It may look like something out of a science fiction movie, but cupping actually traces its roots back thousands of years. Originally used in ancient Chinese and Egyptian medicine, cupping is now common practice in clinics worldwide.

From Olympic athletes and famous pop stars to members of your local community, cupping is used to treat a wide variety of conditions, including pain, anxiety, digestive issues, and headaches.

So how is cupping performed, and most importantly, does it work? Let’s dive a little deeper.

How is Cupping Performed?

You may be familiar with the telltale circular red markings left behind after a cupping session. These marks are left by a series of cups that are suctioned to the skin. There are two methods of cupping – wet cupping and dry cupping. In both cases, a small cup is heated before being placed on the skin. The heat inside the cup displaces the oxygen, and as the cup cools, a vacuum is formed.

Wet cupping involves making a small incision in the cupping area, typically before but sometimes after, in order to draw out toxins.

Cupping vessels are most often made from glass, but it’s not uncommon to see bamboo, metal, or ceramic used. Some modern practitioners may also use silicone cups where the air is suctioned out rather than heated.

A typical session will involve 3-7 cups left in place for several minutes. Cupping can be static, or sometimes cups are moved along the skin.

How Does Cupping Work?

It’s thought that cupping will help trigger the body’s natural healing mechanisms, promoting faster recovery and potentially reducing the symptoms of chronic conditions such as pain.

When the heated (or suctioned) cups are placed on the skin, a vacuum is created within the cup. This suction forces the expansion and breaking of tiny blood vessels beneath the skin, drawing fluid into the targeted area and increasing blood flow.

Some practitioners believe this process also helps to draw harmful toxins from the body.

Is Cupping Effective?

Despite having been practiced since as early as 1,500 A.D, there has been little high-quality research into the effectiveness of cupping. However, what research is available suggests that cupping could offer patients positive results, particularly for those suffering from painheadaches, and migraines.

On the other hand, patient feedback has been strongly supportive of the pain reduction effects of cupping. More than a third of patients who participated in cupping reported an immediate and significant improvement in pain intensity in one study.

Is Cupping Safe?

Cupping is typically a very low-risk therapy, as long as it is practiced by a qualified professional. Some patients may experience mild discomfort during the session, but for others, the experience is similar to a deep tissue massage.

Possible side effects from cupping include:

  • Mild burns from the heated cups
  • Skin irritation
  • Skin infection
  • Bruising
  • Dizziness or nausea

There are also underlying health conditions that may preclude you from being able to undergo cupping therapy, including:

  • Bleeding or blood clotting disorders
  • History of stroke
  • Epilepsy
  • Certain skin conditions

When in doubt, it is always best to discuss your medical history with your practitioner before your cupping session.

For patients suffering from pain who are looking for alternative treatments, cupping is worth a try. It is low-risk, non-invasive, and affordable. Cupping therapy, combined with other alternative treatments, such as acupuncture, has produced excellent results for patients suffering from a wide variety of conditions, including chronic pain.