What is Cupping Therapy?

by Katherine Casey, LAc

The history of cupping is documented in the medical histories of many parts of the world, including countries of Africa, Europe, the Middle East, as well as Asian countries. Cupping is the practice of applying specially designed cups to the skin using suction for the purpose of relieving muscle pain, reducing swelling, and increasing the circulation of blood and qi to an injured area. It can be used to assist in lymphatic drainage and in reducing cellulite. Cupping can also aid in alleviating digestive issues, such as constipation. Facial cupping can aid in the reduction of fine lines and facial puffiness.

Historically all kinds of items were used for cupping– animal horns, bamboo, stone, and sea shells are some of the materials used for cupping. Nowadays, in the modern clinic setting specially designed glass cups are used, as well as cups made of polycarbonate plastic or silicone, all of which can be easily cleaned after use.

How does it work? In order to answer this question let’s compare massage therapy and cupping. Massage therapy creates “positive pressure” by compressing tissue to relieve muscle tension. In constrast, cupping uses suction to create “negative pressure.” The suction action of cupping expands and opens up the layers of body tissue, allowing better circulation of blood and qi.

Cupping will often leave round marks, commonly referred to as bruises, though the marks are not true bruises, like those that occur from a compression injury. The marks gradually disappear a few days after treatment.