Cupping Therapy/Massage

Therapeutic cupping or cupping massage is becoming more mainstream and you may have noticed athletes in the media who utilize this therapy for various sports injuries.

Possibly the most notable, Michael Phelps used this treatment modality during the Rio Olympics. He emerged prior to his race with the undeniable circular markings/bruising from cupping therapy on his back and shoulders. Cupping therapy is indicated for myofascial or muscle overuse injuries as sustained by swimmers due to the extreme overuse of shoulder muscles in an elite swimmer.

So what is cupping exactly?

Cupping is a therapeutic method involving the application of suction to create a vacuum effect on the skin. This is typically achieved through placing silicone or glass cups/jars directly on the skin.

What exactly is happening at the tissue level with the application of suction through cupping?

 Suction creates a negative pressure at the skin, causing rupture of capillaries (tiny blood vessels). This leads to the characteristic circular bruising that occurs with cupping. Physiologically this leads to an increase in blood flow to the tissue and a resultant influx of chemical mediators involved in resolving inflammation.

What conditions are appropriately treated by therapeutic cupping?

  • Muscle/myofacsial injuries from chronic overload such as neck/back pain
  • Sports injuries of muscle/myofacsial origin i.e. overuse of muscles, overtraining, tendonitis
  • Clinical trials have established effectiveness for low back/pelvic pain post-pregnancy, neck pain amongst office workers and osteoarthritis of the knee,



Li T, Li Y, Lin Y, Li K. Significant and sustaining elevation of blood oxygen induced by Chinese cupping therapy as assessed by near-infrared spectroscopy. Biomed Opt Express. 2016 Dec 12;8(1):223-229.

Farhadi K, Choubsaz M, Setayeshi K, Kameli M, Bazargan-Hejazi S, Heidari Zadie Z, Ahmadi A. The effectiveness of dry-cupping in preventing post-operative nausea and vomiting by P6 acupoint stimulation: A randomized controlled trial. Medicine (Baltimore). 2016 Sep;95(38):e4770.

Akbarzade M, Ghaemmaghami M, Yazdanpanahi Z, Zare N, Mohagheghzadeh A, Azizi A. Comparison of the Effect of Dry Cupping Therapy and Acupressure at BL23 Point on Intensity of Postpartum Perineal Pain Based on the Short Form of McGill Pain Questionnaire. J Reprod Infertil. 2016 Jan-Mar;17(1):39-46.

Akbarzadeh M, Ghaemmaghami M, Yazdanpanahi Z, Zare N, Azizi A, Mohagheghzadeh A. The Effect Dry Cupping Therapy at Acupoint BL23 on the Intensity of Postpartum Low Back Pain in Primiparous Women Based on Two Types of Questionnaires, 2012; A Randomized Clinical Trial. Int J Community Based Nurs Midwifery. 2014 Apr;2(2):112-20..

Teut M, Kaiser S, Ortiz M, Roll S, Binting S, Willich SN, Brinkhaus B. Pulsatile dry cupping in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee – a randomized controlled exploratory trial. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2012 Oct 12;12:184.

Kim TH, Kang JW, Kim KH, Lee MH, Kim JE, Kim JH, Lee S, Shin MS, Jung SY, Kim AR, Park HJ, Hong KE. Cupping for treating neck pain in video display terminal (VDT) users: a randomized controlled pilot trial. J Occup Health. 2012;54(6):416-26.

Lauche R, Cramer H, Choi KE, Rampp T, Saha FJ, Dobos GJ, Musial F. The influence of a series of five dry cupping treatments on pain and mechanical thresholds in patients with chronic non-specific neck pain–a randomised controlled pilot study. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2011 Aug 15;11:63