How does cupping help patients?

The ways in which cupping helps aren’t completely understood. Because there are a lot of blood vessels in the skin, the suction created by cupping causes the capillaries (tiny blood vessels) to dilate (widen) and burst. This is believed to increase blood flow in the area in which the cup is placed.

Another way cupping is thought to help is by opening the pores of the skin to allow the body to release toxins.

In a review of studies on cupping, researchers found that it was more effective than medication in relieving back and neck pain. Other conditions that cupping is said to help include:

  • Respiratory (breathing) problems, such as bronchitis, asthma, and congestion
  • Arthritis
  • Gastrointestinal disorders
  • Swelling
  • Headaches
  • Herpes zoster
  • Musculoskeletal pain
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Infertility

What are the side effects of cupping?

The placement of cups on the skin can cause the following side effects:

  • Bruises (this is the most visible effect)
  • Soreness/discomfort
  • Burns (caused by hot cups)
  • Skin infections

Certain patients should not have a cupping procedure, including people who have:

  • Underlying health conditions
  • Inflamed skin
  • A high fever or convulsions

Pregnant women and people who bleed easily should also avoid cupping.

Researchers stress that conventional treatment should be used first for any condition, and that cupping is intended as a “complementary” or “alternative” treatment. Further study is needed to determine how cupping actually benefits patients.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/10/2017.


  • National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. In the News: Cupping Accessed 4/26/2017.
  • Yuan Q, Guo T, Lie L, et al. Traditional Chinese Medicine for Neck Pain and Low Back Pain: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. PLoS One. 2015; 10(2): e0117146.
  • National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. The Science of Cupping Accessed 4/26/2017.
  • Acupuncture Today. Cupping Accessed 4/26/2017.

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