Cupping therapy is an age-old tradition that dates back to ancient Chinese and Middle Eastern cultures. According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), cupping is a practice that creates a vacuum or suction on the patient’s skin and is believed to relieve the body of harmful substances, boost energy levels, improve blood flow, and promote healing. This form of alternative medicine continues to be used today to help with pain, inflammation, blood flow, relaxation, massage, and overall well-being.

How it’s Administered

A therapist places a flammable substance, such as herbs or paper, in a cup and sets it on fire. Cups can be made of a variety of materials, including glass, bamboo, and silicone, and can range in size. As the fire inside the cup goes out, the therapist places a cup on the patient’s skin, typically on his or her back, neck, or shoulders. The air inside the cup cools, creating a vacuum on the skin, suctioning the skin into the cup, and expanding blood vessels. Other therapists may use a pump to mechanically create a vacuum instead of fire.

Types of Cupping Therapy

There are a couple of different cupping methods: dry and wet.CUPPING THERAPY

Dry cupping solely involves suctioning. In wet cupping, therapy includes both suctioning and medicinal bleeding. A therapist will administer an initial round of mild cupping, subsequently use a small scalpel to make tiny cuts on the skin, and then administer a second round of cupping to draw out small quantities of blood. Wet cupping is believed to remove harmful and toxic substances from the body. Antibiotic ointments or bandages may be applied to prevent infection.


The British Cupping Society advises that cupping therapy can be used to help many conditions:

  • Blood disorders
  • Rheumatic conditions
  • Fertility disorders
  • Skin problems
  • High blood pressure
  • Migraines
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Bronchial congestion
  • Varicose veins

In 2017, a study was conducted in Tehran to examine the influence cupping therapy had on the quality of life of healthy people. Participants were treated and examined by Traditional Persian Medicine specialists. A month after cupping therapy, 88% of participants reported an increase in quality of life and 89.9% reported no negative side effects.

Another 2011 review demonstrated that cupping therapy is an effective pain treatment.

Additionally, a 2012 study, published in PLoS One, involved Australian and Chinese researchers who reviewed 135 studies published from 1992 through 2010 on cupping and concluded that cupping, may be effective in helping those with the following diseases and conditions such as herpes zoster, acne, facial paralysis and cervical spondylosis. Especially when is combined with other treatments such as acupuncture.

No serious adverse effects were reported in the trials, although the study states that further trails on cupping therapy and its uses are warranted.

Side Effects or Risks

While cupping is generally safe when administered by a trained health professional, you may experience the following side effects

  • Mild discomfort
  • Burns
  • Bruises
  • Skin infection

Would you like to learn more about the practice of acupuncture and its benefits? Sydney Institute of Traditional Chinese Medicine can help you find a qualified TCM practitioner and learn more about cupping and other TCM practices.

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