Olympics raise interest in cupping in the suburbs

Suburban massage therapists say they've seen a jump in inquiries and appointments for cupping therapy after Olympic athletes - including swimming superstar Michael Phelps - were seen on TV with red, circular cupping marks on their bodies.

On Tuesday, Wheaton massage therapist Michelle Heinz booked two new clients for cupping massages, and is seeing an uptick in searches for the alternative treatment on her website. It's a similar scenario at Libertyville Massage Therapy Clinic.

"We've been doing it for 15 years, but it's just taken off like crazy lately," said Libertyville Massage owner Jan O'Malley.

The increased interest is similar to what Dr. Mike Choe, of Choe Chiropractic Clinic in Buffalo Grove, experienced years ago after Gwyneth Paltrow and Oprah Winfrey talked about cupping.

"It's nothing new," Choe said, "just trendy."

The ancient Chinese treatment involves applying cups to the skin to create suction. Supporters say cupping stimulates blood flow, relieves pain and releases muscle tension. Cupping is often added on as part of a regular massage, rather than as a stand-alone treatment. Prices vary, but a 30-minute cupping at Studio One Salon and Spa in DeKalb is $60.

"It's gonna feel like a good, deep massage. It feels good," Heinz said. "There are a lot of people who are going to be expecting miracles. But it's really only soft tissue work. It just looks scary."

There are a variety of ways to do it - long or short suctions, or with glass, silicon or fire-filled cups - and it shouldn't hurt. Lake Zurich massage therapist Cindy Schewe describes it as "a reverse deep tissue massage." She said she does it in a way that minimizes the red circular marks that fans of the Olympics are seeing on Phelps and gymnast Alexander Naddour. But others who do a more intense cupping say the treatment leaves bright red, pink or purple marks on the body that last up to two weeks. Lake in the Hills massage therapist Victoria Weernink calls it a "cup kiss," not a bruise.

While cupping has been used to treat a variety of issues, it's not for everyone. It can be dangerous to people with high or low blood pressure, or who have sensitive skin. Therapists warn against buying a kit online and trying it yourself.

"You can get hurt if you don't know what you're doing," said Susan Gigon, a trained cupping therapist at Libertyville Massage Therapy Clinic. "You're dealing with blood and veins here."

Red marks from cupping appear on the body of swimmer Michael Phelps at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Associated Press
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