Aug 2016 13

Rio, cupping, sports massage and radio 4

By: Dave Wheeler

Did you hear the endpiece on Radio 4's "Today" programme on Wednesday morning (10th Aug, 2016)?

It was a very short piece squeezed in before the closing credits about whether alternative therapies can help athletes increase their sporting ability.

It came about because some of the Team GB at the Rio Olympics have been spotted with those mysterious red circles on various parts of their bodies. 

The circles are down to "cupping" a technique that applies either suction cups or hot cups to the skin and aims to heal scar tissue in the deep muscle or fascia. Plenty of reputable physio's use the technique and it's something of a fad with athletes at the moment, though the R4 presenter seemed more interested in the fact that BBC Weatherman Tomasz Schafernaker admitted to using cupping.

The scepticism about cupping is best summed up by Wikipedia’s current article on the subject though: "Cupping is a pseudoscience. There is no good evidence it has any benefit on health and some concerns it may be harmful."

From cupping, to ice baths, another controversial therapy popular with athletes. This time, Radio 4 brought Wimbledon-winning Andy Murray, a big-time proponent of ice baths out on the side of support. The idea of ice baths is to immerse yourself for up to about 4 minutes in iced water after a period of intense activity.

Remember the "ice bucket challenge" on Facebook last year? It's estimated that 17 million people took part globally in the ice bucket challenge - and in a strange way it's popularised ice baths. The thinking seems to be, "I felt invigorated afterwards, so obviously an ice bath is going to be good for you." Um.

One of Radio 4's guests on Wednesday was Prof Richard Davison, who's professor of Exercise Physiology at the University of Western Scotland. He poured cold water on the idea that ice baths had any scientifically proven theraputic value (see what I did there?).

Prof Davison's withering comment was "they're all in the mind."

Of course, that belittles the role of the mind in sports performance. To be honest, whilst the science might be dodgy, my own opinion is that if it helps you, it works.

As the other guest on the Today programme, Fitness Trainer & Yoga Teacher Niki Wibrow said, just be careful who you go to for treatment - go to someone reputable.

From cupping, through ice baths to sports massage. The guests were asked their opinion on the efficacy of sports massage.

Prof Davison said that there was no evidence that sports massage worked, but that had one frequently because he was a cyclist. After all, he said, it was obvious - if your muscles were sore, you rubbed them.

Niki Wibrow said that she considered sports massage the "base level" for maintenance of the body if you're into sports. Unfortunately she repeated the old mistake that massage improved circulation (it doesn't only the heart is responsible for circulation; massage improves the micro-circulation at a cellular, very localised level).

If you know me, you can imagine that as I listened, I lived up to my grumpy old man reputation by shouting loudly at the Radio.

For more info on what sports massage & remedial soft tissue therapy can actually do for you, why not start with a quick look at some of my previous blog articles in the category The massage profession & its techniques?

As ever, if you think I can help, give me a call.