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Cupping Therapy

Written by Dr. Ryan Edgar, PT, DPT

As many might have witnessed, the 2016 Olympic games in Rio was another extraordinary time for Michael Phelps and the U.S. Men’s swim team, and other than the 5 gold medals that Phelps took home there was something else highly noticeable seen on his body. The perfect circular bruises seen all over Phelps were actually a result of therapeutic cupping. Cupping is an ancient technique that dates back as far as 1550 BC in Egyptian medicine and is a part of numerous healing techniques used over the centuries in Chinese, Korean, and Oriental medicine over the centuries. Over the years the implementation of cupping therapy spread around the world, to the middle east, around Europe, and so on.

The primary action of cupping creates a sub-atmospheric pressure within the cup which suctions the skin and promotes an increase in blood circulation to the area involved. The effects of the cupping include promoting the skin's blood flow, changing biomechanical properties, reducing inflammation, and improving localized anaerobic metabolism [1]. It is used to treat a number of conditions that cause pain including:

  • Arthritis

  • Neck, Back, Knee, and Shoulder pain

  • Carpal Tunnel

  • Gastrointestinal disorders (IBS)

  • Headaches and Migraines

There are a variety of cupping sets and types used for the treatment. The cups can be made out of plastic, glass, bamboo, rubber, ceramic, metal, and silicone. There are also a variety of methods used for treatment which include wet cupping, dry cupping, flash cupping, slide cupping, and fire cupping. Wet cupping involves puncturing the area being treated with a needle before applying the cup for suctioning. This in turn will draw blood out of the area and in theory remove toxins from the area. Dry cupping, the most commonly performed method, does not involve puncturing but only the suctioning cup. When flash cupping is performed the cup is suctioned to the skin and then pulled off in rapid succession. Slide cupping involves using an oil or lubrication to allow the suctioning cup to be dragged along the involved area instead of being placed in one spot for a specific duration. Lastly, fire cupping involves using glass cups and a fire source lit within the cup to create the vacuum instead of a mechanical pump.

Cupping therapy is a widely recognized and utilized treatment for many forms of ailments and pains. It’s a safe and non-invasive form of treatment that is also inexpensive. Side effects from the treatment are very few and low risk. Cupping Therapy can be very relaxing and help to reduce muscular restrictions, inflammation, and increase range of motion.


1. Aboushanab T, AlSanad H. Cupping therapy: an overview from a modern medicine perspective. Journal of acupuncture and meridian studies 2018; 11(3): 83-87

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