Why do some of the world’s top athletes look as though they’ve been on the receiving end of a brutal paintball firing squad?
US swimmer Michael Phelps’s skin is strewn with livid polka dots, and his compatriot, the gymnast Alex Naddour is also sporting circular welts.
But this is not the result of a corporate team-building exercise. The athletes are among the latest adherents to the traditional Chinese medicine treatment known as “cupping”.
This involves having hot suction cups applied to the skin for several minutes, leaving what appears to be a circular love bite on the surface, which can take over two weeks to fade.
The technique has been used for millennia, but it shot to prominence in 2004, when US actor Gwyneth Paltrow attended a film premier with circular marks peppering her skin.
Other celebrity endorsements followed, with Victoria Beckham and Jennifer Aniston among those sporting the circular suction marks on their skins.
But the Rio Olympics provides us with growing evidence that athletes are turning to the alternative medicine in an attempt to boost their performance.
According to Mr Naddour he has found the treatment “provides relief from the soreness and pounding that come from gymnastics”.
He told USA Today: “That’s been the secret that I have had through this year that keeps me healthy. It’s been better than any money I’ve spent on anything else.”
“It has saved me from a lot of pain.”
Cupping is claimed by its practitioners to treat an array of ailments, including muscular pain, joint pain, skin problems including eczema and acne, respiratory disorders, including the common cold, pneumonia and bronchitis, and has also been used as an alternative treatment for cancer.
Speaking to the Independent, Dr Ayaaz Farhat, the co-director of the London Cupping Clinic said: “The use of cupping therapy amongst athletes has grown over the last decade. Wang Qun, the then teenage Chinese swimmer being the most obvious in Beijing Olympics. Since then, Floyd Mayweather, Andy Murray, Amir Khan and more recently the Olympians in Rio have all been seen with cupping marks.
“Their increased use is for the same reason that freeze tanks or oxygen rich blood injections are used by International sports teams and premiership footballers – to recover from the inevitable strains and knocks in time for the next round of competition.
He added: “It’s not straight forward to prove how effective it is as there is such a vast range of injuries that we see, both in terms of anatomy but also the underlying cause for that problem. But simply it is a very effective way to enhance, encourage and even accelerate the body’s own immune response to injury.
“The main benefits are encouraging the inflammatory response of the body and speeding up muscular and soft tissue recovery after injury and strain. Cupping therapy has widened significantly though in the last few years and newer techniques are being used for conditions and diseases away from sports therapy such as migraines and eczema.”
Dr Farhat’s colleague and co-director of the London Cupping Clinic, Yasin Zaman added that cupping remains a “learning process”, as the team understands the impacts of the treatment on athletes.
However, there is currently scant evidence the technique has any detectable benefit in treating any physical malady.
In their 2008 book Trick or Treatment, science author Simon Singh, and former professor of complementary medicine at the University of Exeter, Edzard Ernst, wrote that the technique “has a long history but there is no evidence that it generates positive effects in any medical condition.”
David Colquhoun, professor of pharmacology at University College London told the Independent: “There’s no science behind it whatsoever. There’s some vague conceptual connection with acupuncture, and is often sold by the same people. But how could it possibly do anything? It’s nonsense.
“It’s not for scientists to show how it can’t work, but it’s their [practitioners’] business to prove that it does work, which they haven’t done.
“But it’s desperately implausible, how the hell should sucking up a bit of skin in a cup do anything to your athletic performance?
He added: “If it’s done enough to cause bruising, it is [breaking blood vessels], and that’s not going to help anybody is it?”
When asked if he thought Olympic teams using cupping may have any advantage over their rivals, Dr Colquhoun said: “Not at all. If anything they’ll have a slight disadvantage because they’re wasting time getting cupped”.
But cupping is clearly not having much of a detrimental impact on Mr Phelps, who (at the time of writing) has chalked up his 19th Olympic Gold medal.
Dry needling involves the application of very fine sterilised acupuncture needles into muscle and surrounding tissues to assist in the release of myofascial trigger points, reduce tightness and spasm, improve muscle function and relieve pain. It is commonly used as an adjunct to physiotherapy and myotherapy techniques to improve treatment outcomes.
There are two types of Dry Needling, the first called Superficial Dry Needling (SDN) works by inserting the needle only 5-10mm under the skin. Secondarily is Deep Dry Needling (DDN) where the needle is inserted to the depth required to penetrate the targeted myofascial trigger point.
How does it work?
Myofascial trigger points are hyper-irritable, taut bands within muscles, which are painful to touch and can contribute to muscle shortening, weakness and pain (both locally and referred). They often develop following muscle, joint or nerve injury and sometimes persist well after the initial tissue injured has healed. This leads to persistent pain and discomfort.
Dry needling releases these trigger points by encouraging local blood flow to the trigger point and by modulating nerve pathways that erroneously cause them to persist. The needling also stimulates your body’s own endorphin system to provide pain relief and help allow the muscle to relax.
Dry needling can be extremely effective in the treatment of:
Needles used in dry needling are much thinner than those you receive when you see your GP for an injection and so usually cause much less discomfort. This does vary depending on what techniques your therapist uses. You may also experience the very satisfying response of the muscle twanging and releasing quickly. A sure sign of a successful trigger point release.
The initial treatment is conservative to determine the patient’s response. This varies from person to person. It is expected that there will be some post treatment soreness during the first 24-48hrs and sometimes minor bruising is experienced.
What sorts of conditions can Dry Needling be beneficial for?
Dry needling can produce excellent results as an adjunct to standard physiotherapy and manual therapy treatment. It can be used in both acute and chronic painful conditions.
Dry needling can be extremely effective in the treatment of:
Back, neck and shoulder pain
Hand and wrist pain
Tendinopathy pathologies i.e. Tennis elbow, Achilles pain
Many other musculoskeletal injuries (You can discuss dry needling with your therapist to see if it may be useful for your condition)
What is the difference between Dry Needling and Acupuncture?
Dry needling revolves around Western Medicine philosophy and involves inserting needles into muscular trigger points palpated by your therapist and consistent with your area of pain.
Acupuncture is based on ancient Eastern Medicine, with needle placement over specific points along meridian lines or ‘energy’ lines which are thought to associate with particular illness and disease.
Custom-made insoles known as foot orthoses can reduce foot pain caused by arthritis, overly prominent big toe joints and highly arched feet, a new systematic review shows.
A team of Cochrane Researchers found that custom orthoses were safe interventions for foot pain in a number of different conditions. However, more research is required to develop an in depth understanding of their effectiveness.
Approximately one in four people are affected by foot pain at any given time. It is often disabling and can impair mood, behaviour, self-care ability and overall quality of life. People suffer from foot pain for a variety of reasons, but pain is more common in the elderly and those with chronic conditions such as arthritis. In the majority of cases, patients undergo a combination of different treatments, one of which may be custom-made foot orthoses (insoles moulded to a cast of the foot).
The Cochrane Systematic Review focuses on the results of 11 trials that together involved 1,332 people. Researchers found that custom foot orthoses can relieve pain within three months in adults with rheumatoid arthritis, as well as in children with juvenile idiopathic arthritis, an early onset form of the disease. Adults with painful highly arched feet or painfully prominent big toe joints also benefited from treatment with orthoses over three and six month periods respectively.
“Custom foot orthoses can be an effective treatment for a variety of conditions, but there are still many causes of foot pain for which the benefit of this treatment is unclear. There is also a lack of data on the long term effects of treating with orthoses,” says Fiona Hawke, the lead researcher, who works at the Central Coast campus of the University of Newcastle, Australia.
Wiley-Blackwell. “Foot Pain? Custom-made Insoles Offer Relief.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 July 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080715204834.htm>.
A new study finds the overall rate of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries among high school athletes is significantly higher among females, who are especially likely to experience ACL tears while playing basketball, soccer and lacrosse.
The study, “Sport-Specific Yearly Risk and Incidence of Anterior Cruciate Ligament Tears in High School Athletes: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis,” will be presented at the 2015 American Academy of Pediatrics Conference & Exhibition in Washington, DC.
Researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia found significant risk of ACL injury among both genders, particularly in high-risk sports such as soccer, football, basketball and lacrosse. While the majority of ACL injuries occur in boys, the rate of injury per exposure is higher in girls. Specifically, in girls, the highest ACL injury risks per season were observed in soccer (1.1 percent), basketball (0.9 percent), and lacrosse (0.5 percent). In comparison, the highest risks per season for boys were observed in football (0.8 percent), lacrosse (0.4 percent), and soccer (0.3 percent).
“It has been well established that the risk for ACL tear per athletic exposure is higher in female athletes compared to males,” said lead author Alex L. Gornitzky, a fourth-year medical student at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “As participation rates in high school athletics continues to rise significantly, it has become increasingly important to establish up-to-date, individualized injury information for high school athletes and their families, who represent a large proportion of patients visiting pediatric orthopaedic and sports medicine clinics.”
Knowledge of such sport-specific, seasonal risk is essential for evidenced-based parent-athlete decision-making, accurate physician counseling, and targeted injury-reduction programs for the most at-risk sports, said Mr. Gornitzky, who will present the abstract, “Sport-Specific Yearly Risk and Incidence of Anterior Cruciate Ligament Tears in High School Athletes: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis” on Saturday, Oct. 24 in at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.
To view the abstract, visit https://aap.confex.com/aap/2015/webprogrampreliminary/Paper31541.html.
The above post is reprinted from materials provided by American Academy of Pediatrics.
American Academy of Pediatrics. “Basketball, soccer, lacrosse lead to most ACL injuries among high school female athletes: New study breaks down rate of injury to major knee ligament per season by gender and sport.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 October 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/10/151023083703.htm>.