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  • Writer's pictureCristina R. de La Mar, M.S., L.Ac., Doula

What is Cupping & How Does it Work?

Updated: May 27, 2023

Cupping is the term applied to a powerful Traditional Chinese Medicine technique using small glass cups (or bamboo jars) as suction devices applied to the surface of the body.

The 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil brought Chinese Medicine "cupping" to headlines across the world as elite athletes like Michael Phelps and Alex Naddour offered first- hand examples of cupping's therapeutic use, in this case - for Orthopedic conditions.

However, cupping is used in over 60 countries to treat a much broader spectrum of conditions beyond orthopedic issues - such as infections, insect bites, hypertension, respiratory conditions, skin disorders, digestive problems and infertility to name a few. Dr. William Osler, considered the "Father of Modern Medicine" and one of the founders of Johns Hopkins Hospital, recommended cupping for bronchopneumonia and acute myelitis in the early 1900’s (1).


There are several theories on the mechanisms of cupping. Since our skin is well vascularized – meaning it has a rich blood supply, the applied suction from the cups has been found to increase circulation through dilating capillaries causing them to promote lymphatic circulation, regulating the immune system and controlling inflammatory processes in the body (2, 3).

There are over 1000+ clinical studies - including large scale Randomized Controlled Trials (RCT) - on cupping overall, all indicate cupping as a very safe and powerful non-pharmacological approach (1, 4, 5).


Chinese Medicine "Cups" are usually made of glass (sometimes bamboo). Suction is created by adding heat (see photo above) to the interior of the cup, and quickly placing the cup on the surface of the body. The trapped heat in the belly of the cup, creates the suction.

The suction from the cup works to disperse and break up stagnant blood, body fluids or phlegm congestion. The process draws congested blood and body fluids to the surface of the skin. Once the suction has occurred between the cup and your body, the cups are gently moved across the surface of your skin (often referred to as “moving cup therapy”). Medical massage oils or lotions are sometimes applied to improve the gliding movement of the glass cups along the skin.

The suction in the cups causes the skin and superficial muscle layer to be lightly drawn into the cup (see below). Cupping is much like the inverse of massage – rather than applying pressure to muscles, it uses gentle pressure to pull them upward.

For most patients, this is a particularly relaxing and relieving sensation.

Once suctioned, the cups are generally left in place for a short time while the patient rests. Many patients find the process deeply relaxing, even falling asleep during treatment. In general, cupping is applied as part of an overall Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine treatment - so, the patient may have heat therapies, acupuncture and /or other therapies occurring simultaneously.


As shown in the above photo, cupping leaves a residual redness on the surface of the skin. This is called Petechiae, which is a therapeutic response to the treatment and usually fades in 24 - 48 hours. It does not hurt and is not tender, and should in no way impact your everyday life.


With the mainstream popularization of Chinese Medicine cupping therapy, it's become much more common for people to call us asking specifically for "cupping sessions." As trained Chinese Medicine Practitioners - when cupping is the appropriate therapy, we are happy to apply it.

For your Practitioner to determine whether cupping therapy is the right treatment for you - it is important to complete a thorough Health History Intake and Physical Assessment to ensure it is the appropriate treatment for you. There are medical precautions to be taken with patients with blood-clotting disorders, those on certain medications, with certain medical conditions, and with very debilitated patients. Cupping therapies should only be applied by a properly trained Practitioner, with properly sterilized cups and with all required medical safety-protocols in place.

Wondering if cupping could work for you?

Generally, cupping therapy is used in conjunction with Acupuncture and other Chinese Medicine treatments - but at times it can also be applied solo. It requires that your Practitioner have a full medical and health history of the patient, in order to best determine the more appropriate and effective treatment. Generally, patients find it a very effective treatment - and overall relaxing experience, sometimes even falling asleep during their session.

If you are curious and would like to know more - we are happy to answer your questions - just give us a call. (917) 210-1063

Phil Veneziano, M.S., L.Ac.

Cristina R. de La Mar, M.S., L.Ac., Doula

(917) 210-1063

Seven Point Wellness is an Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine Clinic located at 187 Millburn Ave., Suite #101 in Millburn, NJ, in the Trader Joe / CVS Business Complex.

We are an easy drive from Maplewood, South Orange, Short Hills, Livingston and most cities in Union, Morris and Essex County, NJ and abundant free parking. We're also an easy walk from the New Jersey Transit via bus or train.


1. Osler, W. The Principles and Practice of Medicine. 11th rev. ed. New York, NY: Appleton; 1931;112 , 981.

2. Samadi M., Kave M., Mirghanizadeh S. Study of cupping and its role on the immune system. J Relig Health. 2013;1:59–65.

3. Ahmadi, A., Schwebel, D.C., Rezaei, M. The efficacy of wet- cupping in the treatment of tension and migraine headache. Am. J. Chin. Med.2008; 36, 37e44.

4. Zhao, X.X., Tong, B.Y., Wang, X.X., Sun, G.L. Effect of time and pressure factors on the cupping mark color. Zhongguo Zhen Jiu 2009;29 (5), 385e388.

5. Cao, H., Han, M., Li, X., et al. Clinical research evidence of cupping therapy in China: a systematic literature review. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2010;10:70. doi:10.1186/1472-6882-10-70.

6. Cao, H., Zhu, C., Liu, J. Wet cupping therapy for treatment of herpes zoster: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Alternative therapies in health and medicine. 2010;16(6):48-54.*Figure excerpted from Reference 5, published in PubMed Central.

If you are curious and would like to know more - we are happy to answer your questions - just give us a call. (917) 210-1063


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