Cupping is one of the oldest methods of traditional Chinese medicine. The earliest recorded use of cupping dates to the early fourth century, when the noted herbalist Ge Hong wrote about a form of cupping in A Handbook of Prescriptions. Later books written during the Tang and Qing dynasties described cupping in great detail; one textbook included an entire chapter on “fire jar qi,” a type of cupping that could alleviate headaches, dizziness and abdominal pain.
Originally, practitioners would use hollowed-out animal horns for cups, and place them over particular points or meridians. Today, most acupuncturists use cups made of thick glass or plastic, although bamboo, iron and pottery cups are still used in other countries. Glass cups are the preferred method of delivery, because they do not break as easily as pottery or deteriorate like bamboo, and they allow the acupuncturist to see the skin and evaluate the effects of treatment.

What is the mechanism of cupping therapy?

First of all, physical stimulation is one of the mechanisms to produce a therapeutic effect of cupping. During the cupping, the cups are firmly attached to the skin surface, tracted the nerves, muscles, blood vessels and skin glands, which can cause a series of neuroendocrine responses, and regulate vasodilation and vasoconstriction function and vascular permeability, so that local blood circulation is significately improved.

Secondly , the negative pressure of cupping quickly cause local hyperemia, blood congestion, and even rupture of small capillaries, red blood cell destruction and result in hemolytic phenomenon. Partial release of hemoglobin of red blood cells is a positive stimulation to the body which can create double regulation to the tissues and organs’ function under the regulation of the nervous system. At the mean time, it can improve the phagocytosis of white blood cells, increase skin sensitivity to external changes and tolerance, and thereby enhance the body’s immune system.

Thirdly, a powerful vacuum suction and pulling force can also fully open the sweat pores, then sweat glands and sebaceous gland function are stimulated and strengthened, and the skin surface senescent cells fall off. It can accelerate the body of toxins, the discharge of waste.

How many types of cupping are there?

In addition to the traditional form of cupping described above, which is known as “dry” cupping, some practitioners also use what is called “wet” or “air” cupping.

In “air” cupping, instead of using a flame to heat the cup, the cup is applied to the skin, and a suction pump is attached to the rounded end of the jar. The pump is then used to create the vacuum. In “wet” cupping, the skin is punctured before treatment. When the cup is applied and the skin is drawn up, a small amount of blood may flow from the puncture site, which are believed to help remove harmful substances and toxins from the body.

Is cupping safe? Does it hurt?

While cupping is considered relatively safe (especially air cupping, which does not include the risk of fire and heat), it can cause some swelling and bruising on the skin. As the skin under a cup is drawn up, the blood vessels at the surface of the skin expand. This may result in small, circular bruises on the areas where the cups were applied. These bruises are usually painless, however, and disappear within a few days of treatment.

In addition, there are several instances where 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 on their stomach or lower back. If the cups are being moved, they should not cross bony areas, such as the ridges of the spine or the shoulder blades.

I would like to learn more about cupping. Where can I find out more information?

Several articles on cupping have been published in peer-reviewed journals and acupuncture websites. To learn more about cupping, you are encouraged to visit the following sites and read the following articles:

  • Alternative therapies. Cupping. A World of Acupuncture website. Available online
  • Cupping. American Cancer Society website. Available online
  • Dharmananda S. Cupping. Institute for Traditional Medicine website. Available at www.itmonline.org/arts/cupping.htm
  • About cupping. YCY Better Health Centre. Available online
  • Cupping Therapy. http://www.webmd.com/balance/guide/cupping-therapy?page=2