Michae Phelps single-handedly raised the profile of cupping this week.

Many people had never heard of this traditional Chinese healing technique until spotting the purple dots on Phelps' shoulder as he powered towards another gold medal in the 4x100 relay.

At last count the American swimmer had won 22 Olympic gold medals.

Just like he dominated the pool, Phelps dominated headlines around the world. Not only was his performance in the spotlight, but his pre-race death stare, his laughter during the national anthem and, of course, the cupping.


"I've done it before meets ... pretty much every meet I go to," Phelps told journalists earlier in the week.

"So I asked for a little cupping yesterday because I was sore and the trainer hit me pretty hard and left a couple of bruises."

Some articles explained how the therapy promoted recovery while others called it witchcraft.

I thought I'd do my own research and find out what cupping was all about.

Cupping is one of the treatments on offer at Acupuncture Heretaunga. It is an ancient technique used in treating pain and various disorders.

Acupuncturist Trudi Collins said dry cupping was the most common in New Zealand, using fire to create a vacuum or plastic cups with a suction device. The cups are placed over the painful area. It stimulates the flow of blood and clears toxins from the body. It also leaves a distinctive circular bruise which take a few days to clear.

Ms Collins said it really helped get the body moving freely again.

And with the amount of training athletes do to get to the Olympics, it is no wonder that Phelps and Sonny Bill Williams use it to loosen stiff muscles.

I spend a lot of time in front of a computer and swim three times a week so have a bit of tightness in my neck and shoulders. I'd developed a kink in my neck this week which meant I couldn't turn my head fully to the left.

Ms Collins opted to use flame and glass cups on my back.

After oil had been rubbed in, I heard a whiff of a flame and a glass cup was popped on my back.

The suction gently pulled my skin into the cup. It didn't hurt, it just felt like someone was trying to grab me by the skin and wouldn't let go. Soon there were glass bulbs all over my back.

Ms Collins used the oil on my back to slide the cups into different positions - which seemed to release some of the tension in my shoulders.

It was quite a relaxing experience and nice to be in a warm room on a cold day.

Ms Collins said cupping was also used to "cup out the cold".

"When people have that lingering feeling of cold, often in either lower backs or bellies ... in improving the circulation and pulling the cold out, often people feel warmer for weeks," she said.

My back was certainly radiating warmth following the treatment.

As I got up, I rolled my shoulders back and found I was moving a lot freer. And when I turned my head to the left the kink was gone.

Ms Collins said I should feel lighter in the middle and upper back.

"I think it's popular because it's simple, immediately effective, very safe, with a trained practitioner, and relatively cheap," she said.

The treatment left its mark as I had my very own "Phelps tattoo" of purple dots. I felt a bit drained after the treatment and guzzled down a lot of water.

As I sit at my desk I do feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. However, I was given no guarantee that I would start swimming like Phelps.