Cupping Therapy

  • Medical Author:
    Mimi Guarneri, MD, FACC, ABIHM

    Dr. Mimi Guarneri, MD, FACC, ABIHM, is board certified in cardiovascular disease, internal medicine, nuclear medicine, and holistic medicine. Dr. Guarneri is president of the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine and serves as Senior Advisor to the Atlantic Health System for the Center for Well Being and Integrative Medicine. Dr. Guarneri is founder and director of Guarneri Integrative Health, Inc. and Taylor Academy for Integrative Medicine Education and Research located at Pacific Pearl La Jolla in La Jolla, CA.

  • Medical Author: Erica Oberg, ND, MPH
    Erica Oberg, ND, MPH

    Dr. Erica Oberg, ND, MPH, received a BA in anthropology from the University of Colorado, her doctorate of naturopathic medicine (ND) from Bastyr University, and a masters of public health (MPH) in health services research from the University of Washington. She completed her residency at the Bastyr Center for Natural Health in ambulatory primary care and fellowship training at the Health Promotion Research Center at the University of Washington.

  • Medical Author: Ann Michelle Casco, L.Ac.
  • Medical Editor: Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP
    Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP

    Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP

    Dr. Balentine received his undergraduate degree from McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland. He attended medical school at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine graduating in1983. He completed his internship at St. Joseph's Hospital in Philadelphia and his Emergency Medicine residency at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center in the Bronx, where he served as chief resident.

Cupping Side Effects

Bruises

A bruise is caused when tiny blood vessels are damaged or broken as the result of trauma to the skin (be it bumping against something or hitting yourself with a hammer). The raised area of a bump or bruise results from blood leaking from these injured blood vessels into the tissues as well as from the body's response to the injury. A bruise is medically referred to as a contusion. A purplish, flat bruise that occurs when blood leaks out into the top layers of skin is referred to as an ecchymosis.

Where did cupping come from?

Cupping is a therapy used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) to remove stagnation and stimulate the flow of qi (chi). Qi is the free flow of vital energy circulating through the body and the world around us, if the qi is disrupted or disturbed, it can create stagnation (blockages) or imbalances in the body.

What is cupping in a massage?

A therapeutic cupping treatment involves warming and placing cups, usually made of glass, on the skin. By warming the air within the cup, a vacuum is created, and when it is applied to the skin, the tissue is drawn up into the cup. This increases the blood flow, loosens the fascia or connective tissue, and is thought to stimulate healing. It is similar to the way deep tissue massage can be used to break up scar tissue and reduce pain. The cups are often placed on the back, neck, and shoulders or the site of pain. Cupping may cause temporary bruising and soreness, depending upon the degree of suction created by the vacuum and the level of internal stagnation. According to TCM, this would be a favorable outcome, suggesting the treatment has successfully removed toxins and stagnation. The cups are removed by lifting one edge, which allows air in and breaks the seal and vacuum.

What are the different types of cupping?

Different types of cupping are selected based on the treatment goals of the acupuncturist. There are also different types of cups. Most commonly, cups are made out of glass. However, a thousand years ago, cups were made of bamboo, clay, or animal horns. According to Ann Michelle Casco, L.Ac., a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner and acupuncturist, the classic cupping technique is called ba guan zi, which is fire or dry cupping. This involves placing the cup over an ashi (painful area) point or an acupuncture point along an energy meridian. The cups are left in place anywhere from five to 20 minutes depending on the nature of the individual's condition. A general course of treatment involves four to six sessions in intervals starting from three- to 10-day gaps.

The sliding cups technique is traditionally performed on large muscle groups of the back to treat pain and muscle spasms. Massage oil is applied to the skin prior to the cups being placed, which allows the cups to glide easily over the surface of the skin.

With air cupping, an alternative to fire cupping, a handheld suction pump is used to remove air from the cups, creating the vacuum without heat. Some clinical research from China suggests this innovation in cupping technology is more comfortable for patients.

Wet cupping combines an acupuncture technique called bleeding with cupping. A lancet is used to prick the skin before the cup is applied, which encourages a small amount of blood to flow from the area. This treatment is thought to dispel internal toxins. TCM practitioners in China use this technique for "cooling" inflammatory conditions.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/31/2016

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