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What Is Cupping and What Does It Do?

WTHN Team/10.10.20

What Is Cupping and What Does It Do?

Cupping is a unique and interesting process that many love, but as with any contemporary practice, not everyone knows exactly quite what it is. This method leaves distinctive marks on those who take part in it which you’ve likely seen on celebrities or social media. They’re often noticeable, fist-sized circular bruises in a symmetrical pattern on someone’s shoulders and back. They usually look pretty painful and kind of strange, like large hickies. So, why do people enjoy this? And what healthful benefits does it claim to bring?

It’s time to explore the wonderful world of cupping to see just what you’re missing! We’re going to break down the process and all of its benefits, to mythbust and answer all your questions on what exactly cupping is and how it can help you achieve your health and wellness goals.

What Is It? 

Cupping is a process whereby the practitioner puts specialized cups on your skin and creates suction under them. This suction is what causes the marks afterwards. While the cups are on your skin, it rises within the cups and reddens. 

Much like acupuncture, cupping has been used for thousands of years and is popular in holistic medicine. Originally, instead of specialized glass cups, professionals used animal horns and bamboo to perform these treatments. It has been documented as a practice in ancient Egypt, China, and the Middle East. In fact, one of the oldest medical textbooks in the world talks about how the Egyptians used cupping therapy all the way back in 1,500 BC! So, it definitely stood the test of time. 

To give a brief history, in Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is believed that restoring the body’s balance of yin and yang energy is the best way to revitalize yourself, increase blood flow, and help reduce pain, which is what the ancient practice of cupping was used for. It could also increase your immune system health. 

It’s been used to help soothe many different kinds of ailments by increasing blood flow throughout your body. In some cases, there is actually a type of cupping called fire cupping. That differs because the acupuncturist soaks a piece of cotton in alcohol, lights the cotton on fire, and secures the lit cotton under a round, glass cup. The cup is then placed on the skin and, as the fire goes out, the area is suctioned up under the cup. 

The reason the suction is created is that when the cup is heated, then placed on your skin and allowed to cool, the dissipation of heat creates the suction which is still used in traditional cupping practices. That draws the skin and muscles upwards inside of the cup.

For those of you who are feeling a little intimidated by the mere mention of fire, modern day practices like WTHN practice cupping in an alternative, scientifically approved way, which is by using a suction pump attachment on the plastic cups to create the vacuum between your skin and the cup. This is the modern, medical way to ensure that the cups are placed with precision. The cup is generally left to sit on the skin before removal.

If the practitioner is using silicone cups, they can actually move the cups over your back, which has been slicked with an oil or lubricant beforehand, to create a deep-tissue massage.

What Does It Do? 

Cupping promotes relaxation, helps enhance circulation, works to relieve pain, and extracts toxins from the body. It can help anyone with acute or chronic pain, muscle tension, neck and head tension, or stress. It functions as a deep-tissue massage for areas of the body that are swollen or in pain. It’s a process. In the first session, you may get 3-5 cups and increase the number to 5-7 cups in later sessions. 

The cups are applied to acupressure points, even when not applied over acupuncture needles, and therefore may also work at helping to soothe skin issues and other conditions normally addressed by acupuncture. A review of studies on the effects of cupping have found that it might also be effective at helping to improve your overall health and wellness for certain conditions and enhance your respiratory system’s functions. 

If you have a sunburn or a wound on your back you should probably either avoid cupping or talk to your doctor beforehand practicing a session of cupping. It’s important to ensure your own health and safety when committing to any kind of treatment. 


Post-cupping care is an important factor to consider. After a cupping session, you should not shower and keep the marks covered and warm for the rest of the day and following night. That will help the marks fade faster. Additionally, you should make sure you’re fully hydrated, so you can flush out the toxins brought to the surface by the cupping. Some possible side effects to look out for after a cupping session include discomfort, minor burn, bruising, and skin infection.

At WTHN, you can combine both cupping and acupuncture for an even more scientific-based, comprehensive, and customized treatment. When you decide to add cupping to your health routine, talk to your acupuncturist about its benefits and whether or not it would be beneficial for your treatment plan. If so, you too can join the ranks of the celebrities showing off their modern-day cupping marks like wellness badges on social media!







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