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Cupping Therapy

Author: Kelly Ann Ilseman 

Cupping is a form of therapy using glass (or silicone) cups placed on your skin to create suction. Cupping, also called “hijama” is popular in many countries of the world, including China and Egypt (Qureshi et al., 2017). It’s historical use can be traced as far back as 3000 BC (Vitale, et al., 2017). Cups can be made from glass, bamboo, earthenware (Vitale, et al., 2017), or silicone.  Some cups use a manual pump, while others use fire to remove oxygen from the cup before it’s placed on the skin. Cups can be stationary or moving. Cupping is kind of like getting a reverse deep-tissue massage, where the tissue is pulled outwards rather than pressed inwards, releasing toxins or heat in the process. Some practitioners practice “wet cupping” involving simultaneous blood-letting and cupping (Vitale, et al., 2017). Cupping can help with pain, inflammation, blood flow, relaxation, well-being, and cleanse toxins from the blood. Research has found it to be effective for chronic neck and shoulder pain (Chi et al., 2016), back pain relief (Moura et al., 2018), more effective than medication in relieving back and neck pain, and effective for improving hip and knee joint range of motion (Murray & Clarkson, 2019). This therapy can upregulate vascular and lymphatic endothelial markers that promotes new lymph vessel formation (Meng et al., 2019). These lymph vessel changes are beneficial for the immune system and the body’s processing and release of toxins and waste. Wet cupping can significantly reduce heavy metals (Al, Zn, and Cd) in the blood (Umar et al., 2018). Cupping is considered to be a “a well-recognized traditional method for managing medical conditions” (Qureshi et al., 2017). A treatment can leave reddish-brown circles on the skin. It is important to cover the cupped area and to keep warm after being cupped, especially during cold, windy weather, to avoid getting sick. Most acupuncturists practice cupping. Placing the cups on the upper back over the area of the lungs is especially recommended to help the body recover from colds. Under these circumstances it is even more important to cover the cupped area afterwards. If you’re interested in trying this ancient chinese modality, find a local acupuncturist and ask them more!  

Written by: Kelly Ann Ilseman

Chi LM, Lin LM, Chen CL, Wang SF, Lai HL, Peng TC. The Effectiveness of Cupping Therapy on Relieving Chronic Neck and Shoulder Pain: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med, ISSN: 1741-427X, 2016; 2016:7358918. Publisher: Hindawi Pub; PMID: 27073404.

Meng F, Gao ZL, Li L, Jie LL, Yang PF, Liang Z, Gao YW, Liu WH. The Effectiveness of Cupping Therapy on Relieving Chronic Neck and Shoulder Pain: A Randomized Controlled Trial: Reconstruction of lymphatic vessels in the mouse tail after cupping therapy. Folia Morphol, 2019 Apr 17. Date of Electronic Publication: 2019 Apr 17. Accessed April 21, 2019.

Moura CC, Chaves ÉCL, Cardoso ACLR, Nogueira DA, Corrêa HP, Chianca TCM. Cupping therapy and chronic back pain: systematic review and meta-analysis. Rev Lat Am Enfermagem; 2018 Nov 14; 26:e3094. Date of Electronic Publication: 2018 Nov 14.

Murray D, Clarkson C. Effects of moving cupping therapy on hip and knee range of movement and knee flexion power: a preliminary investigation. J Man Manip Ther; 2019 Apr 19:1-8. doi: 10.1080/10669817.2019.1600892. [Epub ahead of print].

Qureshi NA, Ali GI, Abushanab TS, et al. History of cupping (Hijama): a narrative review of literature. J Integr Med. 2017 (15)3:172-181. doi: 10.1016/S2095-4964(17)60339-X.

Umar NK, Tursunbadalov, Surgun S, Welcome MO, Dane S. The Effects of Wet Cupping Therapy on the Blood Levels of Some Heavy Metals: A Pilot Study. J Acupunct Meridian Stud, 2018 Dec; 11 (6): 375-379. Date of Electronic Publication: 2018 Jun 27. Accessed April 21, 2019.

Vitale SA, Prashad T. Cultural Awareness: Coining and Cupping. Int Arch Nurs Health Care. 2017:3(1). Open Access DOI: 10.23937/2469-5823/1510080