Woman lying facebown on a massage table receiving a dry cupping treatment

What is Cupping Therapy?

pt HealthModalities

And is it Right For You?

If you watched the Rio 2016 Olympics, you may have noticed some of the athletes – including Michael Phelps – sporting some interesting bruising patterns.

This circular red/purple mark is the result of a technique called cupping.

Today we’ll discuss what cupping is, where it originated, and how it works.

What is Cupping?

Clinician applies cupping cups to patient's back

Cupping is a technique that involves applying a glass, plastic, or silicone cup to the skin and creating a vacuum inside using heat, a squeezable bulb, or a suction gun.

There are different kinds of cupping, including:

  • Wet cupping: Creating small cuts in the skin
  • Fire cupping: Using fire to heat the cup and create a vacuum before placing the cup onto the skin

Wet cupping and fire cupping are techniques are not common practice in physiotherapy clinics and can be unsafe if not performed correctly.

Dry Cupping

The form of cupping most commonly used by healthcare practitioners in Canada is called dry cupping.

A glass, plastic, or silicone cup is placed on the skin where the air within the cup is removed causing a vacuum effect.

Dry cupping is a safe and beneficial technique. In clinical studies, patients with neck and shoulder pain experienced a 61% decrease in pain after receiving dry cupping therapy!

Where Does Cupping Come From?

Although the true origin of cupping remains unknown, the first recorded description of the technique was in Eygpt in 1550 B.C.E., as a method of removing foreign matter from the body.

Cupping has been used by most cultures at one time or another, and was even used by American physicians up until the late 1800’s.

After spending some time in the shadows, cupping has re-entered the spotlight in Western medicine and is popping up in physiotherapy, massage and chiropractic clinics throughout Canada – including at pt Health clinics!

How Does Cupping Work?

Cupping increases the blood flow to sore areas in muscles, providing important nutrients to the area that promote healing.

It can also provide pain relief by exciting small nerves inside muscles so that they release pain-killing chemicals.

What Are the Benefits of Cupping?

Cupping can provide pain relief and help ease the symptoms of many common disorders of the bones and muscles.

You may benefit from cupping if you suffer from neck, shoulder, low back or foot pain, and it’s even been shown to be effective for osteoarthritis!

Clinicians Trained in Cupping

Are you interested in talking to a provider trained in cupping near you?

Call and book an appointment with these fully trained practitioners today:


Nova Scotia


British Columbia

New Brunswick


About the Author

Amanda is a 1st-year physiotherapy student at McMaster University. When she’s not busy interning here at pt Health, Amanda enjoys rock-climbing and hiking Hamilton’s many trails.

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