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Cupping Therapy Isn't Just for Olympic Athletes

By now, you've probably seen Olympians' supposed secret weapon when it comes to easing achy muscles: cupping therapy. Michael Phelps put a spotlight on this now-signature recovery technique in his popular Under Armour commercial earlier this year. And this week at the Games, Phelps and other Olympic favorites—including Alex Naddour and our girl Natalie Coughlin—have been seen showing off signature bruises. (Learn more about Olympians' love for cupping therapy.)

Natalie Coughlin getting cupping therapy

But in a few Snapchats early this week, Kim Kardashian reminded us all that the ancient Chinese medical practice isn't reserved for the super athletic.

Experts agree. "Athlete or not, cupping therapy can help treat sore muscles for some, especially when used post-exercise," says Rob Ziegelbaum, a physical therapist and clinical director of Manhattan's Wall Street Physical Therapy who performs the therapy.

What the heck is cupping, you ask? The procedure involves suctioning glass jars to the skin at certain trigger points or muscle bellies in hopes of decreasing muscle tension and increasing blood flow. Those bruises are evidence of what the process commonly leaves behind, Ziegelbaum explains. Often, the jars are heated to stimulate blood flow even more, and sometimes practitioners will glide the lubricated jars along the skin, helping reduce the chance of bruising.

Kim K., who has apparently been suffering from neck pain, turned to alternative medicine to ease her aches. But way back in 2004, Gwyneth Paltrow sported marks at a film premiere. Jennifer Aniston, Victoria Beckham, and Lena Dunham have all been photographed in the past few years with the bruises, too. Maybe the biggest celebrity fan of cupping therapy, Justin Bieber, has posted a ton of photos of himself getting the procedure done.

Lena Dunham Cupping Therapy

Justin Bieber cupping therapy

Some celebs tout the ancient Chinese technique's ability to release toxins from the body—but that claim isn't backed by any science. (Bummer.) In fact, there isn't much scientific evidence at all to support the claims that cupping is an effective recovery tool (although first-hand stories are compelling).

But it likely won't hurt: A study last year in The Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine found that cupping is generally considered safe for pain management. "In my opinion, if you're looking to reduce pain and speed recovery after a workout, finding a licensed professional to apply cupping therapy may help," Ziegelbaum adds.

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