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How to Do Cupping

Three Parts:PreparationApplicationAftercare

Cupping is an alternative medicine used to treat chronic pain and other conditions dating back to the Egyptians and Ancient Greece.[1] The method is still used in Traditional Chinese medicine and known as "Hijama" in Arabic.[2] It is best to do cupping with the help of another person, and the patient should allow that helper to apply the cups instead of trying to do so alone.

Part 1

  1. Image titled Do Cupping Step 1
    Identify the treatment area. Determine where on the body to place the cups. When using cupping to treat pain or soreness, you will need to apply treatment directly to the affected area.
    • Target the muscle groups involved in and surrounding the entire point of pain.
    • Note that fleshy areas of the body, like the back, stomach, arms, and legs, are ideal treatment areas.
    • Do not apply cups over an area where you can feel a pulse. You should also avoid applying cups over an artery, deep vein thrombosis, or ulcer.[3]
    • When using cupping to treat a condition other than chronic pain, like depression or bronchial congestion, you will need to consult with a licensed acupuncturist to determine the best treatment site.
  2. Image titled Do Cupping Step 2
    Clean the skin. Wash the treatment site with soap and water. Dry well using a clean towel.
    • Consider removing any body hair from the treatment site, as well. The suction created during the procedure can pull on stray hairs and may cause unnecessary pain.
  3. Image titled Do Cupping Step 3
    Apply oil to the skin. Smear a small amount of skin cream or oil over the intended treatment site. Rub the product into the skin as thoroughly as possible.
    • This step is only optional and may be omitted if desired.
    • Following this step can reduce irritation and may make it easier to move and reposition the cups as needed during treatment.
    • For best results, use a medicated cream or herbal oil formulated to soothe the skin, such as calendula oil. Avoid products that warm the skin or increase blood flow since cupping already draws blood to the surface of the treated area.
  4. Image titled Do Cupping Step 4
    Prepare the cups. Wash the glass cups you intend to use with lightly salted warm water. Dry the cups thoroughly.
    • Thick glass cups work best, but you may also use cups made of plastic, bamboo, iron, or pottery.
    • You will need cups of at least two different sizes. Half should hold 4 oz (125 ml) and the other half should hold 2 oz (60 ml). Cups with narrowed mouths are also better than those with wide mouths.
    • Dissolve 1/4 tsp (1.25 ml) salt in every 2 cups (500 ml) of water used to clean the cups. Use this solution to scrub the cups thoroughly. Rinse them under running water, then dry well with a clean towel.

Part 2

  1. Image titled Do Cupping Step 5
    Soak a cotton ball in rubbing alcohol. Grab a sterile cotton ball with long medical tweezers. Insert the cotton into a dish of rubbing alcohol, allowing the alcohol to soak all the way through it.[4]
    • Other flammable materials can be used instead of cotton. Common options include paper and dried herbs.
    • Rub away and drain any excess rubbing alcohol. The material should be well saturated but does not need to be dripping wet.
  2. Image titled Do Cupping Step 6
    Carefully light the cotton on fire. Using a lighter or candle, carefully light the cotton on fire. Hold it steady with the same set of tweezers.
    • Make sure that the bottle of rubbing alcohol has been closed before you light the cotton. An open bottle is a highly dangerous fire hazard.
    • Keep other flammable materials away from your working area to further reduce the risk of unintended fires or burns.
    • You must be able to keep the flame controlled throughout the entire process. If the flame grows out of control, completely cover the flaming substance in a non-flammable container to cut off oxygen and kill the fire.
  3. Image titled Do Cupping Step 7
    Place the flaming cotton into the cup. Insert the burning cotton into the first glass cup. Keep it there for two to five seconds, or until the glass feels notably warm.[5]
    • Do not allow the cup to become too hot. It should be warm to the touch yet still cool enough to handle with your bare hands. Making the cup too hot can result in harmful burns to both you and the person receiving treatment.
    • If you are using multiple cups, continue holding the cotton with medical tweezers throughout the entire treatment. Do not let go of it until all cups have been applied. If you are only using one cup, you can release the cotton into the glass and allow it to burn out. Empty the glass before applying it to the skin.
    • The fire burns away some of the oxygen from the inside of the cup. This is important, since retaining too much oxygen will prevent the cup from suctioning to the skin.
  4. Image titled Do Cupping Step 8
    Quickly apply the cup to the skin. As soon as you remove the burning cotton, invert the glass and place it onto the skin over the target area.
    • As the glass cools, the space inside transforms into a vacuum. This vacuum creates enough suction to hold the cup in place. It also causes the skin at the opening of the cup to draw upward into the empty space.
    • Suctioning the skin in this manner opens the pores and stimulates blood flow. Stagnant blood is drawn away while fresh blood is drawn into that area. As new blood is drawn into the tissues of the treatment site, that site receives improved, healing doses of oxygen.[6]
  5. Image titled Do Cupping Step 9
    Repeat as needed. Work with one glass at a time. Warm each glass using the burning cotton, then invert the glass and place it on the skin. Continue until all of the glasses have been placed.
    • For areas with bony joints, use the smaller 2 oz (60 ml) cups.
    • For broader areas with more flesh, use the larger 4 oz (125 ml) glasses.
  6. Image titled Do Cupping Step 10
    Extinguish the fire. Put out the fire by dropping the lit cotton into a fire-resistant container and covering it with a lid.
    • In essence, you are smothering the flame and cutting off its supply of oxygen.
    • Small flames will usually burn out on their own even if kept in an open fire-resistant container, but it is best to extinguish the flame as soon as it is no longer needed, just to be safe. If the flame is small enough, you may even be able to extinguish it by merely blowing it out.
  7. Image titled Do Cupping Step 11
    Leave the cups in place for 5 to 10 minutes. Keep the cups on the skin for up to 10 minutes, or until the skin beneath them turns begins turning from red to violet. Remove the cups by simply lifting them off with your hands.
    • Ten minutes is ideal for the treatment of most conditions, but five minutes should still offer some benefit to the patient. Do not keep the cups on for more than 15 minutes, though.
    • If the suctioning becomes too painful to bear, remove the cups before the full time has elapsed.

Part 3

  1. Image titled Do Cupping Step 12
    Expect bruising. Cupping almost always results in some bruising. In most cases, bruises caused by cupping are relatively painless and will disappear within three to four days without additional treatment.
    • Note that cupping bruises can last up to a week on some individuals. If the marks do not fade after a week or worsen within that time period, consult a doctor for professional medical advice.
    • These bruises can actually serve as a diagnostic aid. Marks that are a deeper shade of purple generally indicate greater blood stagnation, and the true source of the patient's pain likely lies just beneath that area. As such, that area is the site where future treatments—cupping or otherwise—should be focused.
  2. Image titled Do Cupping Step 13
    Treat any blisters that form. In rare instances, cupping can create mild to moderate blisters. Treat serious or painful blisters by pricking, draining, and disinfecting them.
    • Disinfect an undamaged needle or straight pin by rubbing it with isopropyl alcohol, then carefully puncture the edge of the blister with the tip of the needle.[7]
    • After puncturing the blister, gently press the fluid toward the hole to drain it.
    • Apply an antibiotic ointment and a clean bandage over the area after draining it.
  3. Image titled Do Cupping Step 14
    Use sparingly. Cupping can be used regularly, but too much can be bad for your health. Use this treatment for no more than 15 minute per target area once or twice a day.[8]
    • You can repeat cupping on a daily basis for as many as 10 days. After the tenth day, wait another day or two before trying the procedure again.


  • If cupping works well for you, consider investing in an air cupping kit. These kits come with special suction cups and an air pump that allows you to create suction without the use of fire.


  • Do not use cupping therapy if you are pregnant or menstruating. It should also be avoided by individuals with metastatic cancer, bone fractures, or muscle spasms.
  • "Wet" cupping, a variation of the procedure that involves bloodletting, should only be performed by a trained professional and never at home.
  • Only perform cupping after you have received a professional diagnosis. It may not work in all circumstances, and in some cases, cupping may even make matters worse.

Things You'll Need

  • Soap
  • Warm water
  • Salt
  • Paper towels
  • Medicated skin cream or herbal oil (optional)
  • 1 to 6 glass cups, 2 oz (60 ml) each
  • 1 to 6 glass cups, 4 oz (125 ml) each
  • Cotton balls
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Long medical tweezers
  • Flame-resistant covered container

Article Info

Categories: Pain Management and Recovery