What is cupping?

Some people may have first learned of cupping via the odd, circular bruises seen on the backs of professional athletes or other celebrities, but cupping has reportedly been in use in Chinese medicine and other cultures for at least several centuries. It involves the placement of cups on the skin to exert suction, creating a combination of pulling on and pushing against skin and muscles that can feel not unlike a deep tissue massage. The cups (made of glass, silicone, plastic or other materials) may either be heated briefly with a flame to create the suction, or fitted with a hand pump.

For some in the midst of psychiatric drug withdrawal who find themselves grappling with sporadic or constant muscle weakness, tension, tightness, or spasms, cupping has reportedly provided assistance in releasing and relaxing muscles. Though there is limited formal research on this modality, proponents of cupping believe that the practice can also open up the flow of the body’s vital energy, or qi, increase blood circulation, and help stimulate the lymphatic system.

Cupping usually leaves large, round, purple bruises that can take several days to fade. Some people have reported that cupping can sometimes lead to muscle soreness, longer-term bruising, burns, or even skin infections, so those with sensitive skin or who generally do not like strong pressure on their body or deep tissue massage may want to be extra careful when trying cupping.


Where can I find more information?

  • Many acupuncturists and massage therapists are trained in the practice of cupping, and most people’s experience of this method is at the hands of a paid professional in conjunction with an acupuncture or massage treatment.
  • “Cupping kits” are available for purchase that allow people to try the practice at home -- though of course applying cups to certain areas of the back would still require the assistance of another person.
  • The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health