Knoxville doctor talks about cupping therapy used by Olympic athletes

Published: Aug. 8, 2016 at 5:37 PM EDT
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If you were watching the Olympics Sunday night, you might have noticed the reddish purple dots on Michael Phelps back and shoulders.

That's from a therapy procedure called "cupping". We sent Local 8 News Anchor Lauren Davis out there to find out what it is, how it works and when you might need it.

Brittany Shultz suffers from muscle pain in her neck and back. She saw the marks on Michael Phelps' body and thought about "cupping". Brittany says, "Somebody's cupping Michael Phelps. I wanted to come into the office and talk to Dr. Foster about it."

Dr. Foster has been using cupping therapy for 20 years. It's an ancient Chinese medical practice that involves suction therapy. William Foster says, "Cupping has been used to reduce inflammation in muscles and skin."

Dr. Foster rubbed a cooling cream on Brittany, then an oil that allows him to slide the glass cups around, and left the cups on for about 20 minutes. The suction pulls out the heat from inflammation which improves blood circulation and reduces pain, but it also leaves big round marks.

Dr. Foster says, "The marks are bruises, so it takes a little time to relieve. It usually takes a couple days to heal. It'll turn color from red to yellow then brown."

Brittany was very surprised by the marks it left, but she says cupping left her feeling better than before. Brittany says, "I feel great. My neck is better, and I have full mobility. I wasn't able to do that this morning."

Dr. Foster also uses the procedure for people and children with colds.

He says, "Many people come in with severe cold symptoms and leave with very little or no symptoms."

There are some people who are critical of this procedure, so we asked Dr. Foster what he'd say to them.

He said, "Try it. You'll like it."

Dr. Foster says he's treated UT athletes through cupping. The procedure isn't covered by insurance, but Dr. Foster says he tries to keep the cost low so people can afford it.