How Is Cupping Done?

Reviewed on 6/17/2022
A woman having cupping done on her back as an alternative therapy
There are two main methods of cupping, which includes dry cupping (involves only suction) and wet cupping (usually involves suction along with controlled medicinal bleeding).

Cupping is a type of alternative medicine based on an ancient Chinese practice in which a special type of cup is applied to the skin and suction is created so the skin and superficial muscle layer is drawn into and held in the cup. It is used increase blood circulation in the areas in which the cups are placed. 

  • Cups may be made of glass, ceramic, silicone, and bamboo. The modern versions of cups used for cupping are usually made of glass that is shaped like miniature fish bowls. 
  • When cupping is done, the glass cups are depressurized using some type of fire (such as alcohol that is ignited) to heat the air within the cup. The cup is quickly placed on the skin to create suction.
  • A modern version of the cups has a valve and pump so a practitioner can suction out air, creating a vacuum without heat. Cups are only used on fleshy areas of the body and not over bony areas such as the spine. 

Types of Cupping and How It's Done

There are two main methods of cupping:

  • Dry cupping: involves only suction
    • Cups are generally left in place for five to 15 minutes, and the skin becomes red due to the increased blood flow
    • Some bruising is normal after removing the cup
  • Wet cupping: usually involves suction along with controlled medicinal bleeding
    • Cups are left in place for about three minutes, then removed and a small scalpel or needles are used to make small superficial cuts on the skin
    • The cups are then replaced to suction out a small amount of blood

What Is Cupping Used For?

A 2012 review of studies on cupping therapy found that cupping may be effective in treating the following conditions:

However, the analysis found a lack of well-designed investigations and a high risk of bias in the studies that were reviewed, and they recommended more study be done to determine the effectiveness of cupping for these and other conditions. 

Other reported uses for cupping include: 

Research is still needed to verify if cupping is effective for any of these conditions. 

What Are the Risks of Cupping?

The main side effect of cupping is bruising and sometimes soreness, which is normal and expected after the procedure. 

Cupping should not be used: 

  • On areas of skin that are inflamed
  • On sunburned skin
  • Over wounds, skin ulcers, or recent trauma
  • On the abdominal area, lower back, and certain acupuncture points during pregnancy
  • When there are convulsions or cramping
  • In cases of high fever
  • In patients taking blood thinning medication
  • In people who have easy bleeding (i.e., pathological level of low platelets)
  • On children under age four, and only for five minutes on children up to the age of seven and ten minutes on children from ages seven through fourteen
Reviewed on 6/17/2022

Image Source: iStock Images

Cao, Huijuan. Li, Xun. Liu, Jianping. "An Updated Review of the Efficacy of Cupping Therapy." National Library of Medicine. PLoS One. Feb. 2012.

Mehtaa, Piyush. Dhapte, Vividha. "Cupping therapy: A prudent remedy for a plethora of medical ailments." Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine. ScienceDirect. July 2015.

Dharmananda, Subhuti. "Cupping." Institute for Traditional Medicine, Portland, Oregon. 17 June 2022.

“'Cupping': Traditional Therapy or Fad?" National University Of Health Sciences. 17 June 2022.