Joe Thomas turns to Chinese medicine to keep his battered body on the field

BEREA, Ohio -- Joe Thomas’ back looked as though he had an exaggerated case of hives Thursday.

Large, red circular blotches littered Thomas' upper back and shoulders. What lingered was the remnants of a “cupping” treatment the Cleveland Browns tackle underwent this week for the first time in his 11-year career.

Cupping is a technique from ancient Chinese medicine that involves placing cups on the skin with suction. It is used to help with pain, inflammation and blood flow, and can be a type of deep-tissue massage.

Michael Phelps and other Olympians at the 2016 Games also used the technique.

Per website WebMD, a therapist at one time would place herbs, alcohol or water in a cup and light it. When the flame goes out, the cup is placed on the skin. As the cup cools, it creates a vacuum, which causes the skin to redden and blood vessels to expand. The cup is left in place for up to three minutes.

A more modern type of cupping involves a pump.

Results can be immediate.

Thomas had the treatment on his upper back, with one cup placed on his arm. He said that his back and shoulders take the brunt of his physical punishment during games, but that after the treatment he noticed a difference in his flexibility.

“It feels better than it did before, for sure,” said Thomas, who did not practice Wednesday and Thursday this week in hopes of helping keep him on the field all season. Thomas first heard about the treatment during a presentation Wednesday and jumped at the chance to try it.

Thomas has not missed a snap since he was drafted third overall in 2007, a streak of 10,325 in a row. The more Thomas talks, the clearer it becomes just how difficult a process he goes through to be on the field every week.

Asked to describe how he feels each Monday, Thomas simply said, “Bad.”

But that’s not even his worst day.

“For some reason as I’ve gotten older, you get even more sore on Tuesday,” Thomas said.

To the point that it hurts to get out of bed.

“Not fun,” the 32-year-old said.

He then detailed that moving helps him feel better.

“It seems like when you lay around and do nothing, you just get more and more stiff,” Thomas said. “But if you actually get up and move around, you get in the hot tub, you start swimming, get a little workout in, you’ll feel a little bit better.”

What hurts?

“You name the joint,” Thomas said. “It hurts. Everything.”

And it hurts enough that Thomas said when the team goes to London for a Week 8 game with the Vikings, he won’t be doing much sightseeing because his sore body will not allow it that late in the week.

Thomas has used cryotherapy, which involves getting into a foot-to-neck chamber for two to three minutes with the temperature dropping to below minus-200 degrees, as well as seeing a chiropractor and an acupuncturist.

Thursday marked the future Hall of Famer’s first venture into cupping. He said given the immediate results, he probably would continue the rest of the season.