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Cupping therapy: #LOLMets or legitimate therapeutic technique?

Professional athletes continue to try anything in order to optimize their health.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

There isn't a more superstitious collection of individuals in the world than professional athletes. Many have pursued odd and sometimes controversial procedures to help with the aches and pains they deal with on a daily basis. So, say hello to cupping therapy, an ancient Chinese form of alternative medicine now making its way around major league clubhouses.

Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal chronicles the therapeutic technique several Mets swear by and no, this doesn't appear to be strictly a #LOLMets situation.

The sudden proliferation of cupping within the Mets and other major league teams illustrates the lengths to which professional athletes will go to try to stay in top physical shape. In the case of cupping therapy, that means subjecting themselves to a practice with a questionable scientific foundation. (The Mets organization declined to make its medical personnel available to discuss cupping, and declined to allow photographs of the therapy and its resultant bruises.)

Diamond goes on to detail the relatively simple and painless procedure (including a nifty drawing), which involves a flame inside a glass bulb applied to the skin for up to 15 minutes. The suction pulls blood to the area causing bruising and reportedly relief of tight and sore muscles. Similar to acupuncture, which has become more and more mainstream for people of all walks of life, some believe cupping can also help with other ailments, including migraine headaches and arthritis.

So, does it work? That depends on who you ask. Mets such as Daisuke Matsuzaka, Matt Harvey, Vic Black, Jacob DeGrom, and Jeurys Familia are proponents of cupping. Harvey, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery last fall, goes as far to say:

"It's something I can feel immediate relief from."

Immediate relief from a small flame and glass bulb? So apparently athletes around the world simply need to light a small candle, pop it under a glass cup, apply it to the tight muscle, and voila: instant relief. Not so fast says Barrie Cassileth, the chief of integrative medicine service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

"There's absolutely zero evidence that cupping has any kind of positive role in medicine. I cannot conceive of any benefit except a psychological benefit."

This isn't the first time we have all #LOLMets this year. Who can forget Eric Young and his hypnotist, coming soon to a Dave and Buster's near you? Then again, maybe there is something to cupping therapy. While discounting the physical benefits, Cassileth may have unwittingly hit on an even bigger reason athletes would choose to use it: the psychological benefit. If athletes who believe that  wearing the same underwear for a week is what's keeping a hitting streak going, a relatively painless procedure they feel helps alleviate aches and pains is child's play.

Harvey, who seems to make news on and off the field on a daily basis despite being injured, sums it up.

"If I went in and did it and just saw a bunch of circles on my back and it didn't actually feel better after I did it, then I wouldn't do it."

He has a point. Placebo and Hawthorne effects are real, even if the therapies that produce them are pseudoscientific hokum. Then again, Harvey also thought posing naked with only a baseball glove separating his manhood from our eyes was a good idea. But who are doctors or anyone else to say he's wrong? If a simple suction helps him and his teammates go out and win 100 games and ultimately the World Series, no Mets fan will care.