Cupping for pain management

Have you have ever noticed someone with perfectly round-shaped bruises on their back or shoulders?  Gwyneth Paltrow showed up on the red carpet a few years ago with these dark small round bruises on her back, conspicuously standing out in a low-back dress.  Gwyneth later admitted to having cupping.

Cupping is an ancient treatment that, along with acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine, is part of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Cupping, like acupuncture, dates back thousands of years and was recognised 3,000 years ago as an effective treatment for pulmonary conditions.  Now, it is embraced by many cultures.  My Italian mother, now in her 70s, and her 80 year old Greek neighbour, recall older generations using cupping to treat cold and flu symptoms.

What Is Chinese Cupping?

Cupping involves the application of small glass cups to the body.  These cups work somewhat like a suction.  The cups are placed directly on the body and the suction will draw up skin and superficial muscle layers into the cup.  What happens, then, is that blood is drawn to the surface.  This encourages the release of stagnation and congestion within the body.

The practitioner will either slide these suction cups over the body along specific meridians, or apply them directly to a particular point on the body. After a period of time, the cups are removed.

The Benefits of Cupping

Traditional Chinese Medicine works on the premise that pain, chronic disease and illness is a result of stagnation in our Qi, which is a vital energy that circulates through the human body.

Acupuncture and cupping serve to release that stagnation and support optimal blood flow and flow of Qi, which is considered essential to good health.  Cupping is highly effective for pain management.

Cupping is a relatively safe procedure except for the possibility of leaving some marking or bruising on the back or shoulders when it is used.  While some mild bruising can occur, this is an indication that the toxins have been drawn to the skin surface and then removed.  Cupping helps treat the following conditions and symptoms:-

  • Muscular tension and pain
  • Neck pain
  • Pulmonary conditions such as asthma and bronchitis
  • Cold & flu symptoms
  • Anxiety and general tension
  • Back pain
  • Circulatory system issues
  • Migraine and headache
  • Fatigue and low energy
  • Arthritis and rheumatism

Is it safe and does it hurt?

Cupping is considered generally safe. However, some swelling and/or bruising can result on the skin, as mentioned earlier.  In general, these bruises are usually painless and will diminish in appearance within a few days or up to a week after the treatment.

As with all treatments, there are some precautions required.  Cupping should not be administered to anyone with high fever or anyone with inflammatory skin conditions.  Anyone who is on warfarin or other blood thinning medications, should not get cupping.  While cupping is generally safe for pregnant women, it should be avoided directly on and around the abdomen and lumbar (lower back) regions.



  1. Brtish Acupuncture Council –
  2. National Center for Biotechnology Information –
  3. Acupuncture Today –