What is Cupping Therapy? Benefits & More

By: Dr Jason Chong (Traditional East Asian Medicine Physician)

What is Cupping Therapy? Benefits & More

Cupping sounds a little medieval right? There will be fire, cups, dark marks that look like the aftermath of an octopus attack. And then the pain will decrease and function increase? Hmmmmm.

Learn about cupping therapy as you follow this conversation between Qi Bo and Huang Di. These two characters from one of our most ancient medical manuscripts, the Huang Di Nei Jing, have visited the modern age to answer your questions (press the 3 orange dots on the right at any stage to bring them up) about cupping.*

Click here if you are seeking cupping therapy in Melbourne.

iMessage with Huang Di (Yellow Emperor)

Hey Qi Bo. I saw you had some of those circular bruises on your back the other day.

Yes that’s right

What gives? Are you a professional athlete now?

Lol. Hardly! Just had some cupping treatment.

Tell me more about it!

What would you like to know?

What is cupping therapy?

Cupping therapy is:
Negative suction applied with a cup
A folk remedy found in many different cultures
Used for a broad range of conditions

Nice picture!

During a cupping massage, suction cups are attached to the body. This is through the use of heat or pumps to create suction. This negative pressure draws and stretches the muscle tissue.

Suction cups are then left attached to the skin for a few minutes to work their magic!

Kinda like a reverse remedial massage!

Due to the popularity of Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is commonly known as Chinese cupping. However, it has a history as a folk remedy throughout Asia as well as southern Europe and northern Africa.

Cupping treatment is used to relieve ailments such as pain and the common cold.

What is the history of cupping therapy

The earliest written evidence of use in the East is in the Mawangdui medical texts in China (around 168 BC), however textual references in the west go back a few hundred years earlier.

Cupping is a highly recommended treatment by Hippocrates. He advises cupping for conditions such as uterine prolapse, sciatica and spinal misalignments.

Did you grow up with cupping in your family? If so, what is your cultural background?x

Cupping is a highly recommended treatment by Hippocrates. He advises cupping for conditions such as uterine prolapse, sciatica and spinal misalignments.

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What is modern cupping therapy?

Cupping is becoming more well known and popular in the modern-day.

Famous athletes such as swimmer Michael Phelps and numerous celebrities are often seen showing cupping marks.

It has emerged under new names such as myofascial decompression therapy, vacuum cupping or myofascial cupping therapy.

These are simply a rebranding of the same technique.

Sounds like good marketing!

What are cups made of?

Water buffalo horns were traditionally used in China.

Cupping sets with bamboo, ceramic, glass, plastic and silicone cups are more common in modern-day use.

What are the benefits of cupping?

The benefits of cupping include:

  • Relieves pain
  • Relief of climate-induced illness
  • Improved body function

Cupping areas of dysfunction and discomfort is often used to relieve muscular pain. It also assists in the systemic functioning of the body and restores health.

A common view amongst different cultures is the use of cupping to ease diseases caused by climatic factors. Hence the common phrase ‘under the weather’.

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Is that where that phrase originates?!

It’s quite likely, yes.

What diseases are caused by the climate?

Muscle tension and the common cold are the most common climate-induced illnesses.

Cups also may be applied with a lighter pressure at specific acupuncture points. Through this mechanism, cupping benefits the function of related organs within the body.

Can you use cupping for pain?

There was a 2016 randomised control trial by Lei-Mei, et. al. titled The Effectiveness of Cupping Therapy on Relieving Chronic Neck and Shoulder Pain: A Randomized Controlled Trial.

This study showed that the benefits of cupping include a significant reduction in the experience of neck and shoulder pain within one treatment.

Other objective measurements included an increase in local skin surface temperature – indicating that local circulation also benefitted.

How does cupping work?

Cupping works by:

  • Stretching the connective tissue
  • Breaking up tissue adhesions
  • Allowing healthy circulation
  • Removes toxins
  • Relaxes the nervous system

Cupping treatment relaxes the surrounding muscles. The action of creating a partial vacuum draws the skin, muscles and fascia into the cup.

It stretches the connective tissue to release constriction. This breaks up tissue adhesions to allows an increase of blood flow and lymphatic fluids to move freely.

Image by Ciao Ho

Increased circulation improves oxygen supply and cell metabolism, which reduces inflammatory (or toxic) substances

Raleigh Harrell – Medical News Today

Do you mean that cupping opens the tissue to promote Qi and blood circulation?

That’s another way to put it, yes.

Another result of cupping is that it drops Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate, which is utilized to monitor and identify diseases. Levels of inflammatory markers such as fibrinogen and ferritin also lower.

Cupping stimulates the nerves, helping to regulate the autonomic nervous system.

This can affect the organs controlled by the relevant underlying nerves. Cupping along the back affects the areas where these nerves enter and leave the spinal column.

Wow! Cupping can do so much! Amazing for such a common folk remedy

Yes, you should look into it further, you can read more about the types of cupping here.

I’m still a little unsure though

Does cupping therapy really work?

Scientific research may be minimal, but my experience has been positive.

It will depend on multiple factors related to your personal health conditions. I encourage you to try it for yourself and make your own judgement.

You can book online and make a time to ask Jason about whether it may be suitable for you

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Can cupping remove toxins?

Chinese cupping is called Ba Sha, which loosely translates as “pull out evil”.

Sha displays at the surface as red petechiae. Tissue samples of this Sha have shown that it is old blood, drawn from inside the muscle tissue.

Cupping draws toxins out from deep within the muscles and body. This allows them to be flushed away and the area revitalised with fresh blood and nutrients.

Put another way, cupping draws stagnant blood and toxins to the surface. This, in turn, stimulates phagocyte activity in the local area to remove dead cells.

This leads to the secretion of salts, water and sebaceous matter, which allows for the fresh renewal of the cells.

Cupping also affects the flow of blood and lymph in the local region. This brings healthy nutrition to the area and removes waste.

What are these toxins?

These toxins are a result of the congestion of Qi and blood in the body. Congestion is the source of local pain, as in the ancient Chinese saying:

It has been suggested that this may increase the level of red and white blood cells locally. It also can shift the acidic balance of blood to a neutral or alkaline state.

Wow, that’s pretty amazing.

What is wet cupping?

What is wet cupping?

This technique involves light piercing of the skin in conjunction with the application of suction cups. The vacuum effect removes stagnant blood from the body and increases healthy blood flow.

This is commonly known as Hijama cupping.

Hijama is a detoxification therapy practised in the Islamic communities of Melbourne. Commonly it is used in the days surrounding Ramadan.

What is the difference between dry and wet cupping?

Wet cupping involves the removal of blood from the body, where dry cupping does not.

Dry cupping is also known as Myofascial cupping and may include techniques such as fixed and sliding cupping.

What are the side effects of cupping therapy?

The most common side effects of cupping are:

  • Cupping marks
  • Mild fatigue

Cupping marks! They look like an octopus attacked your back!

That’s one way to think of it!

Often, though not always, cupping ‘bruises’ appear after cupping treatment. In Chinese Medicine, we call these marks Sha.

Sha usually disappears within a few days after treatment. Sha reflects the toxins which have been brought to the surface during treatment.

Some light fatigue may be experienced after treatment. This occurs as the body flushes toxins from circulation that were previously contained.

This does not happen in this case as:

What are cupping bruises?

Cupping marks do look like ‘cupping bruises’. They are not bruises because:

  • A bruise indicates trauma has occurred.
  • A bruise tends to be tender to palpate which should not be the case with marks from cupping.
  • A bruise changes colour as it heals. First to blue as a red pigment of hemoglobin loses its oxygen, and then to brown or yellow as the hemoglobin is broken down and reabsorbed.
  • There is no trauma
  • They do not hurt like bruises
  • They simply fade in colour

OK, that makes sense, I can see how that would be confusing to the untrained eye.

Absolutely! If bruises occur after treatment, it indicates the pressure was too strong.

Why are some cupping bruises darker?

Marks! Not bruises!

Silly me, we just talked about that.

The depth of colour indicating the amount of toxin being released.

The colour of cupping marks is diagnostic

Are cupping marks permanent?

Cupping marks will disappear in 2 – 10 days. This is quicker in healthier patients, slower in patients with more chronic conditions.

This is always worth considering in relation to your comfort level of revealing your cupping ‘badges of honour’. Especially if you plan to go to the beach, pool or a wedding wearing a backless dress!

No plans for backless dresses for me – for now.

They will lessen with later treatments. This assumes that the toxic aetiological source (eg smoking) isn’t present.

Keeping the treated area warm and covered also benefits the healing process during this period.

How do you get rid of cupping marks fast?

The best things to help move the marks from cupping on are:

  1. Drink plenty of water to help cleanse the body and lymphatic system
  2. Light movement of the area
  3. Avoid causative factors eg bad posture, smoking etc

What are the dangers of cupping therapy?

Possible dangers include:

  • Burns if fire cupping used
  • Blisters if cups left on too long

Most dangers can be avoided by only receiving cupping for a well trained and experienced practitioner.

If you are currently on blood thinners or have open wounds in the area to be treated, then cupping is not suitable for you. For those who suffer from high levels of fatigue, the dosage must be appropriate – a trained practitioner can determine this.

What does cupping feel like?

Is cupping therapy painful?

When receiving cupping you should feel a suction pressure, this should be comfortable – but maybe a little weird

But there should not be pinching or pain. If you do feel this, then let your cupping practitioner know so they can reduce the pressure. More is not necessarily better!

OK good to know

Does cupping therapy hurt afterwards?

It shouldn’t. If the cupping has been too strong then you may feel bruises afterwards.

How to learn cupping therapy

Cupping is taught as part of studies in acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.

It is offered to practitioners of other modalities in continuing professional development courses.

  • Bruce Bentley offers courses to practitioners around Australia and internationally. You can find more info on his website.
  • Jason teaches Cupping and Gua Sha workshops in Melbourne through the Australian Shiatsu College and nationally through ATMS

I’m convinced, where do I get me some cupping?

If you are looking for cupping in Melbourne, Jason Chong is at Dantian Health in Melbourne’s inner north. He offers cupping as an adjunct to acupuncture and massage sessions, as well as 30min stand-alone sessions.

Thanks, talk soon. I’m going to go book in for some cupping now!

OK great, let me know how you go.

Dantian Health – Melbourne Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Clinic

Reclaim your health and restore vitality with responsive, holistic healthcare

What else would you like to know?

I hope you have enjoyed the conversation. Did they miss your question? Was something unclear? Are you itching to join in? Let me know if you found this useful in the comments below, I read and respond to them all!


As an AHPRA registered practitioner, it is my duty to not be misleading in any advertising. So before my friends in the science in medicine crowd (Hi Ken!) and advertising regulators get too excited I must say the following.

This conversation didn’t actually take place. Whilst the information contained within is important and factually correct (to the best of my educated knowledge), this conversation is entirely fictional.

Amongst the many things I can do with Chinese Medicine, time travel is not one of them. What can I say – the DeLorean was out of petrol and I couldn’t get Bill and Ted on the phone!

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