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Fire cupping


In fire cupping the air inside the cup is gently warmed to produce a vacuum.


A therapy using glass or plastic cups of various sizes which are placed on parts of the body and held in place using suction for a few minutes. The British Cupping Society describes cupping as “an ancient medical treatment that relies upon creating a local suction to mobilise blood flow in order to promote healing” (

There are 2 main ways of obtaining suction.  Fire cupping is where a source of heat is briefly held inside a glass cup warming the air inside the cup and producing a vacuum.  Then there is the more modern method of creating a vacuum by a simple hand held plastic pump which draws the air out of the cup and allows suction to occur.

The number of cups used will depend on the area to be covered.  Sometimes cups are slid around in a type of massage, using massage oil.

More about the history and concept of cupping

Cupping as a treatment has been known for thousands of years.  Nowadays the ancient method of cupping is used either as a stand alone treatment or in conjunction with natural or orthodox treatments. In my case I will either use cupping therapy on its own or to enhance an acupuncture treatment after discussion with the patient.  The goal of cupping traditionally is to promote better metabolism and circulation and therefore to enhance the body’s curative powers.  As the cups adhere to the skin they produce a slight irritation and redness which over the next few days encourages a reaction in that area and brings the body’s healing powers to that area.

It was a British Neurologist called Henry Head who discovered last century the link via nerve pathways from skin to deep organs.  This led to the observation that therapy like cupping must have an influence on the internal areas.  (Manz 2009)

Cupping is widely practised in the middle and far East as well as in the West and is mainly associated with treatment of respiratory conditions such as the common cold, influenza and chest infections where cups are located on the upper back area and chest and musculoskeletal conditions affecting areas such as shoulders and neck  and mid or lower back, cups being located in the various areas.

Has any research been done into Cupping as a therapy?

Yes there are many interesting trials and reviews on cupping available to read on line.  Go to  and search under cupping therapy.  Here are a few I picked out:

A recent Chiropractic study found  550 clinical trials of various standards in China showing a wide range of usage of cupping.  The study concluded that there seems to be good potential for cupping but more trials would be needed to prove this scientifically. (BMC 2010)

A clinical trial was carried out in Beijing to compare fire cupping with the modern vacuum cupping.  10 women and 3 men took part and had fire cupping to one side of the back and vacuum-cupping to the other. The results were the same, although more patients preferred the fire cupping.  (Medical Acupuncture 2011)

A journal for the American Pain Society investigated the effectiveness of cupping as a traditional method of treating musculoskeletal pain, in patients with carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) in an open randomized trial with 52 outpatients .The study concluded that cupping therapy may be effective in relieving the pain and other symptoms related to CTS. The efficacy of cupping in the long-term management of CTS and related mechanisms remains to be clarified.  (Journal of pain 2009)


Manz, H. The Art of Cupping; Stuttgart: Thieme 2009

Huijuan Cao, Mei Han, Xun Li, Shangjuan Dong, Yongmei Shang, Qian Wang, Shu Xu and Jianping Liu* Clinical research evidence of cupping therapy in China: a systematic literature review BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2010,

The Journal of Pain Volume 10, Issue 6 , Pages 601-608, Effects of Traditional Cupping Therapy in Patients With Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: A Randomized Controlled Trial. June 2009

Tao Huang, Weibo Zhang, Xin Huang, Yuying Tian, Guangjun Wang, Yuqin Zhang, Lu Wang, and Gerhard Litscher. Medical Acupuncture Comparing the Efficacy of Traditional Fire-Cupping and High-Tech Vacuum-Cupping Using Laser Doppler Imaging at an Acupuncture Clinic in Beijing . March 2011, 23(1): 13-18. doi:10.1089/acu.2010.0770.