The History and Clinical Application of Cupping

By Michael Dell’Orfano, Lic.Ac.

Cupping is a treatment modality of Chinese medicine that has been part of the medicine for over 1500 years.  In China, the earliest use of cupping is attributed to the famous Daoist alchemist and herbalist, Ge Hong (281–341 A.D.). Since many historical records from China have been lost or destroyed, it is likely cupping was used prior to his time. Cupping is not only native to China, as evidence and historical records show it being used as a treatment modality in ancient Egypt, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and to a lesser extent, other parts of the world.

Cupping treatment was originally performed with animal horns or cups made of bamboo, but today cups used in practice are glass, plastic or silicone. Traditionally, cups were applied with a flame place inside the cup for a moment and then the flame is quickly removed and the cup is placed on the skin as soon as possible to create a vacuum. This is still used in modern Chinese medicine and is called “fire cupping” by most acupuncturists. The other ways cups are employed in modern times include cups that use a hand pump to create the suction, or ones that have a squeeze bulb on the end of the cup to create the suction (this kind is most commonly used for facial cupping).

Three main types of cupping treatments exist, and the practitioner chooses which to use based on the patient’s constitution and conditions, so a proper medical diagnosis should be arrived at first before the practitioner starts cupping. The first and most common method is known as “stationary cupping” and it consists of the cups being placed on specific areas of the body and then they are left in place for about 4-7 minutes. This can then be repeated on different areas of the body after the first round is completed. The second most common method is called “moving cups” or “sliding cups” and this is most frequently performed on the erector spinae muscles of the back, but can be done on the abdomen, arms and legs as well. This consists of first putting some kind of oil or balm on the skin, and then the cup is placed on the skin and is manually moved up and down or from side to side by hand so that the cups glide over the areas being treated. The last method of cupping is known as “flash cupping” and this consists of placing the cups on the skin for only a brief second and then they are removed and rapidly applied again. This process is done repeatedly for several minutes, so think of it more like a “rapid fire” cupping session.

Cupping therapy is indicated for various types of acute and chronic pain. Acute trauma from sports injuries or car accidents often leave the muscles in a tense, contracted state and/or create pockets of stagnant blood, which leads to inflammation, pain, and consequently, poor circulation of blood and qi to the injured area. Cupping helps to stretch and pull the skin, muscles and fat to release and relax the muscles, pull the stagnant blood out of the injured area and circulate the lymph fluid. As a result of this action, the flow of qi and blood is restored so that the healing process can happen, and the recovery from the injury will be increased since cupping releases what is stuck to make room for the fresh blood and qi to enter the injury site directly to heal it quickly. In addition to painful conditions, cupping can also be used to treat various respiratory ailments such as asthma, wheezing, shortness of breath and respiratory infections such as pneumonia, bronchitis, influenza and the common cold. Facial cupping is becoming a new trend for helping with the microcirculation in the face in order to help with wrinkles, giving the skin a nice tone and rosy glow, as well keeping it soft and supple.

At Stepping Stone we offer 30 minute cupping sessions, or your acupuncturist might work it into the end of your acupuncture session if it is indicated for your current condition.

One thought on “The History and Clinical Application of Cupping

  1. This is a good and well organized way of fighting pain which affects many people in the world. The three main cupping procedure’s are very interesting. That is stationary, moving and flash cupping. The main and most importantly is to keep blood moving ,speed healing and reduce pain. ….all the best…. Stepping stone.

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