What is Cupping and Why is it Used?

What is cupping?

Cupping is a modality that originated in Chinese and Arab medicine around 2,000 years ago2. A pump is used to achieve a negative pressure over the skin, which increases microcirculation, detoxifies tissues, relieves painful muscle tension, and controls the inflammatory process. Two major types of cupping are used today: dry and wet cupping. Wet cupping is currently prohibited by physical therapy regulations because the skin is lacerated to draw blood into the cup. Risks of therapeutic cupping include: infection, bruising left on the skin, pain following treatment, and burns. Cupping should not be used with patients who have cancer, edema, bleeding conditions, or infections. Therapeutic cupping has been used for conditions such as plantar fasciitis, hypertension, stroke, low back pain, shingles, and knee osteoarthritis.


A study on dry cupping on plantar fasciitis had a total of 29 patients who either received dry cupping or electrical stimulation. The patients received either modality twice a week for four weeks. As a result, both modalities improved function and pain1.

A meta-analysis for neck pain and low back pain included 75 randomized controlled trials. Three treatments that were reviewed were acupuncture, acupressure, and cupping. The researchers concluded that all treatments were effective in treating short term pain and disability. However, the studies were limited to Chinese or English language and the studies had low to moderate strength of evidence3.

Future research

There must be more research to prove the effectiveness of therapeutic cupping. This modality is difficult/impossible to be a double-blind study. It can’t work like a drug versus a sugar pill. The patient and practitioner administering it are going to know whether cupping is being performed.

Do you think that therapeutic cupping is going to make its way mainstream in physical therapy clinics throughout the US?


  1. Ge W., Leson C., Vukovic C. 2017. Dry cupping for plantar fasciitis: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of Physical Therapy Science, 29(5): 859-862. http://doi.org/10.1589/jpts. Accessed July 16, 2017.
  2. Reddy, B. (2017). Science of Cupping. Retrieved July 18, 2017, from http://www.nccaom.org/science-of-cupping/
  3. Yuan, Q., Guo, T., Liu, L., Sun, F., & Zhang, Y. (2015). Traditional Chinese Medicine for Neck Pain and Low Back Pain: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. PLoS ONE10(2), e0117146. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0117146