Cupping is a TCM therapy that uses cups or jars attached to the skin with suction to treat diseases and cause blood congestion.  It has a long history in TCM starting from the earliest times when it was used to drain blood and pus from abscesses; however its clinical applications have expanded greatly since. Cupping is not as well known as acupuncture presumably because its therapeutic effects are harder to measure (and it leaves quite ugly marks).

Cupping is used to open up and unblock the meridians and pathways and to promote movement of Qi and blood. Its applications include: Needed for cupping

  • Relieve pain and swelling
  • Ease arthritis or acute sprains
  • Prevent or shorten common colds
  • Alleviate indigestion, stomachache, abdominal pain
  • Treat cough, asthma, vertigo, and headache
  • Encourage ‘spot-reducing’ weight loss on certain areas

For me, I also use cupping as a measurement of how healthy I am at any given time based on how dark the circles are created by the cups.

Types of Cupping

The most common type of cupping is fire cupping, where a flame a quickly placed inside a bamboo/glass cup, removed, and then the negative pressure of the heat causes the cup to suction to the skin.

Nowadays, piston air-sucking cupping is increasingly popular as it eliminates any potential for burn and gives more control to the practitioner to decide how much suction to create.  The cup is pressed on the skin then the air piston is hand-pumped to draw the air out.

Most of the time we think of cupping as placing the cup on then leaving it there for 10-15minutes, but there are other methods as well.  Sliding cupping, which is particularly good for the cold and flu, is where you place the cup on the skin then slide it along up/down or left/right over thick muscles. Flashing cupping is where the cup is repeatedly applied and removed and is used on infants or where the patient doesn’t want cupping marks to appear. If you feel comfortable with the procedure, these methods can be done at home.

Unless you are a skilled practitioner, I don’t recommend the following cupping methods at home. As it was originally  done, cupping can be used for blood/pus-letting.  First use a three-edged needle to induce bleeding and then use cupping to encourage more blood to flow out. The last cupping method is to insert an acupuncture needle, and while the needle is still in, apply cupping over it.

As I mentioned in the beginning, its hard to verify the therapeutic effect of cupping. While I do it fairly regularly, I can’t say the benefit I’ve directly received. Nonetheless, I know some Chinese who swear by it to thwart a cold from developing or girls who use it on their abdomen and waist for weight loss. Give it a try and see what you feel, but be warned, you’ll be left with swollen red (or black) circles (as in the featured image).