What Is Cupping Therapy? Facts, Benefits, and Side Effects: Does It Hurt?

What Is Cupping Therapy? Facts, Benefits, and Side Effects: Does It Hurt?


Have you ever noticed those peculiar round marks on the skin that some top-performing athletes have? Far from being random bruises, these marks result from an ancient healing technique known as cupping therapy. In this post, we will explain how cupping therapy works, its benefits, and how it can help you improve your health and well-being.

Cupping therapy is the practice of placing cups on the body to create suction. This enhances blood circulation, relaxes the muscles, and offers other potential benefits. Now, as interesting as this sounds, you are probably wondering, “Does cupping therapy hurt?”, “Is it a good and effective treatment?”, “what about the bruises and side effects?”

Hopefully, we can answer these concerns right here, as we will provide a comprehensive overview of cupping, detailing its benefits, techniques, and some considerations you should keep in mind. At P1, we are your go-to sports training and recovery center, with an all-star expert team to offer the best health enhancement treatments, including cupping therapy sessions.

What is Cupping Therapy?

Definition and Historical Background

As described above, cupping therapy involves placing cups on the skin to create suction, drawing blood to the surface, and promoting healing. As this creates a relaxing effect, it also relieves muscle tension and helps with pain relief. As cupping is also a good complementary treatment for injury recovery, nowadays it has become a popular choice for top athletes and sports performers.

But even though it was only in recent years incorporated into Western health culture, cupping therapy is not a new practice. In fact, it is a millenary health practice that dates back to different places in ancient Middle Eastern cultures. The Chinese have been practicing cupping since as early as the 4th century B.C. In Egypt, evidence of cupping practices was found in the Ebers Papyrus, one of the oldest and most important medical papyri of ancient Egypt, dated around 1550 B.C.

These ancient cultures have been using cupping to treat various ailments, ranging from musculoskeletal issues to respiratory disorders. Cupping is said to promote the flow of vital energy, known as "qi" or "chi."

Back to our modern times, for Western medicine, cupping remained a relatively unknown practice until recent years. One event that sparked interest in cupping was during the 2016 Olympics when American swimmer Michael Phelps was spotted with distinctive circular marks on his body. If you are wondering about the benefits of cupping, the fact is that Phelps went on to win five gold medals and a silver medal in those Olympic games.

How Cupping Therapy Works

But how does exactly cupping help athletes and sports performers? The science of how cupping therapy works lies in its ability to stimulate circulation and relieve muscle tension. Cups create a suction on the skin, which dilates blood vessels and improves blood flow to targeted areas. Think of it as a vacuum that pulls blood to the surface, enriching the area with oxygen and nutrients which aids in healing and muscle relaxation.

Cupping increases blood flow to specific target areas of the body, bringing more nutrients and oxygen to those tissues. This aids the healing process and relieves muscle aches. When applied, the skin’s rise into the cup stimulates the lymphatic system, which helps reduce inflammation and promotes cellular repair by removing toxins from the body.

Benefits of Cupping Therapy

Physical Health Benefits

The benefits of cupping therapy have been widely discussed over the years, but scientific research on the topic is still limited. However, due to its recent rise in popularity, some science-backed studies have begun to surface using randomized control trials and small clinical research.

With this into account, cupping as a wellness and recovery treatment offers a series of benefits, which include:

  • Pain Relief: Cupping can alleviate various types of pain, such as back pain, neck pain, migraines, and rheumatism. By reducing inflammation and promoting tissue repair, it can reduce discomfort associated with these conditions.
  • Muscle Relaxation:  As the vacuum effect helps to lift the muscle away from the fascia layer, cupping helps release tension and tightness in muscles. This proves to be especially relieving for sports performers and athletes as it promotes relaxation and flexibility.
  • Improved Circulation: By enhancing blood flow, cupping therapy aids nutrient and oxygen delivery to tissues. This is especially helpful for speeding up the healing process.

People who want to extend the benefits of Cupping can combine it with other alternative medicine practices. For instance, at P1 we also work with Dry needling, a popular complementary treatment to target the deeper layers of muscle.

Mental and Emotional Health Benefits

As a soothing practice, cupping therapy can be beneficial for mental and emotional health. Just like other well-known relaxation activities like yoga, or mindfulness, a good and calming cupping session can improve quality of life, reduce stress, and promote peace of mind.

To explain further, let’s talk a bit about the brain’s chemistry. Cupping can help people suffering from chronic stress, as it may reduce cortisol levels. Known as the “stress hormone”, cortisol is highly linked to the emotional states of the brain, which this type of treatment can help to regulate.

As we know, a relaxed body helps to relax the mind. When people are facing emotional and mental challenges, that situation can result in elevated cortisol levels, which may contribute to anxiety and depression. As an aid for these situations, the relaxing effects of cupping have helped patients to reduce stress. Also, some patients have reported that cupping helps them improve their sleep, thus improving their resting habits, mood, and overall wellness.

Types of Cupping Therapy

There are two main types of cupping therapy: the most widely used is dry cupping and then there is wet cupping. Let’s explain the difference between these two.

Dry Cupping

Dry cupping involves creating suction within cups placed on the skin's surface without the use of heat or moisture. The therapist may apply the cups and move them across the body, without the aid of any additional lubricants or skin treatments. 

Dry cupping is used to address musculoskeletal issues, such as muscle pain and stiffness. Because it's the most comfortable type of cupping therapy, it is the most commonly practiced method.

Wet Cupping

Wet cupping is a bit more complex than dry cupping, and is less suited for those who are sensitive to the sight of blood. Also known as "Hijama," wet cupping involves creating small incisions on the skin before applying the cups. According to ancient Chinese medicine, these incisions help to remove stagnant blood and toxins from the body.

The wet cupping method is believed to have detoxifying effects and is often used to treat chronic conditions and promote overall health. Because of its specific nature, wet cupping requires specific sterilization practices to ensure the procedure is safe and hygienic.

Cupping Therapy Techniques

Now, we will go through the techniques used in cupping to achieve the vacuum effect. These techniques can be categorized into two: fire cupping and manual vacuum cupping.

Fire Cupping

You may have seen that some cup therapists use fire to create a vacuum effect on cups. In this technique, the cupping therapist utilizes heat to create suction within the cups before applying them to the skin. This method draws the skin into the cup more strongly due to the heat, enhancing blood circulation even more.

As fire cupping adds a thermal element, it helps to relax muscles and smooth out fascia more effectively. This is why this technique is particularly effective for deep tissue massage and targeting specific areas of tension and pain.

Manual Vacuum Cupping

The Manual Vacuum technique uses a hand-operated pump to create suction, allowing more control over the amount of suction and the pressure applied. As the cupping therapist has more control over the vacuum generated by the cups, this technique is preferred by individuals with sensitive skin or those who prefer a gentler approach.

Manual vacuum cupping is more common in contemporary clinical settings, due to being safer and easier to apply, while also focusing on the patient’s comfort.

Side Effects of Cupping Therapy

Common Side Effects

As we have gone through the facts and effects of cupping, we have also referenced temporary bruising. While these circular marks are perhaps the most common side effect of cupping therapy, they are usually painless and do not affect mobility or overall comfort. The marks from cupping are superficial, a harmless result of the suction of the cups. They typically fade within a few days without any long-term repercussions, and they do not interfere with daily activities or generate any physical restrictions.

Said this, if these marks are a concern to you, there is nothing to worry about. At P1, our expert cupping therapists ensure a smooth treatment. Our staff provides aftercare instructions to patients, so they can effectively manage any marks on the skin following a session.

When to Avoid Cupping Therapy

As with any health treatment, there are some limitations to when it is recommended to go to a cupping therapy session. Cupping should be avoided in areas where the skin is broken or has an active infection. 

Also, it is worth noting that there are specific conditions where cupping is not advised. For instance, it is not recommended for those with severe anemia or blood disorders.

Pregnant women should consult their healthcare provider before undergoing cupping.


Today, cupping therapy stands out as an appealing option for those interested in complementary health treatments. Its holistic approach addresses both the physical and mental aspects of wellness, offering benefits that range from muscle relaxation to stress reduction.

If you're intrigued by how this ancient practice can benefit you, consider reaching out to our team at P1. Our experienced therapists are equipped to guide you through personalized sessions, ensuring you receive the most effective treatment tailored to your specific needs.

Contact our team today and take the first step towards a healthier, more balanced life. Cupping is a safe and relaxing practice that can help you recover faster, perform better, and improve your overall well-being. Let us help you explore the benefits of cupping therapy and support you in achieving your health goals.

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