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'Cupping' technique seen on Olympians practiced in Maine

LEWISTON, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Many people have noticed the purple circles on the backs and shoulders of Olympic athletes in Rio.

It comes from a technique called "cupping," which is used in conjunction with massage.

Michael Phelps brought the ancient therapy back into the mainstream when people noticed the large dots on his back and shoulders.

"Cupping" uses plastic or glass cups to create a vacuum and perform myofascial release, which is a way to release "knots" or muscle restrictions. It is supposed to help reduce muscle soreness and increase range of motion.

Nancy Callahan, a licensed massage therapist in Lewiston performs the technique.

"I could have done it with my hands, but it would have been longer and more painful," said Callahan. "I can get deeper with less discomfort [to the patient]."

Not everyone gets coloring like Phelps, Callahan said. Callahan said there are no studies to explain who experiences the purple circles or not.

"They don't always leave color, and I have no idea if you're going to color or not. I had one guy -- he had all these polka dots all over his back from breaking up these little tight knots," said Callahan.

Callahan said the circles are not bruises.

Callahan said anyone with an active job or lifestyle, such as contractors, can benefit from the therapy.

Jaime Allie gets the treatment done monthly.

"It feels like you're getting a hickey," said Allie. "It feels like someone or something is sucking on you."

Callahan said people who do experience the colored circles do not report pain at the site.

Callahan said she is one of less than a dozen people in Maine who are certified in "cupping."

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