Halloween is right around the corner, so rather than sharing the simplest health tip as we normally do, we’re sharing the scariest one! There are so many frightening health practices to choose from – think placenta supplements, water fasting, enemas, and pancha karma (therapeutic purging) – but the one we’ve landed on is the practice of cupping. Cupping is a holistic therapy that gives us the creeps just thinking about it. Using hot glass cups, this practice can leave skin bruised, red and inflamed, making us wonder: Are the benefits worth the scare factor?

The Low Down: Cupping is one of the oldest healing methods of traditional Chinese medicine. Its earliest recorded use dates back to the early fourth century with the Taoist alchemist and herbalist, Ge Hong. Originally, hollowed-out animal horns were used, but today the cups are commonly made of thick glass or plastic. Typically, the cups are heated with fire to create suction, and placed over targeted points or meridian pathways. The suction that is created then stimulates the blood and tissue below. This stimulation is believed to ‘open up’ the meridian channels, bringing relief from particular ailments.

How it works: There are a few ways in which cupping is performed, differing based on the method used of creating suction in the cup. The most common practice is to warm the cups using an alcohol-soaked cotton ball or other flammable substance, which is lit and then placed inside the cup. Burning a substance inside the cup removes all the oxygen, creating a vacuum. Once the vacuum has been created, the cup is turned upside down and placed over the targeted area. The skin is then pulled upward inside of the glass. Drawing up the skin is believed to open up the skin’s pores, stimulating blood and lymph flow and the excretion of toxins.

The Benefits: Similar to acupuncture, cupping is said to help stimulate and open up meridian pathways. Meridians are the paths in which life energy (chi/qi) flows throughout the body, feeding and supporting the functioning of all tissues and organs. By opening up the pathways, balance and realignment of the qi can occur, creating an avenue for nutrients to be taken in by the tissues, and toxins to be drawn out of the body. Traditionally, cupping has been used to address respiratory conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia and upper-respiratory infections. Other common uses have been for arthritis, gastrointestinal disorders and pain. Some practitioners also use cupping to address knots and deep scar tissue found in muscles and connective tissue, and for the relief of back and neck pain, stiff muscles and even migraines. Cupping is commonly combined with acupuncture to maximize its effectiveness.

Would you or Wouldn’t you: Although cupping is considered relatively safe, it often causes swelling and bruising of the skin. When the skin is drawn up under the cup, the blood vessels at the surface of the skin are stretched, which leads to small, circular bruises. While painless, the bruises typically last for a few days, making it imperative to stay covered up. What do you think? Is sporting red polka-dot skin worth it?

We want to hear from you! Have you tried any other ‘scary’ health practices? What did you try, how did it work out, and would you do it again? Head on down to the comments below, and start divulging!

From our friends


  1. I’ve used cupping a couple time for muscle pain and my spinal injury. I’ve only used it in conjunction with chinese chiropractor massages and I think it’s helpful! The cups are applied all around the larger area of my injury, and I’ve noticed that the area that hurts the most always turns the most bruised after cupping. Apparently it’s because that’s where there is the most blockage in the blood circulation, so the suction helps with its release.

    Marissa | 10.30.2014 | Reply
  2. I’ve been doing cupping at least once a month last year at my massage therapist/acupuncture and it’s made wonders for my very tense and sore back and neck. She uses the modern in silicone and only uses coconut oil on the skin first and then she puts on the cups and some sort of vacuum happens. It leave bruises at some places and not always, she says that when you need it the most. However, then minutes with the cups help more than one hour of painful massage. It really great! (and I’ve tried everything for years for my sore back and neck)…..

    Louise | 10.30.2014 | Reply
  3. Nothing to be fearful of when it comes to cupping. It sounds worst than it actually is. I’ve had it performed on me periodically when receiving treatments for various ailments related to sports injuries and I’ve found it to be very helpful when coupled with acupuncture.

  4. I did this a few times when I lived in Beijing. The Chinese I knew who were doing this often would go if they felt they were starting to feel ill as they thought it would help ward off a cold. Some also would do it with the changing of the seasons. There isn’t enough room on the body to cup all of that smog out of you when you live there!

    Amber | 11.04.2014 | Reply
  5. Cupping is nothing to be scared of! I am an acupuncturist and do a lot of cupping in my practice. The patient is almost always face down because cupping is typically done on the back, so you won’t see anything. You’ll feel a very strong sucking sensation and great relief afterwards! It’s like a reverse massage that creates a lot of circulation.

    Tracy Ng | 07.23.2015 | Reply
  6. I LOVE cupping! It’s totally not scary (apart from the marks but they fade away pretty fast) and it feels amazing afterwards. I’ve used it on a number of occasions.

    Ameena Meer | 10.28.2019 | Reply
  7. Cupping is completely safe and very effective, and there are other methods for its use besides fire cupping; plastic cups are also used, along with a device that creates the vacuum with a few simple pushes of a button. The ‘bruises’ rarely ever hurt, and there is no need to ‘cover up’ after doing it. I’ve used it after a car accident and for severe muscle pain and inflammation due to scoliosis. It’s such a relief to feel the tension dissipate and circulation increase. You really need to show a lot less bias in your articles, maybe interview a practitioner and get some actual inside information on the method, or those who’ve experienced the healing from cupping and can attest to it’s effectiveness and relief instead of just reading about it and calling it ‘scary’.

Leave A Comment