Please note: all clinics will be closed 29/3/24 - 1/4/24, except Physio services at Stepney, which will be open 8am - 12.30pm on 30/3/24, and Hydrotherapy classes at Welland pool, which will also be open on 30/3/24.

Cupping therapy

Cupping therapy

Although cupping is generally associated with Chinese medicine, cupping was practiced in Ancient Egypt and Greece, and also in Medieval Europe. Cupping was first mentioned in the Ebers Papyrus – a medical text from Egypt that dates from over 3,000 years ago. The current interest in cupping is related to the attention in the West now being paid to traditional Chinese medical practices.

Cupping involves using small containers to produce a slight vacuum when placed against the skin. The vacuum pulls up a section of skin into the cup. Traditional Chinese medicine uses cups made from sections of bamboo, however a wider variety of cups are used today.

how cupping works

The object of cupping is to draw more blood to the surface of the skin. This is achieved by creating a partial vacuum inside the cup, usually by means of heated air, and then placing the cup on the skin. As the air cools and contracts, the skin is drawn up into the cup. The cup is usually left on between five and ten minutes and then removed. There will be a distinctive red circle left on the skin where the tissue has been pulled up. This will fade over the course of several days.

When beginning traditional cupping, an open-bottomed glass globe will have a lighted piece of cotton inserted briefly. This heats the air inside the globe rapidly, and the open end of the cup is then placed on the subject’s body. Another approach is to use plastic cups that allow the therapist to remove the air by means of a pump mechanism. This gives more control over how much tissue is drawn up into the cup. In some cases, oil is massaged onto the skin so that the cup can be moved over the affected area easily. Oil also helps to create a better seal for the cup.

types of cupping

Over the years, several different types of cupping have developed. In some ways, cupping mimics acupuncture in that it is believed to stimulate the body’s pressure points to provide for the normal and healthy distribution of fluids and energy. Aromatic oils are sometimes used in the cupping glass for added effect.

Dry cupping is probably the method most often employed. A slight vacuum will be created in the cup either by heating the cup directly or holding the open end near a flame. After the cup is placed on the skin, the cooling air draws the skin up.

Wet cupping is also called Hijama. After using dry cupping for up to five minutes, the therapist will make small incisions in the area. The cup is prepared once again and applied to the affected area. Blood will be drawn out of the body in the vacuum.

Massage cupping (also known as glide cupping) involves moving the cup over the affected area, such as the back, to combine both massage and cupping, this effectively causes a myofascial release.

Needle cupping uses acupuncture needles in conjunction with the cup. The acupuncture needle will be inserted into the underlying tissue first, with the cup being placed over the needle immediately afterwards.

Fire cupping requires that the practitioner use a cotton ball that has been soaked in methylated spirits and then set alight, to heat the air inside the cup. As the oxygen inside the cup is consumed, the vacuum is formed.

Silicone cupping uses flexible, silicone cups. This method has been found to eliminate or at least reduce the bruising that generally accompanies cupping.

health benefits of cupping

The benefits of cupping are not actually ‘skin deep’, but rather extend up for four inches into the body. Cupping provides both physical and mental benefits including:

  • Cupping brings the body’s blood closer to the skin’s surface, which is thought to increase circulation generally.
  • Tight, painful muscles are loosened during cupping, helping to promote healing and relaxation of muscle fibers.
  • Scar tissue and adhesions after surgery can be painful as the tightened tissue pulls during movement. Cupping can help to soften these tissues and make them more flexible and pliable, reducing pain.
  • Cupping helps to move lymph fluid through the body more effectively, bolstering and strengthening the immune system.
  • Those who are depressed or anxious often feel much more relaxed and positive after massage cupping.

Cupping is also thought to be beneficial to those suffering from respiratory ailments such as colds, asthma, allergies, or bronchitis.


Our massage therapists are available at a number of sportsmed locations. To make an appointment or enquiry, contact the location directly or email

Sportsmed Logo