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Are There Health Benefits to Cupping?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 17, 2024
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Known in some cultures as firecupping, the ancient healing technique of cupping has a long history in the practice of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Sometimes used in conjunction with acupuncture and herbal therapy, this procedure involves the use of a cup that is filled with warm air, and placed open end down on the part of the body that is experiencing distress.

In the philosophy of TCM, cupping is understood to be about the restoring the flow of the life force to a proper and working state. Illness is often associated with some sort of interference to this flow of life energy. The application to the affected part of the body is understood to set in motion natural body responses that will in time help to restore the right ordering the energy and in turn restore health to the individual.

In general, cupping uses a cup that is made of glass, hard wood, or metal. Some type of flammable substance, such as paper, a mixture of herbs, or alcohol is placed in the cup and then lit. As the substance burns down and extinguishes, the cup is inverted and placed at some point along the body that corresponds with the life energy pathways involved. As the air inside the cup cools, it creates a vacuum that pulls the skin upward. The idea is that this action also helps to extract toxins from the body that are the origin of the health ailment. Generally, the cup will be left in place for no more than ten minutes.

Two forms of the technique are uses. Wet cupping involves puncturing the skin before applying the cup. This increases blood flow and is understood to speed up the removal of toxins from the body. Dry cupping is the more common application and omits the use of puncturing the skin. Often, it is used as preparation for a session of acupuncture. The acupuncturist may allow the patient a short time in between the treatment and the administration of the acupuncture needles. Herbalists may also use the technique as a pre-requisite to a regimen of herbal therapy, or as a follow up treatment once the herbs have had time to begin breaking down the toxins that are causing the illness.

Cupping has a great deal of anecdotal evidence that supports its use as a means of dealing with arthritis in the limbs, swelling of joints, and congestion in the throat and lungs. There are also testimonials that claim that the technique has successfully been used to treat depression as well. Generally, it is not used when there is the presence of a tumor or suspicion that a growth may be malignant. Instead, the focus is more on everyday ailments that would not tend to require invasive surgery. However, traditional western medicine has not confirmed that cupping actually leads to any real health benefits. Still, the technique is used in many cultures and has many followers.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including WiseGeek, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By anon962942 — On Jul 26, 2014

If you have watched all the different and extended or uncut versions of the movie "The Godfather," there is a short scene where Paulie or Fredo is suffering from a respiratory disease as an infant. His mother uses a form of cupping by using cheap looking water glasses on his chest, as the child screams while being held down on the kitchen table. The scene may not be in the original mainstream movie or those shown on TV with commercials.

My wife’s very old Italian grandmother said the treatment was not uncommon among early Italian immigrants who had no money for doctors. I once saw a younger Asian (maybe 25) man on the beach at Cape May, NJ. He had numerous red circles approx 2" all over his back. I suspect this was from medical cupping therapy. This was in about 2005. I believe if done properly and with no other options, it might be beneficial for some upper respiratory problems. My first choice would be a heating pad and Vick's vapor rub or antibiotics. No fires on my back, thanks.

By anon340426 — On Jul 03, 2013

I went into a Chinese university where they teach eastern medicine procedures. I was thinking that I would only get the acupuncture, which I did in 14 areas, but prior to that, the 'senior' student did the cupping that is being spoken about. I probably had two cups only on for less than one minute and was in such horrific pain that I told him to take them off! It has been one week now and the two circular marks are still visible and the pain in my upper back is still bad. I can't lie on my back at night as it still hurts too much.

Has anyone else had this where it took so long to heal? I won't be doing cupping again. I had acupuncture done years ago for sciatica and it was great, but this time I have several diseases that they were trying to help me with, but now with the back pain I will need to wait another week to go back and continue with any 'needle' therapy. I think perhaps the inflammation in my body has created this tremendous pain and I should not have had the cupping procedure.

By anon324443 — On Mar 10, 2013

I had my first cupping yesterday, wet cupping. I have been undergoing acupuncture and reflexology for a week for chronic, hot, burning back pain which I have had for months. Subsequently I was tired, grumpy and depressed.

Yesterday my Nth Korean Health Specialist recommended wet cupping. I was amazed at the gunk that came out! Today, I have woken up with more energy than I have had in months, and my pain is considerably less. I can't wait for my next treatment. I am converted.

By anon119585 — On Oct 18, 2010

Had my first cupping session today. It appears as if the therapist is taking an holistic approach as I am been treated for Arthritis, Menopause (severe hot flushes) and knee problems.

By anon88106 — On Jun 03, 2010

there you go need any more advice on cupping? it's proven!

By anon82028 — On May 04, 2010

I have tried many different types of treatment for my upper back pain. Cupping seems to be the only method that has actually relieved my pain. My back is usually sore for two days following the treatment, but within a week, I'm feeling much better. I have already had four treatments and I've noticed I am stronger, but also more relaxed than ever. This has been a Godsend!

By anon74302 — On Apr 01, 2010

Whenever my back feels tight after working out, I try to go the next day for acupuncture and cupping. It's a big relief. I feel like I had a great massage. Actually feels better than a regular massage. Cupping takes away the pain on the neck and back. I'm not as sickly as I used to be.

By anon67239 — On Feb 23, 2010

had cupping done today. it's a method which prophet mohammed, peace be upon him, recommended highly. it feels OK, but the blood that came out was dark and gooey -- disgusting blood. it looked kind of jelly like and I'm pretty happy that it came out.

By anon53852 — On Nov 25, 2009

i am originally from somalia and we practice cupping in my country as a traditional treatment. i was nine years old and got very sick.

The type i had was the wet cupping, where the healer made two small incisions at my lower back and she used a cow horn. after the quick small cuts she placed the horn and after a few minutes when the horn sucked my skin so tight, she removed it and to my terror i bled a lot and almost fainted since i was so young. i wasn't supposed to see that but by the time they said don't look i already did.

To make the long story short i felt great after that day and it was great. now that i am have become a licensed massage therapist i am looking forward in getting my training in cupping. Thanks for reading. --Africana

By anon38913 — On Jul 29, 2009

First visit to accupuncturist- lasted 1 and 3/4 hours. Didn't know what to expect. Have allergies. Was surprised to have cupping and accupuncture after. Back feels sore like a bad strain after lifting heavy weights. It's been a week. I do have a high tolerance of pain. I am disappointed.

By anon37727 — On Jul 21, 2009

I'm not sure yet. My back is very sore. I just had it done yesterday on my upper back.

By anon36306 — On Jul 11, 2009

I did it on 07-10-2009 and it took about 30 minutes to get it done on my back. When I stood up, I noticed I no longer have any pain in my back. I didn't do the cupping with the intention of ridding myself of back pain, it just happened. I am shocked!

By anon21358 — On Nov 14, 2008

Yes, it is very good for infertility. Also, drinking boiled ginger and honey is good for infertility.

By anon16977 — On Aug 19, 2008

Is this method good for infertility?

By anon4337 — On Oct 14, 2007

Cupping feels really good and it relaxes me but it looks so awful! I have to make sure I cover up the marks because it looks like I've been hit...

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
Learn more
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