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What is Cupping? What is Acupuncture Cupping? Does Cupping Work?

Updated on May 1, 2013
Chinese Olympian
Chinese Olympian

Before we attempt to answer the question, let's take a look at what cupping is all about. There's at least a small chance that you are reading this article now in the summer of 2008 because you saw a picture in the newspapers or on television of a Chinese swimmer preparing for the Olympic Games that showed huge, circular blotches all over her back.

What is Cupping?

Cupping is considered to be a form of acupuncture. Acupuncture itself has been practiced as a form of medicine in China for 2500 years. Cupping is an alternative to the more traditional needles.

Acupuncture with needles works under the principle that by insertion into the skin of many tiny needles, some or all will make contact with tension points and ease pain. It is believed that acupuncture will help alleviate back pain, neck pain, cramps, nausea, and even help with critical conditions like infertility and cancer.

The basic concept behind cupping is suction. There are two methods by which cupping is performed.

The traditional method is administered by taking a glass cup or jar containing a cotton ball swabbed with alcohol. The cotton ball is then ignited. After the cotton ball has been removed, the cup is then placed at a specific location on the patient's skin. Because of the vacuum created inside the cup, the patient's skin then rises up inside the cup and blood flow rushes to the area. This method is known as "Fire Cupping". Practitioners believe it to be the more effective method.

Suction Cup Method

Other practitioners prefer to use the suction cup method. In place of the flame, air is suctioned from the cup manually after the cup is placed on the skin of the patient.

Suction Cup Method
Suction Cup Method

Does Cupping Hurt?

Cupping proponents believe it improves circulation, opens the chest and lungs, and can even benefit menstrual and digestive problems.

A typical therapy session lasts about 15-20 minutes and can be repeated, if necessary, after the skin marks disappear.

People who have never had it done, say that it appears to be torture. However, experienced patients normally report that the sensation during treatment simply feels as if something or someone is tugging at their skin. There are apparently no reports of pain.

Proponents swear by it, even celebrities such as Paris Hilton and Gwyneth Paltrow.

Gwyneth Paltrow
Gwyneth Paltrow

But Does Cupping Actually Work?

Opponents compare it to medieval alchemy and bloodletting. Controversy about acupuncture in general and its usefulness as a painkiller has raged for many years.

Western Medicine tends to downplay its effectiveness, yet the seemingly brightest minds of Western Medicine once believed (not so long ago in comparison to the length of Chinese history) anesthesia to be pure quackery. Also the use of leeches to remove excess blood, once considered taboo, is now routinely practiced in the West.

Studies continue to trickle in, but so far the results lack a consensus. One thing appears to be fairly certain. It doesn't appear, at least, to cause harm. Some people I'm sure would argue. So if you're thinking about it, it's your call. Proceed only with competent advice. Now at least, you have a basic understanding.

During The Procedure
During The Procedure

Fire Cupping

Fire Cupping
Fire Cupping


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    • profile image

      Ken 4 years ago

      Hickeys are back in a BIG way!

    • BkCreative profile image

      BkCreative 4 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      While working in Seoul, a friend did this and she swears it was the best thing for her back. Once I saw her back I admit I wasn't brave enough - but after much research and having the utmost respect for the Korean culture I would try it now.

      Thanks for a great hub!

    • profile image

      Jessie J 5 years ago

      But I though pulling blood to the surface of your skin was bad for it like a hicky can cause permanent Bruising

    • profile image

      5 years ago

      does cupping hurt ?

    • profile image

      tammieperkins 5 years ago

      I have been suffering with back pain for 13years but this past Sept it had gotten so bad I couldn't sleep the night through. I had xrays and a mri. Both showed arthritis. I have be young to the chirp and receiving massage weekly but was still extremely uncomfortable. I ran across cupping and bought a set and in a week my pain went from an 8 to 2. Even the chirp noticed a difference. I find it amazing!

    • profile image

      Rebekah 6 years ago

      I was in a car accident two weeks ago and I was suffering from whiplash and horrible back pain. I received the cupping treatment today and I feel so great my back pain is gone. This treatment was awesome and I am going to go back in a couple of weeks.

    • profile image

      James Chong 6 years ago

      E² Acupuncture Science

      Any skeletal muscle pain can be easily cured by Tradition Chinese Medicine (TCM) Acupuncture.

      For 4,610 years (2600BC), Yellow Explorer's time. Until now acupuncturist continues this ancient TCM practice to eliminating all diseases (trying). All the main hospitals of China use this to treat most patients as busy as KFC fast food.

      Acupuncture treatment will has needling sensation effect for first few days. This called “DE Qi/Chi” (Arrival of Oxy’Blood---needling sensation). it must be achieved so that Yin & Yang(Negative and Positive energy) can be balanced and body’s immune system has strengthens, else diseases can’t be eliminated. The fundamental manipulating techniques are Lifting and thrusting & Twirling or rotating. TCM Acupuncture therapeutic works and easily cures muscular pain if apply correctly.

      Beside sciatica(more trials needed), all others skeletal muscle pains are not recorded in TCM text therefore no “Acupoints(???)” can be provided to any acupuncturist as that they need to advancing the practice and pick the right AcuPoints.

      Be respectful, Acupuncture is not a device or voodoo magic, it does not release any things (certainly not endorphins, inflammation, etc, ..) or anti-inflammatory agents. Please do not mislead. It is a marvelous 4,610+ years old, micro surgical tool, etc, .

      “An acupuncture is bad science”. not much can be expected in 4,610 years ago, good science & resources only available from 1850AD such great scientists: Heinrich Hertz (1887) & Albert Einstein (1905).

      Since 2005 E² Acupuncture has added a new chapter of modem acupuncture science. which has scientific proven, formulated, verified and even dispelling the amount of excessive Yins/-Toxin can be calculated. Treatment uses single new save disposal and painless micro-needle insertion to proper “Acupoints(??)” and has no side effects, least risk mainly due to accident same as any treatments. No Lifting and thrusting & Twirling or rotating manipulating needed so that patient cans comfortably having a cup of tea/coffee.

      Acupuncturist must fully understood the Five Elements(??), Five Changes(??) and Five Shu/Transports(??/?) Yin & Yang balance principles. if any one treated by 5 X 30 minutes in 2 weeks and has no relief by 4 weeks, please discontinues and shop around.

      I have my Plantar fasciitis cured twice by my own EE Acupuncture, last cured was on march/2011 since then pain remains free and no sign of coming back. (EE: Eliminates Excessive Yins/-Toxin/Electrons)

      check/click on my site (you can send to any one of my site)

      or more help below sites

      Sciatica update (loc: buttock & 5 inches down, 2 spots).

      treated on 30th/10/2011.

      12 days after and feedback:

      "Been feeling the slight tenderness in the area where the needle were inserted. Felt my legs is tired but not the numbness." (50% pain relief, 100% no numbness)

      5 weeks Later (email on 4th/11/2011):

      "Seems to be fine, slight tenderness but definitely better than before" (now 90% cure)

      why pain relief if it can be so easily cured.

      and the cost of curing it is so much less then a pair of PF shoes and not to mention others, .



    • profile image

      Po 6 years ago

      My dad also suffers from arthritus and I am interested in knowing more about using cupping to help with his problem. I am glad to hear that it helps gilly. I would love to know if anyone else try cuppingn for arthritus, I would greatly appreciate it if you can share your experience.

    • profile image 6 years ago

      Some say acupuncture cupping works and some say it does not. I can say it depends on the patient for some people I know, they love having acupuncture cupping that it releases the pain in their back which is definitely good.

    • profile image

      Don  6 years ago

      Just had 1 st Cupping & It does work

      I go back next week Its Great


    • profile image

      gilly 6 years ago

      ive been having accupuncture & cupping treatment now for two on my 8th session, i suffer with arthritus, i have never felt so good,i highly recommend it....shame its not available on the nhs...

    • profile image

      Jane 6 years ago

      I've had my third cupping and it is great. I have suffered from muscle spasms in my shoulders and back for years. I have had deep tissue massage for a couple of years with minimal relief. Cupping is less painful and at this time appears to have a longer lasting benefit. my chiropractor notice the difference in my neck area after one session. For me it appears to be working

    • profile image

      Ginger 7 years ago

      Had it done today...I'm very fair skinned so it doesn't look very nice but I must say I do believe it helps!!!

    • profile image

      Varun 7 years ago

      Nice Article. Thanks

    • LPogue profile image

      LPogue 7 years ago from Missouri

      Interesting. I had not heard of cupping before, though I have and will continue to practice acupuncture and acupressure for spinal pain.

    • profile image

      Nanyer 7 years ago

      I just got back from acupunture and cupping session to treat my sciatic pains and tingling and numbness due to a herniated disc....I feel significantly better (ofcourse I have also been doing excercises that was prescribed to me by my physical therapist)...but honestly, the pains I had been feeling for months have decreased at least 75%...I think a few more sessions will really help a lot and allow me to exercise more effectively. I guess what Im saying is there's no harm in trying.

    • profile image

      :D 8 years ago

      does it parents have a home cupping kit...and they want to try it out.....

    • profile image

      Larry S. 8 years ago

      I have a bronchitis and was introduced to cupping by the acupunctureist I go to. For the last three days I have been cupped and each day I feel better. From the the end of the first session, my breathing has improved, my coughing has deceased and overall I am doing better. If you ever have the misfortune of getting bronchitis, in addition to western medicine, z pack cough medicine with Codine etc,,,thy cupping. It will help a lot.

    • Words By William profile image

      Bill Ashworth 9 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

      Adam, Thanks for reading my post.

    • profile image

      Adam B 9 years ago

      I have had cupping and acupuncture done and cannot agree or disagree if it works or not. I went to cope with my RLS (Restless Leg Syndrome) and it was a failure. Could work for some people though. It's a toss up!