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What’s up with the ‘Glass Cups’ in a TCM doctor’s treatment room?

What’s up with the ‘Glass Cups’ in a TCM doctor’s treatment room?

What is cupping therapy?

Cupping therapy is a treatment of Traditional Chinese Medicine in which glass cups are heated to create a vacuum against the skin. It increases surface blood flow which results in resolution of pain and a sense of well-being. The overall internal flow of Qi and blood circulation is enhanced, stimulating anti-inflammatory effects and promoting tissue recovery.

Depending on the cupping technique used, cups may be retained in position for a period of time (usually not more than 10 minutes), known as Stationary Cupping. When cups are repeatedly applied and removed multiple times this is called Flash Cupping. And cups that glide over a specific meridian with the aid of massage oil upon suction are known as Glide Cupping. *More than one technique maybe used in combination for different conditions.

How does cupping help?

Cupping is sometimes added in conjunction with acupuncture to enhance treatment results due to its ability to:

  • ž Expel cold-dampness
  • ž Clear heat toxins
  • ž Improve ‘Qi’ circulation
  • ž Remove blood stasis
  • ž Facilitate the energy flow in meridian channels
  • ž Restore Yin-Yang balance
  • ž Activate healthy blood circulation to remove congestion and stagnation
  • ž Combat fatigue
  • ž Alleviate excessive pressure on sensory organs and soft tissue, which leads to reduction in pain
  • ž Improve microcirculation in the muscles and alleviate adhesions

Thus, it is commonly used to provide drug-free pain relief for muscle aches, strain or tension, as well as maintenance of general wellness.

How is cupping therapy carried out?

In cupping therapy, a cotton ball soaked in alcohol is lit on fire before being placed inside a glass cup. Upon removal of the flame, the cup is quickly placed on a patient’s skin, creating a suction that draws the skin and underlying tissues up.

Some patients describe cupping as a suction force when the cup is placed on them, while some says it has a massage-like effect. After cupping, an achiness may be felt along the cupping region that will subside.


Why do cupping marks show up in different colours?

Cupping marks of different colours may be present after cupping therapy. The differences in colour reflect different diagnostic patterns and the state of patient’s well-being. For example, marks that are bright red in color mean there is yin or qi-yin deficiency or yin deficiency with heat.

These cupping marks usually lasts for a few days up to 2 weeks depending on a patient’s condition. Hence, for aesthetic reasons, patients may request to minimize marks beforehand.

What should the patient take note of after cupping?

  • Warmth and Hydration: Opt for warm or room temperature water. Keep treated areas covered and warm, away from direct exposure to wind or cold air.
  • Avoid bathing or showering immediately. Only do so 4 hours or more post-treatment.
  • Get adequate rest.


Is cupping therapy suitable for everyone?

Consult a TCM physician for an assessment of your condition to decide the most appropriate treatment for you. Cupping should generally be avoided on sensitive skin, skin with wounds, inflammation, infection, swelling and ulcers, and regions near the heart and large vessels, as well as in patients with high fever and convulsions. Cupping is not recommended for pregnant women.