Cupping Therapy

Fire cupping offers pain relief and improve local blood circulation

Cupping therapy has caught people’s eyes in recent years. Since Olympic 2016, Olympic Champion- Michael Phelps, and many other athletes have embraced this practice. American gymnast- Alexander Adour, even claimed it is the secret that he uses to keep him healthy.  “It’s been better than any money I’ve spent on anything else.” Mr. Adour added. (News 01)

What is Cupping Therapy?

Cupping therapy is a form of alternative medicine. Cups are placed on the skin to create suction to mobilise blood flow. It has been used to promote the healing of a broad range of medical ailments. Chinese style fire cupping and wet cupping has become one of the most sought after therapies, because it achieves excellent results and is enjoyable to receive.  The cups can be made of a variety of materials, including:

  • Glass
  • Bamboo
  • Earthenware

This therapy method can date back to ancient Egyptian, Chinese, and Middle Eastern cultures. One of the oldest medical textbooks in the world, the Ebers Papyrus, describes how the ancient Egyptians were using cupping therapy in 1,550 B.C.

A study published in the journal PLoS ONE in 2012 suggested that cupping therapy may have more than a placebo effect. Australian and Chinese researchers reviewed 135 studies on cupping therapy published between 1992 and 2010. They concluded that cupping therapy may be effective when combined with other treatments like acupuncture or medications in treating various diseases and conditions, such as:

  • Herpes zoster
  • Acne
  • Facial paralysis
  • Cervical spondylosis

In 2017, another analysis suggested that, it might assist in boosting a special gene. This could lead to a chain reaction, provide the following benefits:

  • Antioxidant,
  • Anti-inflammation,
  • Assist in nervous system. (3)

Types of cupping therapy

There are various types of cupping therapy, including:

  • Dry cupping (suction only)
  • Wet cupping (combination of suction and controlled medicinal bleeding)
  • Massage Cupping – on oil lubricated skin, cups sucked on and scraping along the skin

During both types of cupping, a flammable substance such as alcohol, herbs, or paper is placed in a cup and set on fire. As the fire goes out, the cup is placed upside down on the patient’s skin. As the air inside the cup cools, it creates a vacuum. This causes the skin to rise and redden as blood vessels expand. The cup is generally left in place for five to 10 minutes. At City Acupuncture Pain Clinic, we use traditional version of cupping with a fire to create the vacuum inside the cup. Sometimes we may use medical-grade silicone cups. These are pliable enough to be moved from place to place on the skin and produce a massage-like effect.

Traditional Chinese medicine style fire cupping

Cupping therapy in traditional Chinese medicine at Adelaide City Acupuncture

During wet cupping, a mild suction is created using a cup that is left in place for about three minutes. Then the cup is removed and a small scalpel to be used to make superficial skin incisions. Then a second suction performed to draw out a small quantity of blood. After the procedure, the site may be covered with an antibiotic ointment and bandage to prevent infection when necessary. The skin’s appearance generally returns to normal within 10 days. Wet cupping removes harmful substances and toxins from the body to promote healing.

Benefits of cupping therapy

Cupping therapy can treat a variety of conditions:

  • Blood disorders such as anemia and hemophilia.
  • Rheumatic diseases such as arthritis and fibromyalgia.
  • Fertility and gynaecological disorders
  • Skin problems such as eczema and acne
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Migraine
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Bronchial congestion caused by allergies and asthma
  • Varicose veins

Cupping therapy can also reduce pain and inflammation throughout the body. And it can promote mental and physical relaxation and well-being.

Cupping therapy for skin conditions

  • Acne: In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) theory, it is often caused by heat, dampness, and stagnation in your body. Wet cupping therapy, in particular, is used for acne because it may remove the heat and stagnation. The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects from cupping therapy, could be the reasons for it to be helpful for some skin conditions.(3) Further more, a meta-analysis (a study collecting information from other studies) showed that, wet cupping therapy was significantly better than some medications. (Ex. tanshinone, tetracycline and ketoconazole). (2)
  • Stasis dermatitis (or gravitational eczema): This type of eczema is basically a poor blood circulation, due to blood not being able to get out of the legs well. It is caused by varicose veins. It appears as inflamed, scaly skin around the lower legs and ankles. (4) Cupping therapy, may assist in this skin condition by improving blood circulation, reduced the inflammation.

Chronic neck & shoulder pain may benefit from cupping therapy

A randomised controlled trail conducted in 2016, concluded that cupping therapy is one of the many effective treatments in TCM for Chronic Neck & shoulder pain.  Chronic neck pain is a common problem among adults. In this study, one treatment of cupping therapy is shown to increase skin surface temperature and reduce blood pressure. In conjunction with the physiological effects, the subjective experience of chronic neck and shoulder pain is reduced. Cupping therapy mimics an analgesic effect, which has no known negative side effects and may be considered safe. (5)

How does cupping therapy assist in energy flows?

In Chinese medicine theory, the energy flow (qi) is the quality attribute that determines the state of one’s health and life span. If the energy flow is blocked by stagnation, or other factors, it may be harmful to a person’s health, cutting off the nourishment to other body systems. Cupping therapy is valuable in assisting energy flow, strengthening the body resistance, ejecting the pathogenic factors, and promoting blood circulation to alleviate the pain. It also helps to extract blood from the body, which may be harmful. As the result, cupping therapy overcome the potential adverse effects, leading to physiological well-being. (6)

How does it assist in high-level nervous system?

It is of significant importance for cupping therapy to assist in high-level nervous system. Due to the fast path of technology development, changes in life styles, and environment, it has become more and more common for people to suffer from lots of diseases and disorders in the nervous system. Some of them may be hard to diagnose and difficult to treat. Cupping therapy may assist in high-level nervous system by:

  • Stimulating a special type of gene, and lead to the assistance in nerve systems. (3)
  • Removing any congestion in high-level nerve system. Which may improve the communications of your nerve systems and other body systems. 

In the meta-analysis mentioned at the beginning (1), cupping therapy may reduce the pain scores of lower back pain. This meta-analysis is based on existing randomised controlled trials. In 2014, another systematic review of randomised control trails also suggested that, cupping therapy, combined with acupuncture, was superior to acupuncture alone on post-treatment pain intensity.  It also revealed that cupping therapy might bring a potential positive short-term effect on reducing pain intensity compared with no treatment, heat therapy, usual care, or conventional drugs. (7) Perhaps this is the reason why Olympic Champion, Michael Phelps, and other famous sports athletes, are so crazy about cupping therapy. No wonder they can perform so well on the field.

Is there any side effect?

It is a very safe treatment. However, most people will have the marks on the areas that cupping therapy was applied for few days. The reason for people to have those marks after cupping therapy is fairly simple. That’s the natural process of healing. Cupping therapy may help to remove the stagnation for blood circulation. When it is brought to the skin surface by the suction, the colour may be darker as it’s not fresh blood, and lack of oxygen. Some people might even find the colour of the marks, become lighter after a few cupping sessions. It could be an indicator that the pathogens are systematically removed from the body.

What should I expect from your clinic?

At City Acupuncture Pain Clinic, we use modern version of cupping with a rubber pump to create the suction. Sometimes we may use medical-grade silicone cups. These are pliable enough to be moved from place to place on the skin and produce a massage-like effect. Cupping therapy is an ancient, safe, drug-free, natural procedure for a wide range of health conditions. If you wish to find out more why so many sports professionals, such as Michael Phelps, use cupping therapy, we are here to help.

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  1. NCBI, 2017, (
  2. PLOS, 2012, (
  3. NCBI, 2017, (
  5. NCBI, 2016,
  6. Science Direct, 2014,
  7. Science Direct, 2014,
  8. News 01