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Cupping (fire cupping)

Updated on May 2, 2016

Cupping Closeup


Cupping is a Traditional Chinese Medicine healing therapy

Cupping, or fire cupping as it is sometimes called, comes from traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and involves special glass cups called inspirators.  The air is heated inside these cups which creates a vacuum and then they are quickly applied to the skin.  The suction not only holds the cup in place, but it brings increased blood flow to the area in a form of treatment called congestion.

Most often someone would get this sort of treatment if they went to see an acupuncturist, and the practitioner felt this was the appropriate treatment for the problem. However, some people just really like how it feels and get their own cups so they can do this themselves at home. Sliding the cups across the skin can feel a lot like a deep massage and is very relaxing.

Some people think that cupping sort of looks like got attacked by an octopus, but the skin discolorations only last a short time and it doesn't hurt. The mottled bruising is caused by the force of suction on the skin, but cupping bruises don't wind up being tender like when you get hit or have a collision with something as there isn't impact damage.

Glass Inspirators and Cupping Sets

In addition to using cups on the skin with suction, there are techniques where moxibustion or blood-letting is combined. With moxibustion, a small amount of a special herb incense is applied to the skin and lit and then the cup is placed over it. For blood-letting, a tiny incision is made and then cupped. For both of those methods, you will definitely want to have glass cups and not the tiny plastic ones.

My Experiences With Cupping

I've known about cupping for about a decade now, and I've had it done on a few occasions. It's not painful but it can leave you with some funky circle bruises on your skin for a while afterwards. Most often the skin is massaged a bit with oil. This lets the skin and cup edge slide more easily against each other when the cups are applied.

A glass cup has a lit torch held inside it for a few seconds. This is just enough to warm the air, which creates a vacuum effect. The cup is then quickly plopped down on the skin. A small area of skin is sucked up into the cup and that's what holds it to the skin surface. The hotter the air, the stronger the vacuum and suction feeling. If it feels too tight at this point, either the skin wasn't oiled enough or the vacuum is just a tad too strong. The cup can be easily removed and reapplied if it's really uncomfortable.

Sometimes large cups are applied and then slide back and forth on the body surface. This feels like a massage, as the cup sucks up a bit of the skin and by moving the cup, it feel like a deep muscle push done with the heel of the hand. Smaller cups can also be applied over areas where chi is blocked or where you want to increase circulation.

Cups are left in place for up to a half hour approximately. To remove them, you just break the seal by pressing down at the edge of them with a finger. The marks left behind are a combination of how strong the vacuum of the cups was and what impurities/toxins were being removed. Most often the circles left behind are reddish-brown but they can also be yellowish or even a bit more blue like a traditional bruise. These fade anywhere from a day to over a week or two depending on how long the cups were on you and what your own skin healing is like.

Theraputic Cupping Sets

There is also a style of cupping which uses a hand-pump instead of heat/flame to create the vacuum that holds the cups in place. Many of the sets also include magnets, which are applied on specific points or meridians to enhance energy flow. Sets include many cups in graduated sizes.

Either type of cup can produce the same congestive effects and draw blood to specific body areas.

See How Cupping Can Be Done

Different healing modalities use cupping in different ways. These videos show how cupping is used as part of traditional Chinese medicine.

Cupping History and Instruction

Cupping comes from traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). It can be applied to specific spots on the body, but it has also been adapted as a form of massage. It can be done on its own or with other forms of treatment. Here are some books which detail how this practice is done. All these books are going to be a bit more expensive as they are medical-level text books.

Traditional Chinese Medicine Cupping Therapy: A Practical Guide
Traditional Chinese Medicine Cupping Therapy: A Practical Guide

This unique reference explores all aspects of cupping-- an ancient, predominantly Eastern technique in which heated cups are applied to the body for beneficial healing effects. Guidelines are applied to the treatment of common medical conditions, with answers to readers' questions concerning safety and outcome. Each method is well illustrated, with differentiations between cupping practice on adults and children.


If you've had cupping done for a medical condition, please share your experience with other readers! Do you find you like the deep tissue manipulation or the pressure? How do you feel about the marks that you get from being cupped? What parts of your body does this help you with the most, and for what physical ailments?

Cupping Commentary - sharing your cupping experiences

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    • shayriana profile image


      5 years ago

      i recently had cupping and it was relatively painless but left ugly marks on my back - wasn't sore though. i had it because i was getting short of breath and felt better immediately afterwards. i'm going back this week and will make it a regular treatment.

    • ashroc profile image

      Jen Wood 

      6 years ago from Australia

      yes I have had it

    • PearlHowie profile image


      6 years ago

      I;ve had it and it hurt like nothing else - sorry but I'd never try it again!

    • intermarks profile image


      7 years ago

      I saw other doing cupping before, but I never try it on myself. I believe it works for some muscles related problem, but when look at the mark after doing it, I need to rethink about it and make myself brave enough to try it. LOL

    • chiactivate lm profile image

      Vita Activate 

      7 years ago

      very informative! i love cupping!

    • kroppia kiropra profile image

      kroppia kiropra 

      7 years ago

      I I tried cupping several years ago and I must say that they were very effective against my sore muscles. For more sore the day after, but after two days quite well. Thank you for sharing your experience at all.

    • chefspecial lm profile image

      chefspecial lm 

      7 years ago

      Cupping is awesome. My acupuncturist taught me how to do it at home.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Just got back from my accupuncturist where I had cupping done for the first time. Normally, I cannot get off his table without pain and help from him, but today I was able to get off myself with no pain. (Sure, I have lots of red circles all over my lower back, but hey - I'm feeling good!)

      Going to my accupuncturist is my last option - I've tried everything from decompression to epidurals, which only last 2-3 months. They all told me I need surgery (fusion, screws, pins & rods and wearing a body cast for 3-4 months) but I'm putting that off as long as I can. Maybe with my present treatments, I may never need to go that far.

      If you're wondering what my problem is - severe stenosis, degenerative discs and arthritis. I take 1-2 Vicadin daily but last night I went to bed without taking my nightly dose. Yeah!!

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Great Lens. As a practitioner who has been using cupping for 10 years, I found it very thorough. In Shanghai at Shuguang hospital I was cupped for neck pain...helped dramatically.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      now i know what cupping is

    • GypsyPirate LM profile image

      GypsyPirate LM 

      10 years ago

      I caught part of a special about this on the Discovery Channel, but they didn't explain it nearly as well as your lens has. Thanks!

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Awesome Euryale! Boy am I behind, I didn't know anything about cupping, so I thank you for this information and welcome you to the Natural Medicine Group.


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