Definition and Overview

Cupping therapy is a specific type of alternative medicine that involves placing cups on the skin. The cups that are used range in different types and function, some examples are glass cups, bamboo cups, silicone cups, and earthenware or clay cups. By placing the cups upside down on the skin, it creates a suction that encourages healthier and more active circulation of blood. The increased blood supply is believed to be healthy for the general functioning of the body. It can also encourage faster healing of various body parts, whatever the existing ailment may be.

A brief history

The discovery of cupping therapy can be traced back to the ancient cultures of Egypt, China, and the Middle East. According to medical textbooks, Egyptians were said to be practicing cupping therapy even as early as 1,550 B.C. This therapy, however, was met with resistance by the Western medical society due to its lack of scientific evidence.

In 2012, however, research conducted by Australian, and Chinese medical researchers revealed that cupping therapy may indeed be effective, with its benefits becoming more noticeable or pronounced when the therapy is combined with acupuncture and medication.

Types of Cupping therapy

Cupping therapy comes in two main types, which are:

  • Dry cupping – Dry cupping is a technique that uses only suction produced by a cup that is placed on the skin for around three minutes. This method also includes the making of small superficial skin incisions, followed by another round of suction used to take a minimal quantity of blood.
  • Wet cupping – Wet cupping is a technique that combines suction and medicinal bleeding in order to effectively remove the harmful toxins from the body.
  • Rubber pump cupping – This is the most recent technique of cupping therapy in which a rubber pump is used to create a vacuum.


Both dry and wet cupping involve the use of a flammable substance, such as paper or alcohol. This flammable material is basically placed inside a cup before it is burned. Once the fire is about to go out, the cup is placed upside down on the affected areas of the body. The natural cooling process that the cup will naturally undergo will then create a vacuum on top of the skin for around 10 minutes. The skin responds visibly due to the expansion of the blood vessels underneath it. After the vacuuming process, some reddening may be noticed.

What Cupping can treat

According to the latest research on cupping therapy, it can be used to treat a specific list of diseases and health conditions, namely:


Some proponents of cupping therapy also claim that it can help relieve pain and reduce inflammation that may affect any part of the body. Others also support the claim that this alternative medicine can also promote relaxation both mentally and physically.

Side effects

Cupping therapy is known to be safe especially when it is performed correctly and by health professionals who are trained to do so. Nonetheless, there are some potential side effects that may arise or that a patient may become vulnerable to. These include:

  • Burns
  • Bruises
  • Mild discomfort
  • Skin infection


Due to the lack of conclusive studies regarding this type of alternative medicine, experts, especially those who belong to British Cupping Society, advise some patients to avoid cupping therapy. These include the following:

  • Pregnant women
  • Menstruating women
  • Women suffering from metastatic cancer
  • Those suffering from muscle spasms
  • Those who suffered from bone fractures


They also warn those who perform cupping therapy on patients to refrain from applying the cups on certain parts of the body, such as those that have or are near:

  • An artery
  • A pulse
  • An ulcer
  • A deep vein thrombosis


Regardless of the specific type of disease that is being targeted by cupping therapy, the area of the back where the cups were placed may become prone to infection. Putting antibacterial ointment with a bandage will help prevent this. In about ten days, the skin will return to its normal appearance.

Cupping therapy may provide additional benefits when it is used together with conventional treatment methods. Experts agree that complete and total reliance on cupping therapy is not advisable, as it may cause patients to forego conventional treatment methods even for serious health conditions that may bring with them grave consequences when left untreated. Thus, although strongly believed to be beneficial, make sure to use cupping therapy only as support to conventional treatment methods.

References:

  • British Cupping Society: “A Brief Overview of Cupping Therapy.”
  • American Cancer Society: “Cupping.”
  • The New England Journal of Medicine. “Consequences of Cupping.”
  • Cao, et al. “An Updated Review of the Efficacy of Cupping Therapy.” US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
  • Cao, et al. “Clinical research evidence of cupping therapy in China: A systematic literature review.” BioMed Central.
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