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A History of Cupping

Ask anyone from East Asia to Eastern Europe and it’s likely many of them remember their grandmother giving them cupping on the back when they first showed signs of illness. Grandma was just the leading edge of a stream of medical wisdom flowing for thousands of years. Cupping is an ancient therapy used among numerous medical traditions all over the world. The earliest use of cupping in China can be read in A Handbook of Prescriptions for Emergencies by famous Taoist herbalist, Ge Hong in the 3rd Century AD. Some sources trace it back to the Qin Dynasty around 200 BC.  Globally, the use of cupping can be traced even further back to around 3000 BC in the Mediterranean region, including ancient Greece and Egypt.


This ancient medical tradition spread back and forth with so many other ideas and innovations along the Silk Road and became adapted to each locality. In the 1830s in the UK, for example, cupping was used in hospitals in to treat contagious diseases; it was so popular hospitals hired trained ‘cuppers’. Originally, cups were made from animal horns, in particular buffalo horn in East Asia, then pottery and bamboo. Today they are made out of thick glass, hard plastic and silicone.


How does it Work?

Cups are placed on target areas of injury, pain and stagnation, most frequently on the back, and the oxygen is drawn out of the cup, creating a vacuum that pulls the skin layers up into the void. With glass, horn, or bamboo cups oxygen is burned up with fire.  For safety reasons in our clinic we use hard plastic and silicone cups that uses a hand pump or hand pressure to create a vacuum.


By creating space between the skin layers and the fascia underneath it attracts fresh blood to the area and releases the Exterior, which includes our skin and natural defenses, and draws external pathogens to the surface and out through the pores. In Chinese Medicine we say that cupping stimulates and regulates the flow of Qi and Blood and can be used to relax the muscles, moves stagnant Qi and Blood and eases pain. These principles are also applied to affect positive change internally as well, making it effective in the treatment of digestive and menstrual imbalances.


Cupping triggers an immune response in the body, similar to Gua Sha (scraping), which allows your body to kick out the invading pathogens, particularly in the upper back and neck.  That’s why grandma put so many cups on your back when you came down with chills and fever!  Additionally, those stubborn musculo-skeletal injuries and aches and pains that never seem to go away are often due to poor blood circulation in the area, or what we call Blood Stagnation. Cupping helps move out the old blood and bring in the fresh, nourishing, healing blood and nutrients.  Pain and stiffness get cupped away, healing and flexibility move in.  When you see dark red or purple marks where the cup was applied, then you know it was an area of blood stagnation.  Don’t worry, the marks will fade away in a few days.  Well worth the relief from illness, pain and restriction movement!


  • Conditions treated by cupping: 

  • Common colds, coughs and flu

  • Chronic bronchitis and asthma  

  • Muscular pain and tension

  • Lower back pain

  • Frozen shoulder

  • Tennis elbow

  • Digestive weakness

  • Irregular menstruation and dysmenorrhea 

When to avoid cupping: 

  • Skin is showing signs of irritation, as in psoriasis, eczema or burns

  • During pregnancy avoid cupping on abdomen and lower back

  • Patient is very weak or infirm 


Furhad S, Sina RE, Bokhari AA. Cupping Therapy. 2023 Oct 30. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan–. PMID: 30855841.


Al-Bedah AMN, Elsubai IS, Qureshi NA, Aboushanab TS, Ali GIM, El-Olemy AT, Khalil AAH, Khalil MKM, Alqaed MS. The medical perspective of cupping therapy: Effects and mechanisms of action. J Tradit Complement Med. 2018 Apr 30;9(2):90-97. doi: 10.1016/j.jtcme.2018.03.003. PMID: 30963043; PMCID: PMC6435947.


Pritchard, Sarah. Chapter Eight. Tui Na: A Manual of Chinese Massage Therapy. Churchill Livingstone: Elsevier.  Toronto, Canada, 2010.


Cupping Therapy 拔罐 (báguàn)


Cupping add-on (20 min)


Cupping & Tuina Session (60 min)


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