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Cupping Massage Therapy : How Does It Work, How Long Does it Last, Procedure, Benefits

Cupping massage therapy is an ancient healing method of alternative medicine, in which special cups are put on your skin to create suction and offer relief from several conditions like neck pain, back pain, headaches, and some other problems. Cupping massage therapy offers tremendous benefits in healing several problems in modern times. More about this amazing healing technique has been discussed in the following array.

What is Cupping Massage Therapy and How Does It Work?

Cupping therapy is an effective method of releasing toxins from body tissues and organs.(1, 2) Cupping massage therapy, also known as vacuum cupping, horn treatment, and hijama cupping,  uses suction through special cups that are put on the skin.

Therapists put these special cups on the skin only for a few minutes for creating suction. This causes the tissue beneath the cup to be drawn up and swell, thus resulting in an increased flow of blood to the affected area. Enhanced flow of blood under the special cups draws toxins and impurities away from the nearby tissues and organs toward the surface for elimination.(3, 4)

Over the centuries, the technique has evolved based on geographical location, and also by the specific materials which are used in those areas, like animal horns, ceramic, bamboo, metal, glass, and plastic have been used in the procedure of cupping massage therapy found in Ancient Egyptian, Chinese, Unani, Tibetan, Korean, and Latin American cultures, whose purpose is to help the body in self-healing.

Modern cupping or western-based cupping uses plastic, glass, or silicon cups with a vacuum seal to influence myofascial tissue physiology.

People get enough relief from pain, and inflammation, and experience overall well-being from cupping massage therapy.

Recent Developments in the Use of Cupping Massage Therapy

Over the past few years, research has shown that cupping massage therapy can improve the local flow of blood, alleviate muscle pain, and also reduce the stiffness of muscles. Another proven benefit of cupping massage therapy that has been found in recent times is that it can cure Nocturnal Leg Cramps, which is an excruciatingly painful condition.

Sometimes cupping massage therapy when combined with other therapies can bring about tremendous health benefits and improve symptoms in several conditions. A case has reported that hot water cupping therapy combined with moving cupping massage therapy could improve the symptoms of nocturnal leg cramps.(5) However, more research is essential in this regard to prove the benefits of cupping massage therapy in treating exercise-associated muscle cramps.

How Is Cupping Massage Therapy Performed?

There are several ways to perform cupping massage therapy. Depending on the chosen method for cupping, the steps vary slightly. Your therapist will leave the cups on the affected areas of your body for several minutes. Some treatments could involve moving the cups briefly to stretch and massage the affected area.

Following are some of the cupping methods.

  1. Dry Cupping Therapy: In this method, your therapist heats the inside of each cup. The traditional method of dry cupping method involves setting an alcohol-soaked cotton ball aflame. The heat from the cup sends oxygen out of the cup, creating a vacuum. Another modern approach to this method involves using a suction device for removing air from the cups. The vacuum force pulls the skin up into the cup.
  2. Running Cupping Therapy: This method is similar to that of dry cupping massage therapy. However, before beginning, your healthcare provider, or therapist would apply oil or lotion to your skin. Once the cups are placed, the therapists move them gently in different directions over the affected area of the body.
  3. Bleeding Cupping Therapy: In this method, the therapist uses a needle to puncture your skin lightly before placing the cups. This allows the release of toxins via the suctioned blood that has been captured in the cup.

Depending on the treatment that you are undergoing, your therapist would place several cups on your skin. However, on average, four to five cups are used. Usually, most professionals use glass or plastic cups. However, bamboo, ceramic, silicone, or metal cup can also be used.

What Studies Say About Cupping Massage Therapy?

Not many scientific studies have been conducted on cupping massage therapy. However, cupping could indeed help with conditions like acne, herpes zoster, paralysis, and pain management.(6)

As per a study conducted in 2017, it has been mentioned that the mechanical effect of cupping increases blood flow locally and stretches underlying tissue.(7)

Australian and Chinese researchers have reviewed 135 studies on this cupping therapy and concluded that this therapy can be effective when people also receive other treatments, such as medications, and acupuncture, for various diseases and ill health conditions including, Cervical spondylosis, facial paralysis, herpes zoster, and acne.(8) But, those researchers have also stated that many of the studies that they have reviewed have been biased, and also better studies are essential.

Though there are also many other benefits of cupping massage therapy, there is still not much research to back all of them,

How Long Does Cupping Massage Therapy Last?

In the case of the dry cupping method, the cups are kept in place for a set time, which is usually between five minutes to ten minutes.

The Running cupping method generally involves the application of oil before using suction. Then the cups are moved slowly around the affected area, thus creating a massage-like effect. Depending on the kind of service that you might be receiving, the session could last anywhere from ten minutes to one hour or even more.

Benefits of Cupping Massage Therapy: The Ancient Technique for Modern Healing

Let us check below some of the health benefits of cupping massage therapy.

  1. Reduces Pain, Arthritis, and Muscle Tenderness

    One of the most amazing benefits of cupping massage therapy is that it helps in reducing pain, arthritis, and muscle tenderness. It is also beneficial in treating several conditions, such as gout and various forms of arthritis, lumbago, and also as epithelial grafts for managing vitiligo. Cupping massage therapy is also commonly used for reducing muscle tenderness, and pain, and also improving a range of motions.(9, 10, 11, 12)

  2. Cupping Increases Blood Circulation

    In cupping massage therapy, the suction from the cups increases the circulation of blood to the area where the cups are being placed. The additional blood flow to that particular area can aid relieve muscle tension and promote cell repair. Increasing blood circulation with cupping can also benefit in reducing the appearance of cellulite.

  3. It Encourages Tissues to Release Toxins

    Another benefit of cupping is that it helps in removing toxins from your blood. Focused blood flow aids our body by flushing built-up toxins through the lymphatic system. ( The lymphatic system is responsible for eliminating toxins and waste from the body).

  4. Cupping Therapy can Reduce Anxiety

    Cupping massage therapy may also help in reducing anxiety. When your therapist glides the cups across your skin, the parasympathetic nervous system gets engaged, which promotes deep relaxation to move through the entire body.

  5. Cupping Massage Therapy can Clear Congestion and Treat Asthma

    Congestion or fluid buildup in the lungs, caused by a cold, bronchitis, or even asthma can be easily treated with cupping. The suction caused by cups breaks up and expels congestion. This brings oxygen-rich blood and lymph toward your lungs and other respiratory muscles. The therapists might glide gently the cups in an upward motion to facilitate the movement of the lymph fluid.

  6. Cupping can Clear Colon Blockage and Help With Digestion

    Cupping therapy can also clear colon blockage and help with digestion. Cupping aids to engage our parasympathetic nervous system, which increases the flow of blood to your digestive tract. Cupping gently over the abdomen also stimulates the interior of our digestive tract, which helps in peristalsis, helps clear blockages in the colon, encourages blood and body fluid to move through the organs, and helps in relieving indigestion.

  7. Cupping Massage Therapy can Treat Varicose Veins and Spider Veins

    One more benefit of cupping massage therapy is that it treats varicose veins and spider veins. It helps your bringing fresh blood flow and oxygen back to the affected areas on your legs and feet. Slowly after the first session of cupping massage therapy, you will start noticing your varicose veins appearing lighter. However, for lasting results, you will have to take a series of such sessions.

  8. Stretch Marks and Scars can be Removed  

    Increased blood flow enables our body to dispose of toxins and restore lymphatic circulation, and aid in removing edema (excess fluid), which ultimately helps in reducing the appearance of scarring and stretch marks.

Possible Side Effects of Cupping Massage Therapy

In general, cupping therapy is safe, as long as you are undergoing the therapy from an experienced and skilled professional. However, some side effects can be experienced in the area where the cups touch your skin. You might feel mild discomfort, bruises, burns, and skin infection in the treated place.

Moreover, if the cups and equipment get contaminated with blood and are sterilized properly between patients, bloodborne diseases like hepatitis B and C can be spread.

Things to Keep in Mind Before Trying Cupping Massage Therapy

It should be noted that cupping massage therapy is not recommended for everyone. Some of the things to be kept in mind before trying this therapy are listed below.

  • Do not use cupping massage therapy if you are using blood-thinning medications.
  • Avoid the therapy if you have a sunburn, a skin ulcer, a wound, or experienced recent trauma, thinning skin, or an internal organ disorder.
  • Cupping should not be done on arteries, veins, nerves, lesions, skin inflammation, eyes, lymph nodes, body orifices, or varicose veins.
  • If you choose to add cupping massage therapy along with your medical treatment, make sure to inform about the same to your doctor.

Bottom Line

Though cupping massage therapy can be beneficial for certain conditions, it should complement, not replace, traditional medical care. Continue visiting your doctor for treating your health issues, even if you are trying cupping massage therapy.


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  3. Mashlool ZT, Aowada MA. Effect of cupping treatment on some biochemical variables of thi-qar province. J. Res. Appl. Nat. Soc. Sci. 2016;4:93-104.
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Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:August 21, 2023

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