What is Cupping Therapy? The Alternative ‘It’ Trend Explained


With stars like Gwyneth Paltrow, Chris Martin and now Jennifer Aniston sporting suction marks from Cupping Therapy (like a holistic badge of honour), it’s clear that this ancient alternative therapy is now enjoying resurgence in popularity.

Where did it come from? Cupping therapy has been utilized in Traditional Chinese Medicine for several thousands of years, and has been used traditionally in Egypt, India, Tibet, Thailand, Europe, and Mexico. Native cultures also have documented cupping folk remedies, bloodletting, and the use of leeches for this practice. The ancient Egyptians and Babylonians, as well as the famous Greek physician Hippocrates also practiced cupping.

What is cupping?

Cupping is a form of alternative therapy by which cups are placed on the skin to create suction. It’s a treatment that releases stagnation, pain, and discomfort from the energy meridians of the body as well as softens tight muscles and joints. There is a saying in Chinese medicine: ‘Where there is a flow there is health, and where there is stagnation there is disease.’ The feeling of wellbeing, the looseness of the body and higher levels of energy makes it a favoured healing method to treat and prevent.

In some cases is a very useful tool for internal conditions such as headaches, cough, asthma, stroke, facial paralysis, arthritis, stress, fibromyalgia and infertility.

What are the Benefits of Cupping?
• Draining excess fluid
• Releasing rigid soft tissues
• Delivering blood flow to blocked muscles and skin
• Draining toxins and pathogens
• Lifting connective tissue
• Loosening adhesions
• Relief from short and long term inflammation
• Promotion of lymphatic circulation
• Strengthening of the immune system
• Muscle and connective tissues are stretched
• Benefit Arthritis, joint pain, muscle pain and stiffness
• Releases stress
• Deep tissue relief
• Breaking up and expelling congestion
• Stimulation of qi and blood movement systemically and locally
• Cleans the blood and lymph
• Helping to balance pH levels
• Nervous system sedation
• Directs blood to the skin

What happens in the treatment?

After a brief consultation based on a particular health concern, the practitioner will combine cupping with either acupuncture, pricking techniques or Tuina (Chinese medical massage). The principles of cupping are very complementary to Chinese acupuncture: the aim is to free the energy in the particular areas of the body in order to balance the energy flow.


The method is practiced with cups in various sizes and materials – such as glass, bamboo, pump cups – these cause suction on certain locations on the body to bring relief.

In order to achieve therapeutic results, the practitioner will use different methods of cupping such as tonifying, draining (bleeding), herbal, moxa (a process using a herb that is burned on or over the skin to produce a deep penetrating warmth), sliding cupping according the pattern and the constitution of the patient.

In addition to the methods mentioned, known as “dry” cupping, some practitioners also use what is called “air” or “wet” cupping. In “air” cupping, instead of using a flame to heat the cup, the cup is applied to the skin, and a suction pump is attached to the rounded end of the jar. The pump is then used to create the vacuum. In “wet” cupping, the skin is punctured before treatment. When the cup is applied and the skin is drawn up, a small amount of blood may flow from the puncture site, which is believed to help remove harmful substances and toxins from the body.

Where is cupping done?

Usually applied on the cervical area (Neck), shoulders, middle and lower back. Various sized cups can also be placed on the acupuncture points such as the chest, the abdomen (very good for digestive problems), bowel movement, and buttocks (Sciatic pain), inner and outer thighs (cellulite or varicose veins). The places selected are treated with additional acupuncture according to the severity of the problem. A sliding cupping massage is applied all over the back and abdomen using herbal oils and massage manipulation.

How does it make you feel?

The therapy feels warm and comfortable, an intense yet gentle suction. You feel the blood and energy flooding the area in a cathartic way to clear the impurities and take the pain away. Our body just removes inflammatory components and frees up the tension in the area. The sensation afterwards is really amazing and very relaxing.

There are seldom side effects, but these are minimal and to be expected. Avoiding strenuous activity, cold weather and hot environments for about six hours after a treatment will help to keep detoxification effects to the minimum. Some stretching (where appropriate) of the affected area will encourage the therapeutic outcome. It is not uncommon for a person to experience sore skin and bruising following a treatment, which is actually expected and desirable. Having these discolorations is a sign that the treatment was successful, but also the colour of the bruising has a great diagnostic value as well as effectiveness rate. It usually signifies the state of the blood, inflammatory implications and signs of weakness or excess on a constitutional level. The distinctive bruising may looks painful, but it is not and will fade on its own. The discoloration is due to stagnant blood being brought to the surface so that the body can eliminate it. If the bruising is a concern an application of arnica cream will help fade the mark much quicker.

How often should you have cupping?

The numbers of treatments vary according to the health concern and constitution of the patient. The treatment normally lasts for half an hour but it takes longer if combined with other therapies.


Three Reasons To Try It:

1. For Sports Injury/Areas of Tension and Pain:
Pain, swelling, inflammation – the only way from a western medical perspective to treat a sports injury, would be with anti-inflammatory medication to suppress the inflammation. Cupping helps to (in conjunction with for example needling):

  • Release the pressure and accumulation of toxins and irritation to provide immediate relief.
  • Remove unwanted harmful components in the blood such as cholesterol, uric acid and calcium deposits.
  • Allow fresh blood, nutrients and oxygen to penetrate the affected area and break the cycle of pain, restoring the body to health.

2. For Anti-Ageing: Facial ‘sliding’ Cupping, inspired from the Chinese medicine tradition is a quick, non-invasive way to rejuvenate the face. Facial muscles are toned, lines, wrinkles and puffiness are reduced, muscle rigidity can be relieved and sinus pressure can be reduced. Cupping helps to:

  • Drain stagnant fluids to ease puffiness and reduces tension of facial muscles.
  • Bring nutrients to the epidermis (outer layer of skin).
  • Provide firming and lifting of facial tissue by enhancing the circulation and assisting the lymphatic system. Lines, wrinkles and scar tissue are softened and reduced.
  • Reduce Edema and chronic puffiness due to improved microcirculation.
  • Lift problem areas, such as sagging jowls, cheeks and eyelids, skin will be brighter and redness reduced.
  • Facilitate absorption of lotions and creams.

3. For Fertility: Traditional Chinese methods address the cause of a health concern, treating both cause and symptom. Cupping is a successful tool with appropriate application and correct diagnosis to help, particularly with increasing chances of fertility with IVF treatments. Cupping helps to:

  • Regulate the female hormonal system
  • Stimulate the formation of follicles
  • Improve the function of the ovaries to produce healthy eggs
  • Relax and help with stress
  • Increase blood flow to the uterus and increase thickness of the uterine lining
  • Strengthen the immune system
  • Lessen the side effects of drugs used in IVF
  • Potentiate healthy embryos
  • Reduce chance of miscarriage