Alternative Therapies: Cupping Therapy Benefits

Written By: Jen Becker
Original Article on

As a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner, I use a variety of therapies to help my patients heal or treat disease or health symptoms. Cupping is a specific TCM therapy that involves using heated glass cups that are placed on the skin, creating suction along the way. I’ve used cupping, specifically fire cupping, in my practice for over 10 years to successfully treat people with a variety of conditions. Many patients ask what are the benefits of cupping therapy, so here’s how I answer that question.

Cupping technique is a traditional Chinese medicine technique in which special glass, plastic or bamboo cups are placed on the skin over acupuncture points and/or muscles and heat or air is used to create suction between the cup and skin. The cups are usually placed along our five meridian lines on our backs. The cups are then left on the body for sometime between 5 and 15 minutes. Fire cupping, which is what I practice, is done with glass cups and fire which create the suction that keeps the cups on the body.

What are the benefits of cupping therapy?
Cupping embodies the old Chinese medical maxim: “Where there’s pain, there is stagnation. Remove the stagnation, and you remove the pain.” A key cupping therapy benefit is that it moves stagnation (knots in the muscle fascia, stuck blood energy, emotions, pathogens), which is also a blockage of qi, out of the body and brings it to the surface to release it, making room for new circulation in the body.

Cupping does not hurt, and you will simply feel some tightness or suction on your skin, and then a release when the cups are moved. Sometimes purple marks, otherwise known as sha in TCM, may appear. This is because the suction causes the capillaries right under the skin to rupture, creating, basically, a large, circular hickey. The darker the marks, the more stagnation was broken up, which makes room for new energy and blood to flow through the area, benefiting circulation. Over time, if you do cupping regularly, cupping will no longer leave these marks, which is a sign that you’ve cleared out all the stagnation and you are experiencing cupping therapy benefits.

The benefits of cupping therapy include improved skin color, detoxification, improved metabolism and digestion, reduction in asthma and other respiratory ailments, and relief from muscle spasms or pain, among other benefits. Many athletes—like Michael Phelps—swear by the benefits of cupping therapy as a means of reducing soreness and speeding up muscle healing.  You should feel some relief right away after just the first cupping session, however I recommend at least 3-5 sessions of cupping therapy in order to experience the full benefits of cupping therapy.

While traditional scientific avenues seem to be skeptical of cupping’s effectiveness, there are some exciting studies that are corroborating cupping’s effectiveness. For instance this study from 2014 found a potential positive short-term effect of cupping therapy on “reducing pain intensity compared with no treatment, heat therapy, usual care, or conventional drugs.”

Cupping can be a great tool in dealing with chronic pain, in fact a much better one than prescription pain medications, most often opioids, seem to be the only treatment that western medicine has come up with to manage chronic pain, which, as we all now know, has led to our current opioid crisis.

So if you are struggling with pain or other symptoms that don’t seem to be improving, I recommend you consider cupping. Make sure you consult with a licensed acupuncturist like myself to learn more about cupping therapy benefits and specifically how cupping can benefit you.