Have you heard of cupping?

You may have seen athletes on television with odd, circle-shaped marks on their shoulder or low back, similar to an octopus’s suction cups.  These marks were especially prominent during the 2016 Olympic Games, which helped raise awareness worldwide when U.S. athletes bore cupping suction marks on their backs!

However, cupping therapy is thousands of years old.  Historical records date cupping therapy to Egypt and the Middle East area over 5,000 years ago.  Cupping therapy is a form of alternative medicine in which a therapist places small, round, special cups on the skin for several minutes.  The cups are typically made of glass, plastic, or silicone.  The therapist may leave the cups in place for a few minutes or move them around your skin. 

The pressure inside the cups is altered to create suction on the skin where they rest.  The suction created by the cups is thought to help improve blood flow, reduce inflammation, and promote relaxation.  It is also believed to help alleviate pain and other symptoms.  Cupping therapy is usually done in conjunction with massage therapy, acupuncture, chiropractic care, and more. 

How does cupping work?

Cupping therapy begins by creating a negative vacuum within the empty space inside the cup.  When placed directly onto the skin, this negative vacuum applies suction onto the skin.  This upwards pressure pulls the skin and underlying tissue toward the empty space in the cup.  

In traditional Chinese medicine, this traction effect is thought to stimulate the flow of qi (pronounced “chee”), a vital energy that is believed to circulate through the body in traditional Chinese medicine. 

It is believed that an imbalance or blockage in the flow of qi can lead to illness or pain.  Cupping therapy is thought to help restore balance to the flow of qi by pulling it where it needs to go the most – to an injured or deficient area of the body – thereby promoting healing and relieving a person’s symptoms.

The deep dive into how cupping works...

From a Western perspective, there are several theories about how Chinese cupping therapy may work, but the exact mechanisms are not fully understood.  The suction involved in cupping stimulates local blood flow.  This action stimulates the body’s antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and neurotransmitter regulation areas via a molecule called heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1).  What does that mean for the patient?  In short, stimulating the flow of blood and lymphatic fluids reduces inflammation and improves circulation near an injured area. 

Additionally, cupping may also help to stimulate the release of endorphins, which are “feel good” chemicals that help to reduce pain and promote feelings of well-being. 

It is also thought that cupping therapy may help to loosen muscles, reduce tension, and improve flexibility by alleviating hypertonic (tight) muscles directly under the skin.  

Cupping can be applied on many parts of the body, but not all.  Although the therapeutic cups may come in a variety of sizes, cups cannot be placed directly over a joint.  Therapists commonly apply cups to areas of the body with significant muscle and soft tissues including the neck, back, between the shoulders, chest, hips, buttocks, thighs, calves, and/or abdomen.  

More research is needed to fully understand how cupping therapy works, but the results in our office focus on improved circulation and blood flow to speed the healing process of an injured area.  Not to mention it feels great on tight, sore muscles! 

Who can benefit from cupping?

Our office uses cupping therapy in the Bay City Area for many patients.  It is a gentle, noninvasive, and relaxing form of treatment. 

There are many conditions where patients may use cupping as part of their treatment approach.  Cupping therapy is largely used to treat conditions that cause muscle pain, soreness, and stiffness. 

Some examples include migraine, tension-type headaches, neck pain, lower back pain, stress, fibromyalgia, carpal tunnel syndrome, exercise and sports recovery, and athletic injuries

These are just a few common conditions we use cupping as a treatment therapy!

While people may find relief from these conditions with cupping therapy, it is important to note that the effectiveness of cupping therapy has not been extensively studied with every condition.  

Is cupping appropriate for me?

Cupping therapy is generally considered to be safe when performed by a trained and experienced practitioner.  At Lake Effect Chiropractic, we first analyze and examine your condition to evaluate if cupping is a suitable therapy for you.  There are certain people who may not be good candidates for cupping therapy, or who should use caution when considering it. 


These include:

  • People with certain medical conditions: Cupping therapy may not be suitable for people taking certain medications or diagnosed with certain medical conditions such as bleeding disorders, immune system disorders, delicate or fragile skin, open wounds, or skin infections.  It is important to inform your therapist of any medical conditions you have before undergoing cupping therapy.
  • Pregnant women: Cupping therapy may not be recommended for pregnant women due to hormone fluctuations, skin changes, and alterations in circulation. 
  • Children: Cupping therapy may not be suitable for children if their skin is more sensitive and prone to irritation.
  • People with sensitive skin: Cupping therapy may cause irritation or redness on the skin, especially for people with sensitivities to sustained pressure.  If you have sensitive skin prone to blistering or reactions, you may want to consider trying a patch test before undergoing a full cupping therapy session.


It is always a good idea to consult with our office before starting any new treatment, including cupping therapy.  Cupping is generally safe, but you may experience minor side effects during or immediately after cupping therapy.


The following side effects typically subside within a few days:

  • Red, circular marks on the skin where cups were placed
  • Ecchymosis (skin discoloration due to blood moving into the skin’s top layer)


Rarely, a person may experience light-headedness, nausea, or dizziness with Chinese cupping therapy.  We encourage patients to eat a light meal and hydrate prior to cupping to help prevent this side effect. 

We use cupping therapy with great benefit to help our patients in the Bay City Area with many musculoskeletal complaints.  All in all, the stimulation and improved blood flow cupping provides may be why it helps a wide range of conditions.  Although more research is necessary for this therapy, the current research and the benefits of cupping are promising. 

Stimulating local blood flow can help with pain reduction, muscle relaxation, improved blood circulation, and activation of the immune system. 

Reach out to our office to determine if cupping is right for you!

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