- Associated Press - Saturday, August 20, 2016

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - A few weeks ago, 17-year-old Aleah Mathews shared a picture of herself on one of her social media accounts.

Mathews, a Davidsonville resident, liked the outfit she was wearing: a pink and green summer dress with spaghetti straps and a horizontal opening across part of her back.

The reaction she got from one friend, though, wasn’t at all about the dress.

Instead, Matthews said, her friend wanted to know what in the world the deep-purple circles on her back were.

With the Olympics still a few weeks away, Mathews’ friend, along with most of the country, had yet to learn about “cupping.”



“Now it’s cool, now that Michael Phelps does it,” Mathews said last week with a laugh.

Images of the gold-medalist Phelps sporting the same purple spots on his back and shoulders during the games in Rio earlier this month sparked a nationwide conversation about cupping, an ancient Chinese healing method that can leave large dots on the skin from suction.

But in the Annapolis area, there are circles of people like Mathews who have known about - and even used - the treatment before it was popularized.

Meadow Hill Wellness in Annapolis, where Mathews gets her treatment, has been offering cupping since it opened 11 years ago, owner Dr. Sara Poldmae said.

Poldmae, a licensed acupuncturist, estimates her practice sees about 50 clients a week who receive the treatment.

A lot of those clients are athletes who are either recovering from or trying to prevent injuries, Poldmae said.

But the treatment can also be helpful to people who aren’t involved in sports, she said.

It can be used to treat internal and external medical complaints - not just injuries and pain, but also things like bronchitis and menstrual issues, she said.

Cupping works by putting specialized cups on the skin and using heat or an air pump to create suction. The suction pulls the skin and the tissue away from other tissues, creating micro-circulation through areas that may not be reachable through massage.

Poldmae said cupping is “sort of like massage, but from the inside out.”

The suction is what leaves the purple circles on the skin, which have prompted skepticism and even criticism from people who have tuned in to watch the Olympics this year.

Bill Roberts, the head coach of the Naval Academy’s men’s swimming team, said the first time he heard about, and then saw, cupping, he had “no doubt” the treatment would help swimmers.

He and his staff started noticing other teams using cupping about two or three years ago. It has become fairly regular - at least at the higher-level meets - since then, Roberts said.

Cupping speeds up the recovery process, which is key for swimmers, who often train twice a day, Roberts said.

In the case of the Olympics, where swimmers are competing twice a day at full throttle, the athletes’ success “hinges on their body’s ability to recover before the next day,” he said.

“They’re not going to be able to do that simply by getting a good night’s sleep and eating,” Roberts said. “That will help, that’s important, but that’s not going to speed the process. This (cupping) speeds the process.”

The Navy men’s swimming team has not used cupping yet, but it’s something Roberts and his staff are very interested in, he said.

“If you as an athlete are not doing something like this, you’re giving away at least 10 percent,” he said.

Since the spotlight fell on cupping during the Olympics, Meadow Hill Wellness has received “a ton of calls” from people asking about the treatment, Poldmae said.

But cupping is not something practitioners are necessarily comfortable scheduling for people without first assessing their condition to make sure the treatment is appropriate, she said.

That brings a bit of relief to Mathews, who said she can worry less about a shortage of sessions amid all the new interest.

She started cupping about two years ago as a way to relieve back pain caused by horseback riding and loves it, she said.

“It hurts initially, and then while you’re getting it done, it’s just a relief,” she said. “It just relieves all the tension … It’s incredible. I get back in my car (and it’s) like, ‘Oh my gosh, I can enjoy my day and (my) week until I get it done the next time.’”

___

Information from: The Capital, https://www.capitalgazette.com/

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