Overview of Cupping

Cupping is a treatment method that involved taking cups under suction and placing them onto a persons skin.  This placement draws skin and tissue into the cup and pulls it tight.  It also draws blood to the surface of the skin.  

Cupping is performed for a variety of reasons but most common in our clinic is to increase tension on an area while going through movements and exercises.  It is also use to increase blood flow to areas surrounding injuries to promote healing and to help relieve localized pain.

The intensity of cupping can vary and it is likely that it will leave those perfectly circular hickeys wherever it was applied.  So it is good to consider where you are having it done prior to having it done as it may take several days to a week or more for the marks to go away.


Cupping is a very old treatment method going back literally thousands of years.  Many different forms of cupping have come about over the ages but we are only going to discuss the two types of cupping we do which are Motion (Dynamic) cupping and Stationary (Static) cupping.  Cupping uses negative pressure in a cup (glass, plastic, silicon, etc.) to draw skin and tissue into it. This creates a pulling effect that is somewhat like a stretch.  Cups can be left in place (static) or be moved around (dynamic) to work different areas of tissue.  Cupping is believed to help with pain, range of motion and blood flow.

Different types of cupping

  • Stationary (Static)

This type of cupping is used to target a specific area.  It is common to use this type when the patient is too sensitive or acute to handle movement of the cup or when the cupping is being used to increase tension in an area in conjunction with other movement. This may involve just one or many cups.

  • Motion (Dynamic)

This type of cupping is used when the provider wants to work a larger area with less cups. The provider takes a single cup and using lotion to decrease friction, moves it under suction across the area they are treating.


Vacuum pump

A pump is used to remove the air from the cups.  This method allows fairly precise control over the amount of vacuum that we put in the cup making it easier to control the intensity.  It is also one of the faster methods for applying a cup.

Compression Cups

Compression cups get their vacuum by being compressed.  The cup is compressed and then applied to the skin.  When it is released it forms a vacuum.

Fire Cupping

This is one of the more traditional methods of cupping and used mostly by our massage therapists.  A cotton ball with alcohol on it is set on fire and then waved about inside of a glass cup for a short period of time.  This heats the air in the cup without heating the cup.  The cup is then rapidly applied to the skin.  As the air in the cup cools off, the vacuum is formed.


While cupping has been around for thousands of years, it is important to note that there have been few, quality, scientific studies done to prove its efficacy.  In general we tend to require quite a lot of proof before we utilize new techniques in our practice but we make an exception for cupping.   We make this exception because of its time in practice and first hand positive results we have seen it yield when used in conjunction with other physical medicine treatments. So with that being said, this list provides some of the purported benefits and effects that are believed to happen when cupping is performed.

Effects of Cupping

Cupping appears to have the following effects:

  • Increased blood flow to the area
  • Increased range of motion
  • Reduction in muscle tension
  • Pain relief


Cupping can be kind of intense.  This particularly true of motion cupping.  It can also be ticklish.  This discomfort is usually caused by the stretching of the skin and tissue under the cup.   It is important to communicate with the person doing the cupping if it becomes too intense or painful so they can back off or stop the session if needed.  You are probably going to walk out with either perfectly round hickeys or a red area from motion cupping.  These look like bruises and in a sense are but won’t have the same feel as a traditional bruise.  Cupping draws blood to the surface of the skin but shouldn’t cause tissue damage so while they might look bad, they shouldn’t be painful or sore.

Things to know about cupping

  • You will probably look like you got in a fight with a vacuum cleaner and lost
  • Is not a good treatment option for people with bleeding disorders
  • Is not a good treatment option just before bathing suit season
  • Will make you look like an Olympian (kind of)
  • Can be intense
  • Can be ticklish