Oriental Medicine: Cupping

Cupping is a technique utilized by many Acupuncture practitioners to alleviate pain and muscular spasm (especially in the large muscles of the back, legs and arms), treat the symptoms of various lung ailments, and invigorate the movement of Qi and Blood throughout the body and in specific meridians or channels. Cupping is used extensively throughout Asia, and variations also have been used in many other parts of the world, such as Europe, Eastern Europe, Central and South America, and Africa. Cupping’s long history of use in acupuncture practice is well noted and it is considered a specific, unique therapy which complements Acupuncture and other Oriental Medicine therapies.


Cupping is a safe, non-invasive therapy which Acupuncturists use to treat a myriad of conditions, like colds and flu, upper respiratory infections, and problems of the internal organs. Recently, cupping has received attention for its use to relieve muscular pain, bone pain and spasms, particularly on the back and shoulders. Cupping therapy stimulates micro blood circulation to the local area where it is used.

Cupping disperses and moves Qi and Blood by exerting suction and pressure on the prescribed area. Cupping is primarily used when the Qi is inhibited at certain points, or when Qi stagnation needs to be drawn to the surface of the body from deep within. For instance, cupping can be used to pull out such conditions as “Wind-Cold,” which in Oriental Medicine is believed to be a pathogenic factor outside the body, which can affect the Lung organ. In this manner it can treat cough, lung congestion, and tightness in the chest.

To create a vacuum seal on the skin, a flame from a burning cotton ball (held with forceps) is placed in an upside-down cup. When the oxygen in the cup is exhausted, the cotton ball is quickly removed and the glass cup is placed directly on to the skin, where it is held in place by a strong suction. Often, the skin inside the cup visibly rises with the suction. There are also cups available that use manual hand pumping instead of the traditional burning type to create the suction. Cupping is generally considered a painless procedure, and many patients enjoy the technique, and find it deeply relaxing.

Often several cups, in varying sizes, are used to cover the treated area thoroughly. Cups may be left for several minutes, or removed quickly and placed elsewhere. Moving the cups across muscular tissue may also be performed. In this case, oil or lotion is first applied to the skin, in order to allow the cups to glide easily.

When cups are used to treat colds or flu, patients are advised to wrap up in blankets to stay warm after the treatment. Acupuncturists may also prescribe herbal remedies, dietary changes, and other health recommendations, to enhance the treatment.

Cupping causes blood to be drawn to the surface of the skin. Red marks, slight swelling, and circular bruising ranging from faint to dark can appear. These marks typically fade within a few hours to a few days.