Acupuncture cupping is an aspect of Chinese medicine that is frequently used to treat pain as well as internal medicine issues. Cupping traditionally consists of placing glass, plastic or bamboo cups on the skin to create a vacuum seal. A glass cupping seal is created when an alcohol soaked cotton ball is burned and placed inside a cup to remove the air. The cup is then quickly placed on the body which creates the vacuum. This is called fire cupping. Another type of cupping uses plastic cups with a pump to create a seal. I have attached a picture of me in China with a bamboo cup so you can see what it looks like to be “cupped” and a patient in China being treated with plastic cups.

Based on the principles of Chinese Medicine, cupping increases blood flow to the surface of the skin thereby moving pain caused by stuck energy and/or removing toxins causing disease. Cupping has been used for relieving colds, bronchitis and other lung conditions, menstrual pain, and all types of body pain. Chinese medical theory states that stagnation of blood is the cause of pain and many diseases. Cupping thereby moves the stagnation (stuck energy) and promotes the blood flow in the affected areas. When the blood flows there is less pain in the channels being treated.

Cups are applied on acupuncture points on the meridian or channel being affected by pain or disease. It is frequently used in conjunction with acupunture since cupping stimulates circulation and relieves pain and swelling. Cupping is not painful, but patients will feel a tug or pulling sensation under the cups as the vacuum seal is created. Successful cupping will usually leave a bruise on the skin. I remember the press going on about Gwyneth Paltrow attending the Oscars in a backless dress which showed the bruises left by cupping on her back. These bruises go away of course, but it is not uncommon to have them.

I like to do sliding cupping on patients with larger areas of pain. For example: sciatica down the side or back of the leg. Oil is used to moisturize the skin and then a number of cups are placed in the area to be treated. Once the suction cups are in place, I will slide the cups up and down or around the painful area, thereby promoting blood flow in a larger surface area. Usually after the sliding cupping, I will then place acupuncture needles for a complete treatment.

Chinese medicine has been around for thousands of years. The ancient art of Chinese healing is time tested. If you are dealing with hard to treat, stubborn pain that has not been helped with Western medicine practices, you might consider trying Chinese medicine. When we help patients that can only be given drugs by their doctors, it speaks loudly to the power of the needle. Give it a try.

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2 Responses to “Acupuncture Cupping for Pain Relief”

  1. Steve Kroth August 28, 2012 at 1:16 am #

    Thank you for your site and your great post! It’s neat to see the Bamboo used…I haven’t seen that yet. I have a question for you…I noticed that you mention you do sliding cupping. Do you use plastic cups when you do this? I would like to do so in my practice, but many plastic sets have a disclaimer thrown in about “not recommended for sliding techniques.” Any input from your experiences would be greatly appreciated.

    Kind Regards,
    Steve Kroth, D.O., L.Ac.

    • Karen August 28, 2012 at 8:24 am #

      Hi Steve,

      Thank you for your comment and question. Yes. I do sliding cupping using plastic cups. You just need to be careful that they haven’t been damaged and that the rims are very smooth. Being plastic they can get damaged more readily. The oil you use is also important. I found that Red Flower oil for example can deteriorate the plastic cups rims and make them rough. Otherwise, I have experienced no problems.

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