Gold medalist Michael Phelps cupped during the 2016 Olympics

Gold medalist Michael Phelps cupped during the 2016 Olympics


Cupping is an adjunct technique of Chinese medicine. It is the application of a vacuum to the skin surface, and can be considered a "negative-pressure" or "negative-massage" technique. As such, it's effects are similar to massage. Cupping:

  • Increases local circulation. It brings fresh blood in and old blood (and lymph and extravasated proteins) out. This speeds healing.
  • Increases mobility and range of motion. It dis-adheres fascia that is sticking to itself by increasing fascial hydration. The negative pressure pulls water (ground substance) into the connective tissue, and this allows structures to glide along each other.

...with a few key differences:

  • Some underlying structures are irritated by massage (positive pressure into the body) but not by cupping (negative pressure out of the body).
  • Multiple cups can be retained simultaneously, allowing multiple areas to be treated at the same time.
  • Pressure is consistent and sustained, which is therapeutically beneficially in and of itself but also allows the practitioner the opportunity perform other techniques simultaneously. 


Traditionally, cupping is most often used in the treatment of pain, particularly when soft tissue restriction/adhesion is the cause or major contributing factor. It is also commonly used for the common cold, respiratory disorders, some gastrointestinal disorders. At Capital Acupuncture, it is most often used for the following:

  • Illiotibial band (ITB) pain, in conjunction with massage and acupuncture: cupping is much more pleasant than massage on this area.
  • Lateral neck pain: this is a challenging area. The muscles often require firm pressure to relax and soften, but positive pressure is neither safe nor comfortable when there is injury to the intervertebral discs (herniation). Negative pressure techniques solve this.
  • Common cold: cupping to the upper back often significantly reduces symptoms of the common cold and shortens the duration of illness. If you catch a cold that is making the rounds of your family or workplace, you will likely notice a dramatic difference in the course of your illness if you are cupped in the first day or two of symptoms.


Cupping has been used by many different cultures around the world, from Africa to Greece to China. The earliest recorded use of cupping is from the famous Taoist alchemist and herbalist, Ge Hong (281–341 A.D.). In ancient Greece, Hippocrates recommended the use of cups for a variety of ailments, while in the early 1900’s the eminent British physician, Sir Arthur Keith, wrote how he witnessed cupping performed with excellent success. Suction cup Therapies remained a constant in professional medical treatment throughout Europe. It was practiced by such famous physicians as Galen (131-200AD), Paracelsus(1493-1541), Ambroise Pare (1509-90) and surgeon Charles Kennedy (1826).