When you think of cupping, you probably imagine dark circles that resemble large bruises all over the skin. Even though it may look like the person lost a fight to an octopus, the bruises that result from cupping therapy can indicate healing. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) states that the ancient therapy of cupping was used to treat a variety of ailments, including digestive issues and general pain.
There are two types of cupping: wet cupping and dry cupping. Both forms of this alternative therapy involve the creation of a vacuum within the cups either through heat or a suction device. With wet cupping, the practitioner lightly pierces the skin so that blood is drawn into the cup. Dry cupping doesn’t draw out any fluids. The suction pulls the skin up into the cups, breaking capillaries or blood vessels under the skin. That is why you see bruise-like circles after a cupping session. The body responds to the treatment as an injury, so it sends increased blood flow to accelerate the healing process.
Today, you can receive cupping from a variety of practitioners, including acupuncturists, physical therapists, chiropractors, and massage therapists. And although it is an ancient healing modality, modern medicine continues to search for ways to understand its efficacy as a complementary treatment. Anecdotal reports and limited studies, however, support the following health benefits of cupping therapy.
May Ease Headaches
Some research suggests that people who deal with chronic headaches or migraines may benefit from cupping therapy. A small study from 2019 observed 132 participants with migraines. The results found that those who received cupping therapy experienced significant reductions in pain intensity, compared to the controlled group who did not receive cupping. Another uncontrolled study observed 70 people with chronic tension or migraine headaches. The participants who received cupping therapy experienced a 66% reduction in headache severity. Plus, the total number of headaches they had per month decreased by 12.6 days.
May Improve Mood
People who receive regular cupping sessions report a variety of mental health benefits. Naturopathic doctors who practice cupping suggest that the therapy can help relieve stress, promote relaxation, and induce a sense of calm. All of those benefits may help improve sleep and improve overall mood. Although scientific research is limited, some evidence indicates that people with chronic fatigue syndrome who received cupping experienced a reduction in fatigue. A 2020 study confirmed that participants experienced better sleep and overall mood, both of which were more pronounced after 10 cupping sessions.
May Reduce Pain And Sore Muscles
A lot of athletes receive cupping to either help reduce sore muscles, accelerate recovery, or to reduce injury. You don’t have to be an athlete to receive cupping therapy, though. Some research indicates that cupping can help with muscle recovery. In fact, a small study from 2021 found that cupping was a great way to treat muscle fatigue 24 hours after participants worked out biceps and triceps. A larger review found that cupping therapy showed positive results on back pain, but research is still limited in this area.
May Improve Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
One study monitored 56 participants with carpal tunnel syndrome. Half of the group received routine physical therapy (which included electrical nerve stimulation and ultrasound) and the other half received that same routine treatment plus cupping in the wrist area. The group that received cupping experienced significant improvement in symptom severity. Additionally, another study observed 52 patients with carpal tunnel syndrome and associated shoulder and neck pain. Half the group received wet cupping to the trapezius region and the other group only received heating pad treatment. Researchers noted that the cupping group reported less pain a week after their cupping session.
May Help Reduce Arthritis Pain
This is based on one primary study that compared the effects of cupping with the over-the-counter pain reliever, acetaminophen, in 20 participants with one osteoarthritis. One group received dry cupping for 11 sessions over a two-week period. The rest of the participants received 650 milligrams of acetaminophen three times a day for the same two-week period. The researchers noted that the cupping group had better results in terms of pain, swelling, tenderness, and morning stiffness, compared to the medication group.