What Is Cupping Therapy?

What Is Cupping Therapy?

If you watched the swimming events at the Rio Olympics in 2016 you might remember the dark purple circles dotting some swimmers’ backs and shoulders and running all the way down their legs. In fact, they were rather hard to miss.

Those perfectly circular marks are the result of cupping, a type of alternative therapy that originated from China that involves placing cups on the skin for a short period of time to create suction. The suction pulls the skin away from the underlying muscles in order to stimulate blood flow and facilitate healing and reduce pain. For athletes, it is a way to promote faster recovery and to get rid of the build up of lactic acid in the muscles that can lead to soreness.


Cupping was originally performed using animal horns. Later, the “cups” were made from bamboo and then ceramic. The suction was primarily created through the use of heat. The cups were originally heated with fire and then applied to the skin. As they cooled, the cups drew the skin inside.

Modern cupping is now often performed using glass cups that are rounded like balls and open on one end. The therapist put a flammable substance such as alcohol, herbs, or paper in a cup and set it on fire. As the fire goes out, they put the cup upside down on your skin, where the heat builds up pressure and starts pulling the skin away. Over several minutes, the blood vessels start to expand and tiny capillaries near the surface break, which causes the redness.

Some modern cupping practitioners have shifted to using a hand-held pump to create suction versus more traditional heat methods.

There are two main categories of cupping performed today:

  • Dry cupping is a suction-only method.
  • Wet cupping may involve both suction and controlled medicinal bleeding.

With dry cupping, the cup is set in place for a set time, usually between 5 and 10 minutes. Sometimes the therapist first inserts acupuncture needles before placing the cups over them.

Therapists can also move the cups from place to place on your skin for a massage-like effect (obviously there are no acupuncture needles involved when sliding the cups!).

With wet cupping, cups are usually only in place for a few minutes before the practitioner removes the cup and makes a small incision to draw blood.  They will apply a dressing to the cut afterwards.

When practicing at Make me Feel, I only use the dry cupping method and use resin cups creating suction with a handheld pump. I can perform cupping along with acupuncture treatments or as a standalone treatment.

What does cupping treat?

Cupping increases blood circulation to the area where the cups are placed. This relieves muscle tension, which can improve overall blood flow and promote cell repair. It may also help form new connective tissues and create new blood vessels in the tissue.

Cupping has been used to treat a wide variety of conditions. It may be particularly effective at easing conditions that create muscle aches and pains.

Since the cups can be applied to major acupressure or acupuncture points, the practice can be effective at treating digestive issues, skin issues, and other conditions commonly treated with acupressure or acupuncture.

One report, published in 2015 in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, notes that it could help with acne, herpes zoster, and pain management.

Similarly, in a 2012 report, published in PLoS One, Australian and Chinese researchers reviewed 135 studies on cupping. They concluded that cupping therapy may support other treatments, like acupuncture or medications for various diseases and conditions, such as:

  • Herpes zoster/shingles
  • Acne
  • Facial paralysis
  • Cervical spondylosis
  • cough and dyspnea
  • pain management in lumbar disc herniation

Side effects

There aren’t many side effects associated with cupping. The side effects you may experience will typically occur during your treatment or immediately after. You may feel light headed or dizzy during your treatment. You may also experience sweating or nausea but this is very unusual.

After treatment, the skin around the rim of the cup may become irritated and marked in a circular pattern. Depending on the strength of the suction and the length of time the cup is applied on the skin, there will be bruising on the site of the cup, the famous circular marks observed on the backs of the Olympic swimmers and the bruising might last for a few days.

Get in touch

Cupping is a long-practiced treatment that may help ease the symptoms of both temporary and chronic health conditions. If you would like to know more about cupping and whether it is right for you, please get in touch with Sophie Silverwood-Cope on 07809828402 or sophie@silverwoodacupuncture.co.uk. I’ll explain to you in details the method I use, the benefits and indications of cupping as well as the contra-indications.