Fire cupping, often known simply as cupping, is a therapeutic technique associated with Eastern medicine. It involves the application of heated cups to the body, creating a seal which pulls the skin into the cup slightly. According to its practitioners, fire cupping has a number of potential health benefits, such as improving the circulation and alleviating respiratory difficulties. Many health experts hold, however, that the technique’s alleged benefits are not backed up by adequate medical research.
Practitioners of Chinese medicine claim that fire cupping has been used as a healing technique in China for at least 1,000 years. Some evidence suggests that it may have been used by the ancient Egyptians at an even earlier time. The practice temporarily became popular in Western countries in the 18th century, and was revived again in the early years of the 21st century as a form of alternative medicine.
During a fire cupping session, a therapist or acupuncturist holds a heat source such as a lighted candle inside a glass or plastic cup, which temporarily forces the air from inside the cup. The heat source is then removed, and the cup is quickly overturned and applied to the client’s bare skin, most often on his back and the rear part of his upper arms. Due to the lack of air inside the cup, a seal is created which pulls the skin beneath it slightly upward. Usually a number of cups are applied in this way, allowed to sit for several minutes, and then removed. Generally, fire cupping is not painful, but it may leave circular, reddish markings on the skin for a day or more.
According to fire cupping enthusiasts, the technique has a number of potential health benefits. Many hold that it improves the body’s natural flow of energy, a concept known among Chinese medicine practitioners as qi. Others claim that it can stimulate the circulatory system, combat various respiratory problems, relieve the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, and ease the pain of chronic ailments like arthritis.
Many health experts hold, however, that the technique’s alleged benefits have not been proven by medical research, and that its true usefulness may therefore be questionable. Yet not all fire cupping clients seek the treatment for its healing potential; some simply find it to be a relaxing experience. Those interested in trying fire cupping may be able to receive the treatment from their local acupuncturist or health spa.