Fire Cupping - What You Need to Know

By Taylor Paganini, LMT

The History of Cupping

Cupping Therapy commonly referred to as Cupping, dates back thousands of years ago in various regions of the world such as China, the Middle East and Egypt. Therapeutic applications developed with the refinement of the cup itself and with the cultures that employed cupping as a health care technique to treat various ailments and disease(s). The earliest recorded use of cupping came from the famous alchemist and herbalist Ge Hong (281-341 A.D.), who popularized the saying “Acupuncture and cupping, more than half of the ills cured.”


What is Cupping?

Cupping is a therapeutic process using a glass, ceramic, bamboo, or silicone cups to create suction on the skin. Typically, the practitioner applies a flame to the inside of the cup to remove oxygen before placing the cup on the skin, creating negative pressure that draws the skin into the cup. Typically used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, cupping works with your body's meridian system to open any potential stagnation/blocked points for a better flow of Qi (energy). This will also help to rejuvenate specific meridians and organs that have or are not functioning at their maximum potential. Scientifically, cupping TCM techniques are known to activate our body's lymphatic system, improve blood circulation and internal tissue repair. On a physiological level, cupping activates the immune system and stimulates the mechanosensitive fibers, thus leading to a reduction in pain. There is preliminary scientific evidence that dry cupping is able to reduce musculoskeletal pain thus making it a popular and effective tool for Chiropractors, Acupuncturists, Massage Therapists, and Physical Therapists in the last 20 years. Proponents of cupping claim a broad scope of benefits from the practice.


Cupping is used to treat:

  • Lower respiratory issues/Bronchitis

  • Fibromyalgia

  • Fever

  • Back/knee/shoulder/neck pain

  • Improves circulation/blood flow

  • Dermatological diseases (herpes/acne)

  • Headaches/Migraines

  • Arthritis/Joint pain

  • Gastrointestinal disorders

  • Menstrual pain and disorders

  • Sore muscles

  • Nervous system/Immune system

  • Promote healing

  • Promote relaxation

  • Clear inflammation

Who Should Avoid Cupping Therapy?

Although cupping is generally considered safe, it’s not recommended for everyone. People with certain medical conditions should avoid cupping, specifically those with the following conditions:

  • Epilepsy

  • Hemophilia

  • History of Stroke

  • Eczema

  • Psoriasis

  • Hypersenstive skin

  • Skin ulcers

  • Heart disease/Heart failure

  • Certain Medications - specifically blood thinners

Other factors to consider are:

  • Age: Cupping should either be avoided or very closely monitored on senior and children due to the fragility of their skin.

  • Pregnancy: Avoid cupping in the abdomen and lower back areas.


The Different Types of Cupping

The traditional approach to cupping is "fire cupping", where the healthcare practitioner will light a fire source, place it inside the cup and then removing the fire source before placing the cup against open skin. Not to worry, it's not hot - it works with pressure. As the air inside the cup is heated, it increases with kinetic energy and expands. So when the TCM physician places it on the skin, it cools and a vacuum is created, and when it is applied to the skin, the tissue is drawn up into the cup.


A common technique used with this fire cupping is called the sliding cups technique. It is traditionally performed on large muscle groups of the back to treat pain and muscle spasms. Massage oil is applied to the skin prior to the cups being placed, which allows the cups to glide easily over the surface of the skin.


A more modern approach to cupping is called “air cupping” which is an alternative to fire cupping. A handheld suction pump is used to remove air from the cups, creating the vacuum without heat.


Both these techniques increase the blood flow, loosens the fascia or connective tissue, and is thought to stimulate healing. It is similar to the way deep tissue massage can be used to break up scar tissue and reduce pain.


How many sessions would I need?

The number and frequency of cupping sessions changes and varies from patient to patient based on:

  • Age

  • Severity of their medical/health conditions

  • How their body responds to the treatment

Some patients may feel a lot of relief from the first session (or first few); others may only experience the benefits after 6-12 sessions or more. Generally, someone who has had a health condition for years will need 2-3 treatments a week for the first 4 weeks, and then gradually reduce to once per week.


Post treatment and Potential side effects

Post-treatment, the notorious circular marks caused by the bursting of capillaries may appear on your skin. These bruise-like discolorations do not hurt and typically heal on their own within 7 to 10 days. Infrequent side effects may include skin infection, burns, scar formation, nausea, anemia, headaches, and dizziness. Many of these potential risks are preventable, and researchers generally consider cupping therapy to be a safe practice


Reach out to our practice for more information on Cupping frontdesk@washparkchiro.com


Taylor Paganini L.M.T, O.T is certified in Myofascial Release Technique, Trigger Point Therapy, AMMA, and Prenatal massage. Also certified in flame Cupping. Her techniques are to help unblock energy in the body and bring better mobility and functionality to the muscular and nervous systems in order to reconnect the mind/body experience.