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The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

'A voice for the voiceless'
Kiley O’Brien ’25, Assistant Features Editor • July 18, 2024
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Lilli Dellheim '25 M.A., Special to the Hawk • July 13, 2024

Marked with rejuvenation


Olympic trend of cupping therapy available at St. Joe’s

When American swimmer Michael Phelps first stepped up to the starting block in the 2016 Summer Olympics, many viewers noticed strange purple circles on his back, arms and legs.

These marks that appeared to cover Phelps from head to toe were the result of cupping, an alternative medicine therapy that has been around for thousands of years.

Phelps put this age-old practice back into the spotlight for many Olympic viewers, including myself.

There are many different forms of cupping therapy. One type involves heat being applied to the inside of a glass cup that is then placed on the skin. When the hot air begins to cool, it creates suction, which is believed to “suck out” the toxins in the area covered by the glass. Another form of cupping occurs when air is sucked out of the cup with an attached pump.

Trainers have offered cupping to Division I athletes at Saint Joseph’s University for several years, but more athletes are asking for it post-Olympics.

Former St. Joe’s women’s tennis player, Casey Robinson, ’14, received cupping therapy long before the Olympics. Robinson first received cupping therapy about three to four years ago when she was a student-athlete at St. Joe’s.

“It flushes all the bad stuff out and brings new blood to the injury,” Robinsonsaid. “I do believe it works.”

Lori Sweeney, Ph.D., director of the Saint Joseph’s Sports Medicine department, says that anecdotally, people believe that it helps. Although there have not been many scientific studies proving that it actually works.

“It’s an ancient Chinese medicine that’s making its way into mainstream sports,” Sweeney said.

Being a student-athlete at St. Joe’s who experiences upper back pain, I decided to try cupping for myself.

Walking into the training room at Michael J. Hagan Arena after a long, gruesome workout for the men’s tennis team, I didn’t know what to expect.

Rob O’Brien, a physical therapist in the Sports Medicine department, had been assigned to treat me.

As I took my shirt off and laid down on the treatment table, I wondered if the procedure would be painful or how long the cups would be on my back.

O’Brien asked me where I would like the cups placed.

“The upper part of my back,” I said.

Before I knew it, my skin felt like it was being twisted and raised at the same time. I braced myself for the potential pain.

When O’Brien fully suctioned the first cup onto my back, I realized that the cupping was actually not painful at all. Although my skin felt raised and twisted, the therapy felt refreshing.

I lay on my stomach with six cups suctioned to my upper back for about 10 minutes.

When the time was up, O’Brien came over to my table and removed all of the cups except for one. He used that cup to rub the areas where my back had received treatment.

“Is this part of the cupping therapy?” I asked, confused.

“This is to rub and stretch out any of the sore or tight muscles that may still be causing you pain in this area of your back,” O’Brien replied.

10 more minutes passed and O’Brien removed the final cup and put away the kit.

I stood up, feeling more intense sensations run throughout my upper back. It felt as though a great amount of tension had just been rung out of my back. I felt warm and loose.

That’s the same feeling my roommate junior Claudio Recchilungo a member of the men’s rowing team, said he experiences.

Recchilungo first tried cupping last semester.

“I would definitely do it again, but just haven’t gotten around to it” he said.

Before I left, O’Brien suggested I come in again for further treatment of my back, just on the day that I have a match.

As I took my first few steps outside, I felt rejuvenated. The pressure on my back had been lifted, and I felt as though I was standing a little straighter than I was 30 minutes ago.

Before I jumped in the shower, I looked in the mirror and stared at the six large, red circles on my back. Over a week later, the circles were still there. Cupping actually does leave giant red marks on your skin, just as it did on Phelps.

The circles can last for up to two weeks, according to O’Brien.

Ultimately, the therapy seems have improved my tennis game and I’ll be seeing O’Brien again soon.

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