athlete of cupping reinforcing a placebo response for the Olympian to reach their medal goal. 

Peer pressure also played a role in Rio. Peer pressure’s psychological trap that places us into trouble, as lightning fast as falling into quick sand, is our innate insecurity snare. 

Insecurity is our Achilles Heel where we conform to outside influence when we’d rather not, but do, to maintain a position we can bare. Seeking authentication from others can be extremely addictive. We hold since birth a deep rooted insecurity about the veracity of our own worth and authenticity.

We unconsciously and consciously agonize that unless we conform to group wants and desires our individuality will be seen as rebellious and a fraudulent messenger of toxicity.

Doc X MD Opinioniod ©:  The 2016 Summer Rio Olympics will certainly be remembered for the outstanding performances of Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, and Simone Biles. But it will also be recalled for the impact cupping had in exposing to the world several dimensions of “why we do what we do.” When it comes to the placebo response we witnessed how our brains’ healing ability turns inert procedures like cupping into catalysts for relieving pain, anxiety, and more. 

Yet, it’s a Funny Feeling to know that while even color images or clever names can convince us that a placebo is a potent remedy the most important ingredient in any placebo response is a healthcare provider’s bedside manner that truly increases our performance and health’s outcome score.

When it comes to peer pressure Dr. Seuss reminds us “why fit in when we were born to stand out.” It’s a Funny Feeling to know that each of us is an original, whether we win a medal or not, and have enormous clout.  By understanding that our own insecurity is a driver to make us conform, we gain an extremely beneficial tool in resisting the most intense peer pressure storm.


Doc X MD