Cupping therapy is a form of alternative medicine in which cups are placed on the skin to create suction. The cups can be made of a variety of materials. Supporters of cupping therapy believe the suction of the cups mobilizes blood flow to promote the healing of a broad range of medical ailments. As the air inside the cup cools, it creates a vacuum. This causes the skin to rise and redden as blood vessels expand. The cup is generally left in place for five to ten minutes.
Cupping therapy dates back to ancient Egyptian, Chinese, and Middle Eastern cultures. One of the oldest medical textbooks in the world, the Ebers Papyrus, describes how the ancient Egyptians were using cupping therapy in 1,550 B.C.
In general, Western medical societies are skeptical of the health claims made by cupping therapy supporters. “Available scientific evidence does not support cupping as a cure for cancer or any other disease,” states the American Cancer Society. “Reports of successful treatment with cupping are mainly anecdotal rather than from research studies.”
But a 2012 study published in the journal PLoS ONE suggests that cupping therapy may have more than a placebo effect. Australian and Chinese researchers reviewed 135 studies on cupping therapy published between 1992 and 2010. They concluded that cupping therapy may be effective when combined with other treatments like acupuncture or medications in treating various diseases and conditions. But the researchers acknowledge that many of the studies in their review may have contained some bias. They say better studies are needed to draw a definite conclusion.
Types of Cupping Therapy
There are various types of cupping therapy, including:
Dry (Fire) cupping (suction only) Moving cupping (combination of suction and controlled medicinal movement)
After the procedure, skin’s appearance generally returns to normal within 10 days.
Cupping therapy supporters believe that cupping removes harmful substances and toxins from the body to promote healing.
Benefits of Cupping Therapy
The British Cupping Society says cupping therapy can treat a variety of conditions. This has not been backed up by studies. But the organization says cupping therapy is used to treat:
- Blood disorders such as anemia and hemophilia
- Rheumatic diseases such as arthritis and fibromyalgia
- Fertility and gynecological disorders
- Skin problems such as eczema and acne
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Anxiety and depression
- Bronchial congestion caused by allergies and asthma
- Varicose veins
Supporters also believe that cupping therapy can reduce pain and inflammation throughout the body. And they say it can promote mental and physical relaxation and well-being.
Side Effects of Cupping Therapy
Cupping is considered to be relatively safe, especially when performed by trained health professionals. Potential side effects include:
- Mild discomfort
- Skin infection
Like many alternative treatments, cupping therapy has not been extensively studied. Researchers say that most cupping therapy studies have been small and poorly designed. More studies are needed to prove or disprove claims of health benefits.