Cupping therapy consists of placing a glass or plastic cups on the skin and creating a vacuum suction. The suction is created either by a fire (also known as fire cupping) or with a hand pump. When using fire, a cotton ball is dampened with alcohol and lit on fire. The lit cotton is then briefly placed into a medicinal glass cup and when the fire is removed, the cup is quickly place onto the designated area of the patient’s body. As the heat cools, it creates a suction on the skin. Suction can also be created without fire by using a hand pump.
The suction dispels stagnation in the body and allows for better flow of qi and blood. Drawing up the skin is believed to open up the skin’s pores, which helps to stimulate the flow of blood, balances and realigns the flow of qi, breaks up obstructions, and creates an avenue for toxins to be drawn out of the body. In cupping therapy, the cups can be stationary or moved around, depending on the chief complaint of the patient.
This technique is commonly used for back, neck, and shoulder pain and can be referred to as “cupping massage.” However, cupping therapy can also be helpful for detoxification, as well as for aiding relief for common colds and sore throats. Cupping therapy is also used for the treatment of gastro-intestinal disorders, lung diseases (especially chronic cough and asthma), and paralysis. It can be used for other disorders as well. The areas of the body that are fleshy are preferred sites for cupping therapy. The back is a preferred site for cupping massage. Contraindications for cupping include: areas of skin that are inflamed; cases of high fever, convulsions or cramping, or easy bleeding (i.e., pathological level of low platelets); or the abdominal area or lower back during pregnancy. Cupping therapy is also used with caution in patients with deficiency.
After cupping therapy, some bruising is common depending on the level of stagnation.