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Cupping Therapy: What You Need to Know

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Cupping therapy is an ancient form of holistic medicine that dates back to as early as 1,550 B.C. It is the process of sucking specific parts of the skin using cups, which creates a vacuum. Doing so has many forms and involves different techniques, such as wet or dry and still or moving.

Cupping has its history and cultural roots in China, Egypt, and Arabic countries. It is also popular throughout Asian countries such as Korea, Japan, Cambodia, Philippines, Thailand and many more. In recent years, this technique is gaining popularity in Western countries, mainly the Americas, due to celebrity attention.

It makes sense that cupping is still renowned in its root countries and is becoming recognized across the globe. The technique is a highly effective form of alternative medicine.

It is well known to lessen shoulder and neck pain.

What’s more, cupping can be beneficial for those with heart conditions, facial paralysis, cold symptoms and asthma. Overall, it provides benefits to one’s well-being.

cupping therapy

What is Cupping Therapy?

Historically, people used this therapy as a remedy for fevers, gout and arthritis. Through the years, it has not lost its touch and is still widely used in Asian and Arabic countries.

However, it has also become a notable form of alternative medicine today. It has become mainstream and widespread across the world.

Responsible for bringing this about are notable public figures, such as Micheal Phelps,  Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Aniston. They have been vocal about their use of this Chinese Medicine modality to reduce inflammation and pain. They have even proudly displayed their cupping marks to the public.

So, what is this technique? And why is it so loved from thousands of years ago until today? Cupping Therapy involves placing cups on the skin and using them to create suction to draw the skin upward. Practitioners can use cups made of different materials.

Commonly, practitioners use plastic, silicone, bamboo or glass cups. There are also several ways to create a suction effect.

For example, the clinician can insert a lit alcohol swab into a cup and quickly remove it. The cup is immediately placed on the skin, creating a suction effect. The cup can either remain in place or be gently moved along the skin. Both techniques have different implications and results.


Practitioners never use flames near the client’s skin. Flares are also never ignited throughout the whole process of cupping therapy. Instead, the fire is for movement of oxygen, which will create a vacuum effect.

Cupping has many forms. Practitioners can utilize dry or wet and stationary or moving types of cupping. There are plastic suction cups or glass cups which require a flame to create suction, as mentioned above.

With dry cupping, the practitioner places a cup over the area of skin that requires treatment. A vacuum is formed in the container to suck the skin upwards. As such, dry cupping is a form of decompression technique. This form of cupping is debatably the most popular as it can be done with plastic or glass cups. The plastic suction cups requires less training to use and the equipment is very portable.

On the other hand, with wet cupping, the practitioner pricks the skin before beginning the vacuuming process, which extracts some blood during the process. This technique is rarely used in the US, but still is performed in many other countries, as it can be very effective for immediate pain relief. Wet cupping practitioners also choose between still and moving cupping.

With still cupping, the clinician leaves the cup on one location. Professionals use this method to treat acupuncture points and tense areas. This method is also useful for areas where removing cups would result in loss of suction.

For moving cupping, clinicians place medical massage oil or lotion on the body. This allows the practitioner to push the cups around without losing the suction on the skin. As a result, many practitioners favor this method.

What are the origins of cupping therapy?


In the past, there was a belief that pain is a consequence of congestion in the body. The ancient Chinese believed that the blocking of Qi caused illnesses.

Moreover, Shamanistic practices thought that one could suck out pain and conditions from the body. As such, they used cupping to suck the disease out of the body and restore its natural Qi.

An ancient medical book, “The Ebers Papyrus,” dated c. 1550 BC, described the Egyptians’ way of cupping. The book also stated other, similar methods used by the Saharan people. Meanwhile, Hippocrates who lived in ancient Greece c. 400 BC, employed cupping for treating the human body’s structural problems and internal diseases.

A record of cupping in China was in 281-341 A.D. by Ge Hong, a famous Taoist herbalist and alchemist. In the 1950s, Cupping Therapy became an accepted therapeutic practice in China.

What are the benefits of cupping therapy?

According to followers of cupping therapy, it is an alternative medicine modality that boosts one’s overall health. Mainstream medicine has embraced cupping as of late, and it’s more than the highly skilled Doctors of Acupuncture and Traditional Oriental Medicine doing the cupping. Many Physical Therapists, Athletic Trainers and Massage Therapists will use cupping. The reputation of this modality has grown based on positive patient outcomes, although more research is needed to quantify the effectiveness of cupping.

Claims from firm believers, such as the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, say that cupping can:

  • Reduce pain
  • Lessen muscle tension
  • Improve blood flow
  • Calm the nervous system
  • Lessen inflammation
  • Relieve stress
  • Treat cervical spondylosis
  • Clear congestion from colds
  • Boost the body’s immunity by surging the output of lymphocytes
  • Enhance one’s athletic performance
  • Solve fertility problems
  • Treat acne
  • Treat facial paralysis
  • Prevent and cure herpes zoster
  • Enhance the body’s overall health and well-being.

To add to all of these, cupping therapy is good for the lungs. It is widely used for congestions and controlling of one’s asthma.

Other evidence-based complementary organizations also state that cupping is excellent for cleansing the skin and the circulatory system. Consequently, it is used for cosmetics/beautification, as well as for the removal of toxins and improvement of blood flow through the blood vessels and veins.

Cupping can even help the digestive system. It is known to improve one’s metabolism, assist with constipation and appetite.

What are its side effects?

Cupping is known to be safe. Side effects are uncommon with a light to moderate seriousness. Some of these side effects can include:

  • Dizziness
  • Irritability on the treated parts of the skin
  • Cupping bruises
  • Mild discomfort

Side effects are rare and do not last long. The bruised appearance, or cupping marks, are a normal effect of this treatment modality and should not be considered negative. Discoloration will only last for about a week. Some patients even prefer having these cupping marks because Michael Phelps and other celebrities have made the marks look trendy.

A trained practitioner will not only know how to safeguard and minimize the potential side effects of cupping but also maximize the benefit of your treatment. Cupping has many variables: moving or stationary, dry or wet, glass or plastic cups; even the type of alcohol used will vary and a properly educated practitioner will know what is the best way to utilize this modality for your body. It is vital to do high-quality research and choose an excellent clinician.

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