How does cupping work?

With the previous publicity that cupping has received from professional athletes like Michael Phelps, I’m often asked in clinic “How does cupping work?”[1] Clearly, when you create a vacuum around a muscle the tissue below will become stretched. This mechanism breaks scar tissue and helps to reform the inflamed painful muscle. This article will review the lesser understood mechanism of cupping detoxification. As a traditional practice, when you cup a patient the color of the bruising that occurs informs on the degree and severity of the injury can be seen in the color of the bruising that occurs. This bruising is also a sign that the local tissue has been detoxified.

Just what do we mean by “detoxification?”

I’m glad you asked. The term toxin is any substance that is capable of inducing antibody formation and tissue death, this also includes substances that your own body produces.[2] In short, detoxification is the process of getting harmful toxins out of our system. We commonly understand that the kidneys, liver, and lymphatic system are our main sources of detoxification. The skin is actually an important detoxification organ. In fact, when the skin’s detoxification system becomes inhibit it can contribute to diseases like diabetes mellitus.[3]

Cupping therapy benefits

The skin detoxifies the body in a similar fashion to the kidneys, in that both organs depend on blood circulating through capillaries. That’s right, your skin works in a very similar way to your kidneys. When a painful muscle is cupped the skin is also cupped. This vacuum on the skin forces an increased amount of blood through the local capillaries thereby enhancing the skins detoxification system.[4]

Article Authored by
Dr. Mark VanOtterloo LAc
Doctor of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine