What is Cupping Therapy?

What is Cupping Therapy?

Cupping Therapy is a technique used in Chinese Medicine where local suction is created on the skin to lift the different soft tissues of the body. There are different types of cupping such as dry cupping, wet cupping and needle cupping. Unlike tissue compression (from massage therapy), cupping works by creating negative pressure by pulling the connective tissue apart and creating more space in between soft tissue such as muscle, fascia, tendons and ligaments. Think of it as a reverse massage!

The History of Cupping Therapy

Cupping therapy, sometimes known as cupping, has been around for thousands of years. One of the first methods of cupping were cups made from animal horns to help remove toxins from the body. Cups made from bamboo were soon used to replace animal horns because of their durability. During the 20th century, glass cups were introduced and were preferred over the other types of cupping since bamboo cups were easily deteriorate from the repeated heating and use.

Cupping is generally left on for anywhere from 10 – 20 minutes (depending on the sensitivity of the patient). The skin could become red or even purple due to the stagnation of the blood underneath the tissues. The cups are removed by applying manual pressure along the side to relieve pressure. Depending on the severity of the stagnation, bruising and discoloration could appear from the cups.

Benefits of Cupping Therapy

Cupping therapy has a wide variety of benefits from increasing circulation to decreasing hypertonicity in muscles. One major advantage to cupping is that it is gentle and virtually painless. Below are some benefits to this therapy:

  • Improved local circulation to the soft tissues
  • Decrease hypertonicity (tension) in muscles
  • Helps move stagnation and drains fluids
  • Loosens up adhesions and scar tissue
  • Provides a gentle stretch to the muscles and connective tissue

Who can Benefit from Cupping Therapy?

Everybody! Anybody that experiences muscular aches and tension can greatly benefit from cupping therapy. Whether you’re the average Joe or an elite competitor in a physical demanding sport, this technique should and can be used by everybody. As a health care practitioner, I generally introduce cupping therapy to individuals that experience muscular aches and tension such as individuals that take part in combat sports (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, etc), powerlifters, weightlifters, and CrossFitters.

Below is an example of how cupping helped with one of my weightlifting patients:

A video posted by James Lu (@lustrengththerapy) on

What Conditions can Cupping Therapy Help With?

Because of the improved local circulation and decreased hypertonicity in muscles, cupping therapy is generally used in musculoskeletal conditions. It also works on a myofascial level which general stretching and self care cannot target. Below is a list of different conditions that cupping therapy can help with:

  • General muscular tension and aches
  • Entire back pain
  • Tendonitis and repetitive motion disorders
  • Sprains and strains
  • Tension headaches
  • Nerve impingement (Sciatica) from muscular tension
  • Myofascial pain syndrome


Cupping Therapy is a modality of Chinese Medicine where local suction is created on the skin to help increase circulation, decrease muscular tension and alleviate pain. It is recommended for anybody that is experiencing pain and tension along and can be utilized by individuals participating in sports such as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Powerlifters and Olympic Weightlifting.