Health Benefits of Vacuum Cupping Treatments

If you are checking out the menu of services offered at your local remedial massage clinic then it may be that you see modalities that you may or may not be aware of or tried such as deep tissue massage or trigger point therapy. At the bottom of the list of some therapeutic massage is an item referred to as a "Cupping"

But what is Cupping and why are more therapists incorporating cupping within their bodywork?


Cupping therapy involves the use of suction applied to the surface of the skin with the objective of drawing in and holding inside the cup the skin and the superficial layers. From a TCM viewpoint cupping is based on the meridian theory and the use of vacuum cups removes stagnation and restrictions in the body to allow chi to flow. From a western medicine approach, cupping may activate the lymphatic system, improves blood circulation and release muscular restrictions on both the superficial and deep levels.

There are two different uses for cupping, one is stationary and the other is in massage. Stationary cupping is the more traditional approach used in TCM where cups are placed on the body, a vacuum is applied (either through use of a manual vacuum device or by heating the air in cup, usually by a candle). A number of cups would be used and left on the body for around 5 to 10 minutes and this application of cupping leaves the tell-tale cupping circular marks on the body post treatment.

The massage cupping is becoming more popular for western therapists, a vacuum is created in a cup in a similar manner but the body has been prepared with sufficient oil that the cup can be moved around the skin. The movement of the cup needs to be slow and smooth so that the suction is maintained and the massage can be considered almost akin to skin rolling. Virtually any part of the body can in theory be cupped so long as a cup can be applied flat to the skin to maintain the vacuum. However, cupping tends to be used on larger flatter surfaces such as the back or muscles such as quadriceps, hamstrings or calves. The level of suction required tends to vary between different locations, for example, the greater vacuums would be used on the back compared with the thigh.

The Benefits of Cupping
There are many claims made about the potential benefits that cupping can bring. It has to be said that some of these have more scientific basis and validity than others. There is little doubt though that the action of suction will have a local impact on the physiology of the muscles, other soft tissues and the circulatory systems. Some practitioners claim that the extent of the vacuum can impact up to about 10cms from the cup.

Therapists suggest that it may offer benefits for :

  • treatment of pain
  • soft tissue dysfunction such as tight muscles or trigger points
  • lung disorders including asthma and chronic coughing
  • gastrointestinal problems
  • reduction of swelling and improvements to the circulation of blood and lymph

However it should be mentioned that occasionally people can suffer a reaction after cupping and cupping is contraindicated in certain conditions such as fever or inflammation. It is advisable to only consult therapists who have received sufficient training to understand the impact on the body of this modality. For example, if you have never been cupped before then it is likely that the therapist would only ever commence with a light to medium vacuum and they would not leave the cups on for an extended period of time.

If you have a reaction post treatment, then please let your therapist know and they will be able to advise you on the most suitable course of action for you.