Editor’s Note: Every day this week, 9NEWS Mornings will take a look at alternative pain relief.

Michael Phelps was one of the most predominant names at the Rio Olympics -- not only for what he did in the pool, but outside of it.

Everyone wondered: What are those large purplish perfectly round circles all over his back? And soon everyone knew what cupping was.

“It's really popular with athletes because of how quickly it works and how completely it works,” says Abby Gelhausen with Deep Roots wellness, a licensed acupuncturist and massage therapist.

It works by lighting cotton balls soaked in acetone on fire, quickly putting into glass cups to take out all the oxygen and then quickly onto the skin to create a suction. Many describe it as a reverse massage.

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“What we do is utilize the suction in a cup to pull the fascia, pull the tissues, off the skeletal system in order to create better blood flow,” Gelhausen said. ‘It also pulls out toxins and impurities that get stuck within the fascia so that your body can better get rid of them instead of just sitting there causing tight muscle.”

Many think the cupping marks are bruises. They’re not.

“It’s stagnant blood or the old blood or toxins and impurities coming out through the muscle tissue so no damage or anything like that is being done,” Gelhausen said.

And while it may be a popular choice for athletes, it can help different people for a variety of reasons.
Derek Nelson has a high-stress job and deep tissue massage wasn't cutting it. So he turned to cupping.

“Sometimes I get knots that were too deep and too tight for [Gelhausen] to work out with her hands so we use cupping to kind of loosen those up,” Nelson said.

He gets a treatment once a month and says cupping lasts much longer than massage.

“I noticed a big improvement. Those spots she just couldn't get in 90 minutes [of massage]…it helped a lot,” Nelson said.

Cupping has traditional roots as a folk remedy in multiple cultures including China, India, Russia and Greece but today it’s used all over the world.

And if you can get past the marks, it can alleviate everything from deep muscle knots, to the common cold, fevers and respiratoryissues.

“Most people are surprised by how pleasant it feels,” Gelhausen said.

A typical treatment costs about $35 for a 30 minutes.

Sometimes it can be covered under insurance, usually in conjunction with other treatments like acupuncture but it depends on what the individual insurance plan allows.