Why some Olympic athletes have mysterious spots on their skin

Since the start of the Olympic Games in Tokyo, we regularly see athletes with mysterious red, brown or sometimes purple spots on their skin. Many online fans wonder what they are due to. The answer lies in an ancient technique called ‘hijama’.

Sports enthusiasts noticed the mysterious circles, among others, with the Australian swimmer and silver medalist Kyle Chalmers. The spots are the result of ‘cupping’, or also called ‘hijama’. It is an ancient therapy that uses suction cups and is popular in the Middle East and Asia.

The technique is said to be particularly effective in relieving certain aches and pains and has been spreading among Western athletes over the past decade.


Cupping involves placing a series of suction cups on the skin, usually on the back or on painful areas. The ‘domes’ are then heated to create a vacuum inside to create a suction mechanism. That would facilitate blood flow and reduce pain.

The technique creates bruises under the skin and therefore leaves round and red spots. Sometimes the circles appear brownish or purplish.

Other athletes

Other athletes are also big fans of the technique. For example, the French footballer Karim Benzema, the Irish fighter Conor McGregor or the English boxer Anthony Joshua are big supporters of the technique. The latter is also not shy to share photos that he has taken during his many sessions.


So far, few reliable scientific studies on ‘hijama’ have been conducted. The US National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health confirms that: “There has not been enough high-quality research to draw conclusions about whether cupping is beneficial,” it said.

Cupping would not be dangerous for the health of the athletes as long as the technique is performed correctly.

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