Hot cups for detox? Read all about the ancient technique of cupping

Last Updated December 20th, 2021


Cupping therapy is an ancient form of alternative medicine. This treatment involves placing special type of cups that are warm, on the skin to create suction. These cups are placed on the area where there is pain , like shoulders, neck, and back. Cupping helps to increase the blood flow, reduces the stiffness and gives relief from pain. It is a type of deep tissue massage, which loosens the connective tissue and promotes healing.

Cupping leaves you with temporary bruising and soreness depending on the degree of suction caused by the vacuum. These cups can be made of glass, earthenware, bamboo, or silicone. After the massage, these cups are carefully taken out by lifting one edge. This allows the air inside to break the seal and vacuum. For ages, cupping therapy is known to successfully remove toxins and reduce the level of inertia in the body.

Origin of cupping

Cupping therapy is not new; it dates back to ancient Egyptian, Chinese and Middle Eastern cultures. ‘Ebers Papyrus’, one of the oldest medical textbooks in the world talks about cupping. Ancient Egyptians are known to have used this technique in 1550 B.C.

Chinese medicine, which operates on the realm of preventative medicine also talks about how the flow of ‘chi’ in the body affects the well-being of a person. Disturbances in chi create illness; therefore regulating this flow of energy is important to bring balance in the body. Chinese use cupping therapy for various ailments andis very much in practice in Chinese hospitals.

What ailments does cupping treat?

Traditional Chinese medical practitioners claim that cupping can treat several ailments. Researchers have studied this therapy mainly in China and found that it can alleviate symptoms of various disorders such as :

  • Cough
  • Asthma
  • Bronchial congestion
  • Paralysis
  • Relief from pain
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Digestive disorders
  • Varicose veins
  • Eczema
  • Blood pressure
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Anemia, insomnia
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Acne
  • Fertility issues
  • Gout and herpes

How is cupping performed?

There are different types of cupping therapy, mainly- dry, wet, and needle. In all these types, flammable substances are used to create suction.

Dry cupping

In this method, the therapist uses a flammable substance like alcohol, paper or herbs inside the cup and sets it on fire. Once the flame extinguishesthe therapist places the cup upside down on the skin. This creates a vacuum inside the cup allowing the skin to rise and redden. The cup is allowed to  remainin this position for up to 3 minutes, making way for the blood vessels to expand.

In modern times, a rubber pump is used to create a vacuum. Some therapists use silicone cups as it helps the cup to move on the skin to get the massage effect.

Wet cupping

In this method, a flammable substance is used to create a vacuum. The cup is allowed to remain on the skin for 3 minutes. The therapist makes slight cuts on the skin using a small scalper to draw out a small quantity of blood. Only 3 to 5 cups are used during a session. Antibiotic ointment is prescribed to prevent infection and to promote quick healing of the cuts on the skin. It takes about 10 days for the skin to look normal again.

According to cupping therapists, wet cupping is more effective in removing toxins from the body and promotes healing.

Needle cupping

In this method, the therapist at first positions needles on the skin and then places the cup upside down over them.

Who performs cupping?

Traditional Chinese medical practitioners perform cupping. Therapists who practice alternative medicine are certified by credible state agencies. They also read various books on TCM   regarding alternative healing and acquire training as practitioners.

Things to consider before starting a cupping therapy

  • How good is the practitioner?
  • What are the credentials of the certifying agency?
  • What are the ailments it can cure?
  • What are the benefits and side effects involved?
  • Check if it suits your existing health condition
  • Ascertain hygiene levels
  • Always let your doctor know that you are going in for alternative therapy
  • Use cupping therapy as a compliment and not as a substitute for medical treatment for the health condition

Benefits of cupping

Taoists believe that balancing yin and yang within the body is the key to good health. Cupping aims at removing the energy blocks to improve the blood circulation in the body.

Athletes use cupping therapy to relax the strained muscles and to improve energy levels. In 2016, many U.S. swimmers were spotted with cupping marks on their bodies.According to Dr.Houman Danesh, a pain management specialist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, cupping helps jumpstart the body’s natural healing abilities.

What are the side effects of cupping?

Cupping therapy does not have many side effects. This is also dependent on the right methods of cupping adopted by the practitioner. Some of the side effects are:

  • Scarring of the skin
  • Bruising
  • Dizziness during or soon after the therapy
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Infection

How to find a good cupping therapist?

A therapist referred by someone known to you is always better. Practitioners certified by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine(NCCAOM), or any state-certified agency are skilled as they will have over 3,000 hours of training in safe practices.

  • A simple Google search can also help you find a therapist. You can check for related reviews about the therapist
  • ‘Acupuncture Today’, a well-known online site for Traditional Chinese Medicine, provides an online directory of Chinese medical practitioners who specialize in various alternative healing techniques especially cupping and acupuncture
  • Interacting with the therapist before beginning a session helps you understand the credentials of the therapist as well as evaluate potential benefits

What precautions should the practitioner take?

Since infection is always a risk, the practitioner must follow the right methods. It is important for the practitioner to –

  • Evaluate the condition to suggest the right type of cupping therapy
  • The therapist must explain to the patient everything they need to know about cupping and must prepare them to have realistic expectations
  • Practice hygiene, and use gloves to avoid infection
  • Take regular vaccines to get protection from diseases like hepatitis
  • Use sterile equipment
  • Prescribe medicines to avoid infection and promote healing

Who must not try cupping therapy?

Before you decide to go for cupping therapy, seek the advice of your medical specialist. Cupping will not remedy serious health conditions although it may aid temporary relief.

Cupping therapy is not advisable for certain groups:

  • Those on blood thinners must not try cupping therapy as it can lead to clotting issues
  • Children below the age of four. Even among older kids, use only for short periods
  • Senior adults, as it may interfere with their existing medical conditions
  • Pregnant women
  • Menstruating women
  • If you have a sunburn, wound, or skin ulcer, cupping is risky as it can worsen the existing flare up
  • Those who have undergone trauma in the recent past

How long do cupping bruises last?

Typically, cupping bruises last from 10 days to 2 weeks. After a few sessions of cupping treatment, bruising reduces showing a decrease in stagnation. This indicates the success of the therapy. It is very important to undergo cupping only with an experienced therapist.

All about facial cupping

Facial cupping is the latest showbiz trend. Big Bang Theory actor, Kaley Cuoco,appears to be one of the most recent celebrities who has experimented with facial cupping.

The technique followed for facial cupping is similar to that of body cupping except that smaller cups are used and performed with extra care.Smaller cups are used for sensitive areas under the eyes, mouth, nose and larger cups for cheeks, forehead and along the jawline.

While the therapists extensively advocate the positive effects of facial cupping, it is important to keep in mind that this form of therapy is not backed by adequate research.


  • Improves blood circulation and brightens the skin
  • Strengthens the skin and tissues leading to a reduction in scars, fine lines, and wrinkles
  • Reduces the puffiness and rejuvenates the skin, jawline, and neck
  • Relaxes the tension in the muscles
  • Regulates oil-producing glands

Side effects

  • Leaves bruises if the cup is left in the same place for long
  • Temporary dizziness, nausea, and cold sweat

Facial cupping at home

One can try facial cupping at home by getting all the necessary equipment. A simple Google search can help you buy the cups. You have to know the technique for better result. Meeting up with a therapist and knowing all about this process is important. Facial cupping therapy by a certified practitioner is always recommended. They are more experienced and the chance of it going wrong is much less.

Cupping for fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia refers to a long-term condition that causes pain all over the body. People suffering from this condition experience extreme fatigue, sleeplessness, muscle tiredness, depression, cognitive problems, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

A research conducted in the year 2006 pointed out that cupping performed along with acupuncture and the drug amitriptyline is very effective in treating fibromyalgia, as compared with other forms of treatment.

Celebrities and cupping

Celebrities across the world are experimenting cupping therapy.

  • Swimmer Michael Phelps and Olympic gymnast Alex Naddour were spotted with cupping marks. Apparently, they get cupping done before every meeting. They claim cupping is the secret to their health.
  • Immediately after Phelp’s big win, cupping sales increased by 20 percent. Enquires for cupping was on the rise along with the number of practitioners wanting to get certified in this technique

Some of the celebrities who have tried cupping:

  • Jennifer Aniston
  • Freida Pinto
  • Lady Gaga
  • Justin Bieber
  • Victoria Beckham
  • Kim Kardashian West
  • Lena Dunham

Research on cupping

Scientific research on cupping is rather inadequate, although few insights have pointed to its role in aiding therapy for certain medical conditions. For instance,

  • British Cupping Society revealed that cupping is used to treat high blood pressure, anemia, and skin diseases like eczema, fibromyalgia, fertility problems, migraines, and arthritis.
  • A 2015 report published in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine stated that cupping is efficient in pain management, herpes, facial paralysis, and acne.
  • Australian and Chinese researchers, after reviewing 135 case studies reported that cupping is more effective when combined with acupuncture and medications.

Experiences of cupping enthusiasts

Side effects caused by allopathic medications haveled people to look for alternative therapies. Especially in cases of chronic health conditions, prolonged use of drugs can lead toworse complications than the disease itself. It is here that alternative medicine helps.

Even if cupping is not 100% effective, many take to cupping due to fewer side effects. This is perhaps the only reason why people are drawn towards this method of healing.

There has always been a mixed response regarding the efficiency of cupping. Some people have reported its effectiveness in pain management, cervical spondylitis, arthritis, and herpes. There are others that are not satisfied with the outcome of cupping therapy.

Facts on cupping

  • In recent times, people are more willing to try cupping as an alternative healing method
  • Cupping works best when used along with acupuncture and medicines
  • Cupping therapy may appear painful. In reality, it is not as painful as it appears to be. The cup is lit on fire using a flammable substance like alcohol or herbs. The fire is extinguished and the cup is placed upside down on the skin to create a vacuum for healing. Bruising and scars are treated with anointment
  • Celebrities with cupping marks are powerful publicity and often raise the curiosity of common public towards this method of healing
  • Some athletes are found to be doing cupping therapy themselves. It is always recommended to get professional help for better results.



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