Cupping is one of the oldest methods of traditional Chinese medicine. The earliest recorded use of cupping dates to the early fourth century, when the noted herbalist Ge Hong wrote about a form of cupping in “A Handbook of Prescriptions”. Later books written during the Tang and Qing dynasties described cupping in great detail; one textbook included an entire chapter on “fire jar qi”, a type of cupping that could alleviate headaches, dizziness and abdominal pain.

During a typical cupping session, glass cups are converted to a mild vaccum and placed over the area to be treated. The vaccum by using fire or manual pumps.

The vacuum the cup to the skin and pulls it upward on the inside of the glass. Drawing up the skin is believed to open up the skin’s pores, which helps to stimulate the flow of blood, balances and realigns the flow of qi, releases endorphins, breaks up obstructions, and creates an avenue for toxins to be drawn out of the body.

Cupping is used primarily to treat muscular pain, respiratory conditions such as bronchitis, asthma, and congestion; arthritis; gastrointestinal disorders. Some practitioners also use cupping to treat depression and reduce swelling.

The cups are usually left in place for about 10 minutes. Several cups may be placed on a patient’s body at the same time. Sometimes a lubricant such as oil may be applied to the skin before the cupping procedure, which lets the practitioner slide the cups up and down particular acupoints or meridians after they have been applied and helping create a better seal.

While cupping is considered relatively safe (especially air cupping, which does not include the risk of fire and heat), it can cause some temporary swelling and bruising on the skin. As the skin under a cup is drawn up, the blood vessels at the surface of the skin expand. This may result in small, circular bruises on the areas where the cups were applied. These bruises are usually painless, however, and disappear within a few days of treatment. In addition, there are several instances where cupping should not be performed. Patients with inflamed skin, cases of high fever or convulsions, and patients who bleed easily are not suitable candidates for cupping. Pregnant women should not have cupping on their stomach or lower back. If the cups are being moved, they should not cross bony areas, such as the ridges of the spine or the shoulder blades.