What is cupping?

Cupping is the therapeutic method of applying jars to the skin of the body via fire or suction to induce a vacuum. It is also known as fire cups or Ba guan (拔罐) in Chinese. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) it is used to treat stagnation diseases. The cups are usually roughly bell shaped with a capacity and can be made of bamboo, glass, ceramic or plastic. This technique, in varying forms, has also been found in the folk medicine of Vietnam, Balkans, modern Greece, Mexico, Iran and Russia, among other places.

Who needs it?

Cupping is an external form of therapy, its benefits can be similar to massage where instead of pushing fascia and muscle groups together the vacuum allows these layers to separate. It is used on people who have conditions of stagnation.

Some examples are:

  • Back pain

  • Asthma

  • Bronchitis

  • Gynaecological problems

How is it given?

Most commonly, a total of from 8 to 12 cups are applied to the back in two parallel 'vertical' columns. Cups can also be applied to large muscle groups and around the joints of the body. Oil is massaged onto the skin first, as it helps create a better seal, making it possible to use this therapy with less heating of the cup. It also assists in being able to slide the cups.

A vacuum is induced either via a pump or fire. As the vacuum forms it pulls up on the skin, simulating the acupressure effect.

The method used to create a vacuum with fire is:

To use a cotton ball soaked in 95% alcohol held by forceps and ignited. The ignited cotton ball is put into the cup moved in a circle and taken out. The moment the cotton ball is taken out the cup is immediately placed onto the body in the desired location.

Care is taken not to move the cup over protruding moles, skin tags, scabs, etc. The longer a cup is left on, the more of a circular mark is created. The skin pores are more open, and the patient may have a feeling like sunburn. An application of about 20 minutes is average, for the back; however this varies with the individual. At no time are the cups left in place if the patient reports noticeable discomfort.