A Complete Guide To Cupping Therapy

Cupping is a type of alternative therapy used in ancient days to release toxins from the tissues and organs of the body. It is believed that cupping can be effective in relieving back pain, neck pain, and other conditions.

Cupping therapy involves placing cups at certain areas on the patient’s skin that create a vacuum effect as a result of which the skin beneath the cup gets drawn up and swells. This leads to an increase in the flow of blood in the affected area.

History Of Cupping Therapy

Cupping therapy has remained an essential part of medicine for thousands of years. The exact origin of cupping is still unknown but the use of cupping therapy has been documented in early Egyptian and Chinese medical practices.

Ebers papyrus, one of the oldest medical textbooks that prevailed in 1550 BC from Ancient Egypt has mentioned the use of cupping for treating fever, pain, vertigo, menstrual imbalances, weakened appetite and to speed up the recovery process.

Egyptians introduced the practice of cupping therapy to the ancient Greeks. Hippocrates, the Father of Modern Medicine and cupping advocate, viewed cupping as a treatment for almost every type of disease. Furthermore, Greek physicians used the strong suction of cupping therapy to reduce the dislocated vertebrae from protruding inward thereby restoring the spinal alignment.

It is believed that the Chinese have been using this type of alternative medicine for several years. A famous herbalist and Taoist alchemist named Ge Hong is considered to be the first person to use cupping therapy in China. He is the one who had popularized the saying that acupuncture along with cupping therapy could cure more than half of the ailments.

In the early years, the Chinese used animal horns to drain the toxins out of snakebites and skin lesions. Then they used the cross-sections of bamboo to carry out cupping therapy. Animal horns or bamboo are boiled in water or ignited by using fire to expel the air and then the cups are placed on the skin. Chinese hospitals adopted the practice of cupping therapy as a traditional Chinese medicine modality since the 1950s.

In Arabic and Islamic countries, cupping therapy is used to treat menstrual conditions. Since it was highly recommended by the Prophet Muhammed, Muslim scientists well-practiced this method, encouraged and developed it further.

Later, cupping therapy was introduced to several countries of Europe and America. Throughout the eighteenth century, European and American doctors used cupping modalities to treat common colds and chest infections mostly by utilizing the wet cupping method.

This method lost its popularity by the late 1800s because it was severely criticized by the newly accepted scientific model of medicine. Later, cupping therapy regained its popularity in the year 2004 when the actress Gwyneth Paltrow’s back revealed cupping marks in the New York film festival. Following that, cupping therapy was adopted by several celebrities including Jennifer Aniston, Victoria Beckham, and Denise Richards.

In 2016, Rio Olympic athletes including Michael Phelps and swimmer Natalie Coughlin were known to practice this technique. American gymnast Alexander Naddour reported, “That’s been the secret that I have had through this year that keeps me healthy. It’s been better than any money I’ve spent on anything else.”

Even though the scientific evidence on the benefits of cupping is insufficient, this therapy has been reported as a powerful healing method when combined with other physical therapy treatments like massage therapy and acupuncture.

How Does Cupping Therapy Work?

Cupping therapy can be carried out by physical therapists, acupuncturists, chiropractors, and massage therapists. A single cupping therapy session includes placing three to seven cups on the patient’s body.

The physical therapist will begin the cupping therapy by placing a flammable substance inside the cups and then ignite the substance in order to create suction. Flammable substances can be paper or herb or alcohol. As the fire goes out, the therapist will place the cup on certain areas in the patient’s body. This action creates a vacuum effect as the air inside the cup cools down.

The vacuum created expands and splits open the tiny blood vessels beneath the skin where the cup is placed. It makes the skin gets pulled upward and causes an increase in blood flow in the particular area. This process stimulates the natural healing process in the body.

The cups are then removed after five to ten minutes. Recently therapists prefer using a rubber pump instead of a fire to create a vacuum inside the cup. Some therapists may practice “flash cupping” by quickly placing the cup and then removing it repeatedly.

Cupping therapy is referred to as an alternative medicine because it is unproven and there is only less research on the benefits of cupping therapy.

Cupping might cause some side effects on the patient’s body that include burns, bruises, skin infection, and discomfort. These side effects usually go away within 10 to 15 days.

Different Types of Cupping

Physical therapists usually prefer two common types of cupping therapy that include dry and wet cupping therapy.

Dry Cupping Therapy is the most common method and it involves the creation of suction and vacuum effect.

Wet Cupping Therapy also known as “Hijama” involves the use of a needle initially to puncture the skin which leads to controlled bleeding. This method removes the toxins out of the body tissues.

Horn cupping, an ancient Chinese method, uses animal horns to create a vacuum by sucking the air out of it.

Flash cupping or empty cupping involves quickly placing the cups over the skin and removing them repeatedly in order to reduce local congestion and stimulate circulation over a broader area.

Oil cupping is also known as sliding cupping is done by applying massage oils to the skin and then placing the cups over the body.

Some other forms of cupping methods prevail that include liquid cupping, deep tissue cupping, and facial cupping.

Different types of cups used for performing cupping therapy include horn cups, plastic cups, bamboo cups, silicone cups, and glass cups.

Conditions Treated Using Cupping Therapy

Cupping therapy is more effective in treating certain conditions that cause body aches and pains. The conditions treated include

Herniated Disc and Other back pain

A herniated disc is the protrusion of the jelly-like nucleus substance present inside the spinal disc into the spinal canal. It leads to tearing of the outer part of the disc that causes inflammation and severe pain.

When the physical therapist treats the patient with cupping therapy, he/she will ignite a flammable substance in order to create suction inside the cup and place cups on the back of the patient.

It opens up the capillaries to increase the amount of blood that can enter and exit the damaged tissue. Cupping reduces the inflammation caused by the damaged disc and boosts the function of the immune system. It allows the injured tissue to repair itself and increases the process of recovery.

Neck Pain

It is reported that one-third of the American population suffers from neck pain each year and many of them are chronic pain. The neck is an integral area of the human body and pain in the neck can lead to a reduced function of daily activities.

Dry cupping therapy is preferred to treat neck pain. The fire ignited increases the temperature inside the cup. When the fire goes out, the therapist places the cup on the patient’s neck area where the pain is experienced. The air inside the cup gets cooled down and creates a vacuum between the cup and the underlying tissues.

This process of stimulating the skin is believed to reduce the pain in the neck by improving blood circulation and increase the process of healing.

Skin conditions like acne and eczema

The facial cupping method is used to treat conditions such as acne and eczema. When the skin is pulled into the cup due to the suction effect, fresh blood gets generated in the surrounding tissue thus promoting the formation of new blood vessels.

Cupping therapy done regularly is believed to strengthen the skin and its connective tissues, stimulate the cells that are responsible for collagen production, increase the complexion of the skin, tone chin and jawline and reduce wrinkles, scars, and acne.

Lung disorders like cough, asthma, and bronchitis congestion

Cold and cough are common conditions experienced by everyone. Bronchitis congestion makes the lung feel full due to inflamed air passages and we often cough in order to clear the mucus out of the lungs. Those who suffer from chronic cough and asthma might experience a sore throat or chest due to continuous coughing.

To relieve coughing and control asthma, cupping therapy can be preferred by physical therapists. Cups are placed on the back of the patient to create a suction that pulls up the skin.

This therapy is said to clear the bronchial congestion in the lungs by making the chest feel light, alleviating the soreness in the throat, and providing relief from cough. Cupping therapy has the ability to cough up the phlegm easily.

Facial Paralysis

Facial paralysis is the inability to move the muscles of the face on either side and affects the physical and mental health of the patients. It can be the result of nerve damage due to any trauma or disease such as stroke or brain tumor.

Both dry cupping and wet cupping methods are preferred to treat the facial paralysis condition. It removes the gas accumulated in the muscles, improves blood circulation by purifying the blood and removing the toxins from the blood.


Cupping therapy is considered an effective method to treat headaches caused by migraines. Plastic cups are placed on the face and the neck after applying some natural pain relievers like eucalyptus or lavender oil to the skin.

Suction is created and the natural oils provide lubrication to slide the cups around the skin. The therapist will then carry out massage cupping by moving the cup in different strokes. This therapy relaxes the muscles and increases the blood supply thereby reducing the pain caused by migraine.

Other conditions treated by cupping therapy include shoulder pain, high blood pressure, rheumatic diseases like arthritis and fibromyalgia, blood disorders like anemia and hemophilia, mental conditions like anxiety and depression, blood clotting problems like deep vein thrombosis and carpal tunnel syndrome.

Benefits Of Cupping Therapy

The various benefits of cupping therapy include

Increases the circulation of blood

Placing the cups increases blood flow in the affected area and helps to relieve muscle spasms and muscle tension. It also improves the functioning of white and red blood cells.

Promotes faster pain relief

Pain in the joints, lower back, neck, and shoulder area can be treated effectively with cupping as the blood flow relieves pain and improves mobility.

Releases toxins

The blood flow associated with the cupping process boosts the mechanism of releasing toxins from the body through the lymphatic system.

Keeps the skin healthy

Cupping increases the supply of oxygen and essential nutrients required for healthy skin. It also expands the blood vessels to promote the flow of blood. Eczema and acne are cured as the toxins are released in the cupping therapy. Studies have shown that stretch marks and scars can also be reduced with the help of cupping.

Provides Relaxation

Cupping therapy is considered a form of massage therapy as the blood flow and energy created due to cupping provides relaxation to the body. The use of cups across the skin engages the parasympathetic nervous system of the patient, thereby slowing the heart rate and helps to reduce anxiety.

Who Should Not Try Cupping Therapy?

Though cupping therapy is effective and provides several benefits, it is not suitable for some people. Pregnant women, children, elderly people, and people with certain health conditions such as cancer, organ failure, edema, blood disorders, and people who suffer from heart diseases should not try cupping therapy.

Final Thoughts

Cupping therapy is an effective technique and the patient should be counseled properly about the treatment procedure and the post-treatment marks. After performing the therapy, the physical therapist will apply moisturizer or antiseptic cream to prevent any possible infection. So, it is not a treatment to be feared and it is important to consult your physician before thinking of trying this treatment.