What's It Like to Get Cupping?

A First-Hand Experience with the Traditional Chinese Medicine Procedure

Eastern cupping treatment
Getty Images/Ellery Chua

Cupping (拔罐, báguàn) is a form of Traditional Chinese Medicine in which the practitioner places heated glass cups or pressurized plastic cups on the skin to create suction which drains excess fluids and toxins.

What Happens During Cupping?

After months of shoulder pain that didn’t go away, my acupuncturist decided I should give cupping a try. First, I had a brief five-minute consultation with the practitioner in which she asked about my general health and what I wanted to be treated.

She also took my pulse.

After the consultation, an assistant directed me to a chair. I was instructed to have a seat. A small steam machine pushed a steady stream of hot, scented steam at my shoulder. The scent was created from herbs that are heated. The warm steam helped to relax my shoulder and felt good though the steam began to make me sweat after about 10 minutes.

Does Cupping Hurt?

After 15 minutes of the steam treatment, the practitioner took a plastic cup and placed it on my shoulder. Then, she used a handheld device similar to a pump to pressurize the cup against my skin. My skin felt tight and slightly pinched but it didn’t hurt. She placed four cups on the front, side and back of my shoulder.

After a minute, the cups felt like they would ‘pop’ off. They almost immediately made purple rings on my skin. The practitioner also placed acupuncture needles in my shoulder, neck, and back.

After two minutes, she removed the plastic cups to reveal four purple circles whose color and size resembled a slice of salami.

Some TCM clinics still use the traditional cups which are glass cups that are heated with fire before being placed on the skin. The cups are most commonly placed on the back but can also be placed in other areas.

Does Cupping Work?

Initially, the cupping relieved some of my shoulder pain and my muscles felt much more relaxed. The circles left by the cups looked horrible but they didn’t hurt. After two days, some of them started to turn brown and my pain was nearly gone. After six days, two circles disappeared. After eight days, all the circles disappeared.

While cupping isn’t for everyone (always consult a physician before trying this technique), I personally found the experience to be worthwhile.

More TCM Techniques

  • Raw Foods in Chinese Medicine
  • Tongue Diagnosis in Traditional Chinese Medicine
  • What is Moxibustion?
  • The Benefits of Chinese Tuina