Julie Hambleton
Julie Hambleton
May 2, 2024 ·  5 min read

What Is Cupping Therapy?

In recent years, several elite athletes and celebrities have been spotted sporting cupping marks on their bodies.  As such, a practice that began in ancient times finally earned some spotlight from the mainstream media.  The attention has helped make cupping a popular trend, and for good reason. Benefits of cupping are widely reported, they include pain relief and skin rejuvenation.

Cupping is an ancient alternative therapy treatment in which cups are placed on the skin to create a vacuum-like suction.  The vacuum activity is meant to increase blood flow and expel toxins through the skin. Cupping therapy comes with the identifiable trademark of leaving circular swelling marks on the skin, which aren’t as painful as they look.

When Did Chinese Cupping Begin? 

The earliest records of cupping therapy date back to the ancient Egyptians around 1500 B.C. (1) Cupping originated with the use of hollowed-out animal horns that were used to treat boils and suck the toxins out of snakebites and skin lesions.  From animal horns, cupping evolved to using bamboo cups.

The history of Chinese cupping dates back to the year 281 AD (2). An early use of cupping in China was to cure pulmonary tuberculosis.  The Chinese are highly regarded for the evolution of cupping therapy and it is considered a staple of traditional Chinese medicine.  The Chinese use cupping therapy benefits as a means to prevent stagnation and stimulate the flow of qi, the flow of life energy circulating around us.

One symbol of evolution in cupping therapy is the use of glass cups.  Bamboo cups are still used in modern cupping therapy, although the preferred cupping material of today is glass which enables therapists to observe the patients skin.

How Cupping Therapy Works

Cupping usually begins with a patient lying down on a therapy table. Soothing oils are commonly applied for relaxation and to allow for effortless movement of cups on the body. A practitioner will heat the inside of a cup, invert it, and then apply to a selected area of the patient’s skin.

Heating can be done by lighting alcohol or material doused in alcohol such as herbs, cotton or paper.  The cups act as a vacuum, drawing blood vessels up to the surface of the skin and releasing toxins.  The length of time cups are left on the skin varies anywhere from 3-15 minutes.

The 5 Cupping Therapy Methods

Dry Cupping

A common form of cupping in which cups rests in place for around 10 minutes causing blood vessels under the skin to expand and redden.  Glass cups are ideal due to their durability and ease of sterilization.

Wet Cupping

After a session of dry cupping, the treated areas of skin are pierced with needles or have tiny incisions made with scalpels. A second round of cupping then occurs to draw out blood out of the holes.  The holes allow for toxins to be expelled with the blood.  Pressure may be applied around the cups to increase blood flow (4).

Moving Cupping

Oil is applied to the skin to ease the movement of the cup over the skin. Once suction is created the cup is gently glided around the body as a form of massage therapy.  Silicone cups are often used in this method because they are softer and move well around the skin.

Fire Cupping

To begin, a cotton ball doused in a flammable alcohol solution is held with forceps in a glass cup.  The ball creates heat, is quickly removed and then the cup is placed on the skin.  An alternate method is to pour alcohol directly into the glass, light it, and wait for the fire to extinguish before placing it on the skin.

Magnetic Cupping

Magnets can produce positive effects by encouraging the movement of electric currents through the body.  After oils are applied to the body, cups are placed on selected body points.  The cups are a cylindrical shape and contain magnets in the bottom portion.  The vacuum activity causes the skin to rise and make contact with the magnet, stimulating the flow of energy through the body. Magnet cupping can be used to treat pressure points of the body, allowing it to double as a form of acupressure.

Cupping Therapy Benefits

  • Stimulates Qi– Cupping allows the flow of energy to occur. By promoting blood circulation, the Qi and life energy stay active.
  • Detoxification– Toxins are expelled through the skin as well as the blood during wet therapy.
  • Relieves pain– Treats arthritis, fibromyalgia, and pain from injury or physical activity.
  • Supports the immune system– Healing is accelerated through cupping.
  • Healthy Skin– Aids in treating eczema, urticaria, hives or acne.Is also used to treat wrinkles and promote facial rejuvenation.
  • Improves digestion.
  • Mental Health– Aids in treating anxiety, depression, and insomnia.
  • Gynelogical support–  Gynelogicol problems such as irregular menstruation, leukorrhea, and cramping can be treated through cupping.
  • Relieves headaches and migraines (6).

Is Cupping Therapy Safe?

To someone unfamiliar with cupping, the practice may instill some feelings of trepidation.  The use of fire and sight of swelled up circles on the skin may not be for everyone.  Despite these images, cupping is generally a safe practice provided treatment is performed by a trained practitioner.

Moderate side effects can be noticed in the area of treatment, including mild discomfort, burns, bruises and skin infection.  Bruises resulting from cupping are usually painless and disappear within a few days of treatment.  You can even wear the bruises as a badge of honor if you so desire.

Although a safe practice, there are a few instances in which cupping should not be performed.  Patients with inflamed skin, cases of high fever or convulsions and patients who bleed easily are not suitable candidates for cupping.  Pregnant women should not have cupping performed on their stomach or lower back (7).

What Studies Say About The Benefits Of Cupping

Of the limited studies performed on cupping, the consensus is that the tests were flawed or subject to bias (3).  In order to make a more accurate assessment of the efficacy of cupping, further tests are required.  So far, the most valid evidence supporting benefits of cupping is thousands of years of use and those who claim benefits!

Want Cupping Benefits?

If you’ve gotten your head around fiery cotton balls and circular bruises, perhaps cupping is right for you.  As a note, optimal benefits of cupping are usually experienced when accompanied by other forms of therapy such as massage and acupuncture.  Cupping can also be a nice complement to traditional westernized medicine.  Consult with your physician to determine if cupping is right for you.


  1. https://morganmassage.com/2012/01/16/history-of-cupping/
  2. https://www.chinesecupping.com/history_of_chinese_cupping.html
  3. https://www.webmd.com/balance/guide/cupping-therapy#2-4
  4. https://cuppingresource.com/wet-dry-cupping-therapy-techniques/
  5. https://cuppingresource.com/cupping-techniques/
  6. https://cuppingresource.com/cupping-benefits/
  7. https://www.acupuncturetoday.com/abc/cupping.php