Those who have been to gymnastics meets might have noticed the distinctive circular black marks on the backs of many athletes. These marks come from cupping, a treatment the team used this season to relieve muscular tension.
Cupping is an alternative treatment in which plastic cups are placed on an athlete’s soft muscle tissue for 10 minutes. MSU gymnastics trainer Destiny Teachnor-Hauk said the issue can be used to treat muscle tension or tightness in many parts of the body, including the back, arms and legs.
The gymnastics team has tried various treatments in the past, notably the Graston Technique, a harsher technique in which metal tools are used to massage muscles.
“Graston is more mainstream than cupping, and a little harsher for the patient," Teachnor-Hauk said. "The goal is somewhat similar. Trying to increase blood flow and decrease fascial restrictions. You decrease pain and increase range of motion."
Though Teachnor-Hauk said she has used cupping in past seasons, the use of the treatment increased significantly this year.
“I’ve used cupping more this year than I have in the past. ...The gymnasts have been able to communicate that they get the same benefit from cupping as they do from Graston, and it’s a friendlier treatment, so I’ve been doing that more this year,” Teachnor-Hauk said.
Elena Lagoski, a junior MSU gymnast, suffers from compartment syndrome. This means that the bones in her forearms are too large, she said, causing her to lose circulation to her hands and arms often.
“Some days I wake up and I have no feeling in my hands,” Lagoski said. “So it’s really hard for me to swing bars when I have no feeling in my hands, no feeling in my arms, to feel a grip.”
Lagoski said her circulation issues caused her to be unable to participate in bars during her freshman and sophomore seasons. She said she has tried numerous treatments, including Graston Technique, to help her regain blood flow, but she said none of those treatments have worked quite as well as cupping.
“This is basically what I have to do to swing bars,” Lagoski said. “It lifts up and helps the blood go to my hands. Some days I wake up and I have no feeling in my hands. So it’s really hard for me to swing bars when I have no feeling in my hands, no feeling in my arms, to feel a grip. This helps the blood flow, and even out the muscles in my forearms, to help me swing bars.”
This season, Lagoski competed in bars for the first time as a Spartan gymnast.
Lisa Burt, the team’s only athlete to advance to the NCAA championships, said that the treatment has helped her with tightness in the trapezius and scapular muscles.
“It mainly has helped to relax my upper back muscles,” Burt said. "That’s what I usually use it for. I have really tight traps and upper scap (scapulae) area, and this treatment really helps with that.”
The dark marks that are the sign of the treatment can last up to two weeks, depending on the amount of “damage” in the soft tissue they are applied to, Lagoski said.
These marks are the only outward sign of a treatment that has been vital to many Spartan gymnasts.
“Gymnastics has issues all over because of the nature of their sport,” Teachnor-Hauk said. Often, it’s due to restrictions in the body, because of the repetitions they get in the gym, so this is very helpful ... it’s just very effective.”