December 7

Cupping Therapy: A Valuable Addition to Acupuncture Treatments

Traditional Chinese Medicine is a form of complementary or alternative medicine that includes a number of different therapies. In addition to acupuncture, other complementary treatments, such as cupping therapy, auricular acupuncture, or gua sha, may also be included. Your acupuncturist will determine what is the most suitable combination for you. 

There are several different types of cupping methods.  In our clinic, generally silicone cups are used in physical therapy and massage therapy, while our acupuncturist typically performs cupping with glass cups. 

Cupping therapy is great for overall wellness. It helps to promote blood flow and eases tight, aching muscles, and generally feels good.  It is also frequently used in the treatment of respiratory issues such as colds, flu, pneumonia, and bronchitis. In cupping therapy, a glass or silicone cup is used to create a vacuum against the skin. The cups may be left in place or moved across the skin. 

Usually, your acupuncturist will do a treatment involving needles, and then at the end of the session, she may add in cupping or gua sha, depending on what is most suitable for your particular concerns. The cups may be left in place from five to 15 minutes, and up to ten cups may be used at once.

Cupping techniques

There are many variations and types of cupping treatment.  As for the cups themselves there are several types of these as well, including glass cups, plastic suction cups, and silicone cups. 

The most traditional type used are glass cups.  These are thick glass cups that are used with fire cupping and flash cupping. The suction that is created with glass cupping is achieved by using a flame inside the glass cup to cause a vacuum.  The cup is then placed on the skin.  The flame typically warms up the cup but is not hot or painful. When the cups are left in place for a longer amount of time, there is more of a deep tissue effect. 

Flash cupping is the process where the cup is quickly lifted off the skin and re-suctioned, either in the same spot or a slightly different spot. The main benefit of cupping in this way is the improvement of circulation; this method does not use a very strong suction. 

In our clinic we only do dry cupping, we do not do wet cupping.  Wet cupping is the form of cupping where the skin is pierced or cut prior to cupping.  Then when cupping is performed, bleeding occurs. This is not a technique that we perform.

The other type of cups that may be used in cupping treatment are suction cups, or silicone cups.  Suction cups are hard plastic cups that have a small pump that is attached to create suction after they are put into place. These are hard to sterilise and have generally been replaced by silicone cups.  Silicone cups are soft silicone cups that are squeezed to create suction before they are placed on the skin. These cups are more flexible and may be more comfortable over certain parts of the body.  Usually there is less suction with these types of cups than there is with glass cups or plastic suction cups.

Cupping benefits

There are many benefits to receiving cupping therapy, and it is an excellent addition to your acupuncture treatment. 

When glass or silicone cups are applied to your skin, the vacuum within them causes you to experience a feeling of suction.  This suction causes blood flow to the area, and improves circulation and increases the movement of muscle wastes out of the tissues. Then your lymph system can remove these muscle wastes more easily. This causes the entire area to feel looser and more invigorated. This feeling lasts for several days after you receive your treatment. 

  • Benefits of cupping include:
  • Increased blood flow
  • Improved circulation
  • Relief of muscle tightness and tension
  • Pain relief
  • Improvement in lymph circulation

What is cupping used to treat?

Cupping is used to treat several different issues. The most common use of this treatment is in muscle tension and tightness, and in the improvement of circulation. However, in some cases cupping may be added to acupuncture to aid in the treatment of respiratory problems as well as other issues, including the following: 

  • Asthma
  • Colds and flus
  • Bronchitis
  • Eczema
  • High blood pressure
  • Migraines
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Other imbalances

Many of these issues cannot be treated by cupping alone, and should be combined with an acupuncture treatment. If you are interested in trying acupuncture for any of these issues, please discuss it with your acupuncturist to see if it will be of benefit to you.

What about moxibustion?

Moxibustion is a type of heat therapy that is often combined with acupuncture. Moxa is a dried herb that is made from mugwort (Artemesia vulgaris). This herb is dried and is usually formed into a stick or a cone, or a small amount can be pressed and applied to the top of an acupuncture needle.


Moxa is burned in a manner similar to incense to create heat. This heat can penetrate deep below the superficial skin level into the muscle tissues. This treatment is applied to specific acupuncture points by either the moxa being held or waved over the desired area, or by being added to the end of the needle itself. Special care is taken not to burn the patient during this process.


Moxibustion improves circulation and relaxes tight muscles. It is also used to warm up cold areas.


The downside to moxibustion is that it has quite an unpleasant lingering smell, so we do not offer it at our clinic. Instead, we use a TDP lamp (a special type of heating lamp developed in China) which uses infrared to heat the body and improve circulation. The TDP lamp is very comfortable and safe and makes your treatment a very pleasant experience.

How is cupping different from acupuncture?

Cupping and acupuncture are both alternative medicine techniques that fall under the umbrella of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Acupuncture itself is the use of acupuncture needles at specific acupuncture points. These points are determined on the basis of a detailed discussion of your health history and individual concerns at your initial appointment. 

There are hundreds of acupuncture points found all over the body; each of these has a specific name and function. These acupuncture points are found on pathways called meridians, and are used in different combinations for each patient, depending on the treatment you need. Usually up to ten or twenty needles are used in a session,, and they can be left in place for fifteen to twenty-five minutes. After the needling part of the treatment, additional forms of treatment may be included. 

Acupuncture often involves the use of other techniques such as cupping or gua sha. Often cupping or gua sha is added to an acupuncture treatment to help improve blood circulation in different areas, or to relieve tension. Your acupuncturist will decide, based on the signs and symptoms you discuss, which combination of techniques is best for you during your acupuncture treatment. If you are interested in trying cupping or gua sha, please let your acupuncturist know.

Side effects of cupping

During cupping therapy, you may experience minor side effects. This is due to the suction that is achieved when the cups are placed on your skin.  When cupping therapy is performed, there will usually be circular bruises left behind on the skin which are due to small broken blood vessels below the skin.  This sounds like a painful technique, but the marks that are left behind are not true bruises, because there has been no trauma to the skin.  The tissue has been lifted and massaged by the cups, and this causes the movement of blood through the tissues.

Not everyone will get marks from cupping, and they may range from very pale pink to darker purple, depending on the person. These marks disappear within a few days after your acupuncture treatment.

Cupping and acupuncture: complementary medicines

Cupping is an ancient therapy that is used in addition to acupuncture needles during an acupuncture treatment.  Both cupping and acupuncture are complementary therapies that fall within Traditional Chinese Medicine, along with gua sha, plum blossom needling, auricular acupuncture, and moxibustion. Your acupuncturist may decide, for example, that when you are being treated for back pain or neck pain that cupping would be a good addition to your treatment.  In this case, the purpose of cupping would be to increase blood circulation to the area. Cupping is also sometimes performed during physical therapy or massage therapy.

Cupping is also beneficial for issues such as respiratory conditions like asthma or colds, or other issues such as migraines or headaches. In general, for cupping to be helpful with issues such as these, it must be combined with acupuncture treatment as well. 

Different types of cupping techniques may be used; The cups may be applied at the locations of specific acupuncture points, or they may be applied at tight areas and either left stationary, or moved from place to place. This can feel somewhat similar to a deep tissue massage in some cases. Flash cupping may also be used, which is the quick application and lifting of cups along a specific area. 

The effects of cupping are long lasting.  Cupping treatment is beneficial in the treatment of muscle tension and chronic pain, and is a great addition to the healing process that you begin during your acupuncture treatment. Cupping helps to improve the movement of muscle wastes to your lymph system and improves blood circulation throughout the area treated, and is beneficial in the flow of Qi throughout your body. 

Cupping has been used for many hundreds of years, and has developed over time alongside acupuncture and other Traditional Chinese Medical techniques.

Summary

Cupping is a traditional therapy that has been a part of Traditional Chinese Medicine for a long, long time. Cupping is a very beneficial aspect to your acupuncture treatment. It can be useful for a number of different issues. Cupping therapy can help relieve your tight and sore muscles, improving your circulation and relieving pain in various parts of the body. As an addition to acupuncture, it can also be used for several other health conditions such as respiratory issues, headaches and migraines, or in some cases high blood pressure.

The side effects, while sometimes unsightly, are very mild and tolerable, and usually only last a day or two. The experience overall is quite comfortable, and many people love coming in for cupping therapy during their acupuncture treatment. If you are interested in trying cupping therapy for yourself, speak with your acupuncturist during your next treatment the next time you come in


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