Ancient cupping tradition has 'no good science behind it'

FILE - In this Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2016, photo "cupping" marks are seen on the shoulders of United States' Michael Phelps as he celebrates winning the gold medal in the men's 200-meter butterfly in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
FILE - In this Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2016, photo "cupping" marks are seen on the shoulders of United States' Michael Phelps as he celebrates winning the gold medal in the men's 200-meter butterfly in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

- Cupping is an ancient therapy used to relieve muscle pain and tension. The suction cups, sometimes heated, are used to pull the skin from the muscle.

It has been making headlines since the start of the Rio Olympics as U.S. gymnasts and swimmers have been seen sporting the red marks the cups leave behind on their shoulders and backs.

But is the traditional practice effective?

Dr. Roshini Raj, a gastroenterologist at NYU Langone Medical Center and FOX 5 News contributor, says probably not.

"The purported benefit is that it can help with immune system function and athletic performance, but there is no good science behind it. It does not make physiological sense: that just suctioning the skin is going to affect the muscles underneath or even the deeper blood flow. It is really beneficial? Probably not," said Dr. Raj.

Negative side effects are possible.

"Sometimes it is actually used with a heated cup that can cause some burning and sometimes even with wet cupping-- where they make small incisions to release blood-- could lead to infections," said Dr. Raj.

If you're in need of muscle pain relief, massage therapy is a safer option.

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