Cupping is a 3,000 year old technique of applying a cup to the skin surface to draw blood and energy to the surface point where it is applied. In oriental medicine, where there is stagnation of blood or Qi (energy), there is pain. Cups are attached by creating a partial vacuum, usually by heat, which are then applied to the skin to draw up the underlying tissues. These cups pull stagnation from within the body and bring it to the surface where it can dissipate.

Functionally, cupping is used to warm and promote the free flow of Qi and blood in the meridians, dispel cold dampness and diminish swelling and pain. Clinically, cupping is used to treat Bi-syndromes (arthritis) caused by wind dampness such as pain in the low back, shoulders and leg; gastrointestinal disorders such as stomachache, vomiting and diarrhea; and lung diseases such as cough and asthma. Although cupping is not painful, it may leave marks that resemble bruises on the cupped area. These marks are painless and will disappear after a few days.

Methods of Cupping

There are two methods: wet and dry. In dry cupping, the glasses are applied to the skin with heat from the flame used to dispel air from the chamber of the cup. Wet cupping requires making a scarification of the skin, so that a small amount of blood is drawn. The use of wet cupping serves as a substitute for venesection, in which larger quantities of blood are let out. Both wet cupping and venesection were originally used as a prophylactic measure. Exercise and adjustments to diet make wet cupping and venesection of less use than in former times.


There are several purposes in cupping: (1) to draw inflammation away from deep parts toward the surface and make it more accessible to medicines; (2) to divert inflammation from an important organ to a less important one; (3) to in-fuse warmth and blood into an affected organ and to dispel humors from it; (4) to alleviate pain.


Cupping should not be done over the breasts in women, as it will interrupt the menstrual flow. Other sites and conditions to avoid are all bony prominences, sites prone to cramps, areas showing any superficial blood vessels, varicose veins or much hair growth, tumors, and lymph nodes. Cupping should never be done on pregnant women or infants. Cupping on the nape of the neck is said to induce amnesia.


Have the person lie down on an examination table or a firm bed, in case of fainting during treatment. If the person feels unwell during the procedure, discontinue immediately. Select cupping sites or swollen spot.

Length of Application

The cups may be applied for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the site under the cups begins to appear reddish. The place of application may afterward become inflamed. To avoid this, soak a cloth or sponge in moderately hot water and place it around the base of the cup after it is sealed onto the skin.


A small, medium, or large cupping apparatus is used, made of glass, bamboo, or plastic. Use the larger cups on healthy young people; use smaller ones for the elderly, weak, or chronically ill.


Hold a small ball of cotton saturated with rubbing alcohol or olive oil in a pair of forceps or large tweezers. Ignite the cotton and quickly apply the flame to the inside of the cup, then remove and extinguish. The cup is instantly placed over the selected spot, and the cup will attach itself firmly to the skin because of the atmospheric pressure outside. This method is quite safe and pain-less. Some practice may be required to affix the cup properly. It may assist adhesion to apply olive oil or petroleum jelly to the lip of the jar prior to application.


After 10 to 15 minutes, press the skin around the edges of the cup to remove it. When air enters from the outside, the cup will fall off by itself. Do not use pressure on the cup, or the skin may tear. A meal may be taken one hour after cupping is done.

Points Of Application

Site Indications
Nape of neck Heaviness of eyelids, itch of eyes, bad breath.
Between the shoulder blades Pains in upper arms and throat; to relax cardiac orifice of stomach
Over the two posterior neck veins Tremor of head; and for conditions of the head (face, teeth, ears, eyes, throat, nose).
Legs Cleanses the blood; provokes menstrual flow.
Under the chin Teeth; throat; cleanses head and jaws.
Inner thighs Inflammatory masses in upper part of thigh; pustules; podagra; piles; bladder; uterus; renal congestion.
Front of thighs Inflammation of testicles; leg ulcers.
Behind hips Inflammatory conditions and ulcers of buttocks.
Behind knee (popliteal space) Aneurysm; chronic abscesses; septic ulcer of leg and foot.
Over ankle bone (malleoli) Suppressed menses; sciatica; podagra.
Over the outer side of hips Sciatica; podagra; piles; inguinal hernia; tissues within hip joints.
Over the buttocks, towards anus Draws humors from whole body, from head; benefits the intestines; cures suppressed menses.