Cupping on back

Cupping is the use of a cup, usually made of glass, to create a vacuum on the skin to help relieve tight muscles and conditions where there is pain.


The therapy has been used for thousands of years in the East, the earliest record having been found written on silk in an ancient tomb. It was also mentioned in the Ebers Papyrus, a preserved document from ancient Egypt dating from 1550 BCE. During the Tang Dynasty (618-907) cupping was widely used for Tuberculosis.

The Greek physician Hippocrates spoke of two types of cups; a long thin one to use for accumulations of fluid and a wider short one for pain relief. At the time of Hippocrates cups were used for many conditions such as chest complaints and gynaecological conditions including a prolapsed uterus. In Traditional Chinese Medicine history cups were made of hollowed animal horns and later bamboo and then glass.

Much more recently, the subject has been in the news as celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Anderson have spoken about their use of cupping therapy. You may also have seen the pictures of round marks on Michael Phelps’ shoulder as he had the therapy to relieve pain during the Olympics. The marks were a result of bruising on the skin which can result from this treatment, but these will clear within a week to ten days.

How is it done?

Cups are placed on areas of the body by creating a vacuum. A flame is placed briefly inside the cup before the cup is applied to the skin. The cup is then left there for a period of time and then removed. Sliding cupping can also be used, which involves putting massage oil onto the skin and moving the cup along an area such as the back. This feels like a gentle massage.

Cups can be placed on the skin in a single location or several cups can be placed along a muscle in the body. Different size cups are used, depending on the area to be treated.

What is it used for?

Primarily, cupping is used to treat tight painful muscles.

I use it in my clinic alongside acupuncture and Tui Na (traditional Chinese massage): you can read more about these on this page.

I have found cupping to be especially effective for:

  • Low back pain
  • Sciatica
  • Frozen Shoulder

They can also be used on the back over the chest area to help alleviate chesty coughs.

If you would like to discuss this or any other treatment, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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