Calgary wellness centres see big jump in cupping appointments thanks to Olympics

Calgarians are lining up at spas and wellness centres to try out an ancient practice that's getting new exposure thanks to the Olympics in Rio.

More Calgarians want to see if they can benefit from the ancient Chinese practice being used by Olympians

A cupping procedure typically lasts around 10 minutes and leaves round lesions on the skin. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

Calgarians are lining up at spas and wellness centres to try out an ancient practice that's getting new exposure thanks to the Olympics in Rio. 

The pain-relief therapy has been drawing attention with athletes, including American gold medal swimmer Michael Phelps sporting the perfectly round bruises that the treatment leaves behind.

Cupping marks are seen on the shoulders of United States' Michael Phelps as he celebrates winning the gold medal in the men's 200-metre butterfly during the swimming competitions at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (David J. Phillip/File/AP)

"There's been a lot of hype and our bookings for cupping have increased by 75 per cent in just the last three days," says Karen Bandy, who owns the Body Therapy Wellness Centre in the community of Evanston.

"The swimmers in the Olympics and seeing those marks on their bodies is raising public awareness."

People with chronic injuries are among those asking about the procedure, along with athletes looking to increase their mobility.

Karen Bandy, owner of the Body Therapy Wellness Centre in Calgary, says since the Olympics a lot more people want to give cupping a try. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

Glass bulbs are heated with a flammable substance, like alcohol, or burning paper, then as the fire subsides, the cup is applied to a patient's skin, creating a vacuum over the skin as the cups cool.

The practice is believed to promote blood circulation to the cupped area. Practitioners believe cupping allows spaces in the muscle and surrounding area to open for fluids, like blood, so it can move freely.

"What cupping does is like a reverse deep tissue massage, taking stagnant energy and stagnant blood from deeper levels and releasing it to the surface so it can be dissipated," says Claire Edwards, who is a doctor of traditional Chinese medicine at Body Therapy.

Athletes like Michael Phelps and U.S. gymnast Alex Naddour are using the centuries-old traditional Chinese medicine practice to try and boost performance. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

Other spas and wellness centres around Calgary say they're seeing the same buzz around cupping over the last few days.

"It's all over the news and business has definitely grown," says Gaurav Gupta, with Leela Eco Spa in Bridgeland.

"We pulled the numbers and we've done almost five times what we did last year. Not everyone's up for acupuncture but cupping is less invasive."

Gaurav Gupta, with Leela Eco Spa in Bridgeland, has seen cupping rise in popularity over the past year, peaking in the last week. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

In recent years, Hollywood celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Victoria Beckham and Jennifer Aniston have used in the practice for health and wellness purposes.

Cupping has not been fully accepted by mainstream medicine though and some scientists are sceptical about the efficacy of the procedure.

In 2014 the Journal of Traditional Chinese Medical Sciences reviewed published studies on cupping. Researchers concluded the published literature suggests a possible short-term positive effect in reducing pain intensity, compared to heat therapy or conventional drugs.