Cupping therapy is an ancient form of alternative medicine that was used in China, Egypt, the Middle East and Europe and is becoming increasingly popular. It is a technique in which cups made out of clay, glass or bamboo are suctioned onto the skin to create a negative pressure using a pumping or fire method. The two cupping techniques are wet and dry. Dry cupping is noninvasive and just pulls the skin into the cup. On the other hand, wet cupping is invasive and involves laceration of the skin so that blood is drawn into the cup. The therapist needs to practice sterility, handwashing, and wearing appropriate protective equipment such as gloves to prevent infections. The site where cups are placed depends on the condition being treated. A variety of conditions and illnesses such as headache, pain, muscular tension, rheumatoid arthritis, hypertension, and skin disorders have benefitted from cupping therapy. In a study done for pain management with wet cupping therapy, there was a 66% reduction in average headache severity and a decrease in headache occurrence of 12.6 days per month (Ahmadi). Contraindications for cupping therapy include cancer patients, patients with a pacemaker, organ failure, hemophilia or other blood disorders. The specific mechanism of action of cupping therapy is not well known but there are numerous theories on how it works. Some theories include an increase in endogenous opioid production in the brain, an enhancement of blood circulation to remove toxins in the body, an increase in immunity through activation of the immune system, etc. More studies need to be done in the future on cupping therapy to support its beneficial effects.
Ahmadi A, Schwebel DC, Rezaei M. The efficacy of wet-cupping in the treatment of tension and migraine headache. Am. J. Chin. Med. 2008;36(1):37-44
Al-Bedah AMN, Elsubai IS, Qureshi NA, et al. The medical perspective of cupping therapy: Effects and mechanisms of action. J Tradit Complement Med. 2018;9(2):90-97. Published 2018 Apr 30. doi:10.1016/j.jtcme.2018.03.003
Furhad S, Bokhari AA. Cupping Therapy. [Updated 2020 Feb 7]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK538253/