Although cupping is often associated with Chinese Medicine, it has been used by many cultures throughout history. The ancient Egyptians used it 5000 years ago, and there is evidence that cupping was used in ancient Greece. Today, many Middle Eastern cultures still use cupping in the treatment of various ailments. Cupping therapy has made headlines in the past decade, with numerous well-known celebrities and Olympic athletes appearing in public with ‘cupping bruises’.

Cupping involves using a flame to create a vacuum within a container. Traditionally, the Chinese used bamboo cups. These can still be found in many acupuncture clinics today, although the glass cup is more commonly used. Once the vacuum is created, the cups are placed onto the body, where the skin is drawn directly into the cup. The cups are often positioned on the front and back of the torso, although they can be placed anywhere that is necessary. There may be mild discomfort in the beginning, but this doesn’t last long and the treatment itself is not painful. Cups can also be placed over acupuncture needles, or used on lubricated skin as a massage tool.

Applying the cups along meridians act to move the Qi and blood, stimulating smooth flow and unblocking the meridians. When the cups are removed, small red or purple bruises may appear. These usually disappear between 2-5 days. The colour and duration of bruising is used to determine the overall state of health in the individual. Generally, bruising that is light in colour and disappears within a few days indicate good flow of Qi and blood.

Cupping is especially beneficial in the treatment of musculoskeletal injuries and respiratory conditions, such as the common cold, pneumonia and bronchitis.

In Middle Eastern cultures, ‘wet cupping’ is quite popular. It involves piercing the skin with a scalpel and then drawing blood via regular cupping. The blood drawn is meant to be therapeutic, and is used for the treatment of conditions such as headaches and back pain.