How cupping can relieve pain

micheal phelps with cupping therapy tcm marks


Michael Phelps, Jennifer Aniston, Gwyneth Paltrow, Justin Bieber, Victoria Beckham…

They are all big fans of cupping.


Cupping is a form of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) therapy where inverted plastic or glass cups are applied to the acupuncture points on the body.


Imagine a Singapore MRT map. The lines represent the meridians, the trains represent Qi (energy) and the stations represent acupuncture points.

The trains and stations must be functional without any signalling problems in order to maintain a smooth ride. Similarly, in the body, Qi has to run smoothly for good health.

Cupping can affect the body’s deep into the tissues to:

  • Release toxins (metabolic waste products)

  • Activate the lymphatic system

  • Invigorate blood circulation in the veins, arteries and capillaries

  • Improve the appearance of varicose veins

  • Repair deep injured tissues

  • Promote healing process via increased local tissue metabolism


Most of the time, I like to use stationary cupping using glass cups and fire.


  1. Stationary cupping
    The cups are usually left on the body for about 10 minutes (maximum 15 minutes). If your skin is more sensitive, the cups are placed for 5 minutes.

  2. Moving/gliding cupping
    Oil is applied onto the body and the cups are pushed gently along meridians of the body for about 10-15 minutes. This technique can cover a larger area more quickly hence it is used on the back and thigh areas.

  3. Fire cupping
    This technique involves creating a suction effect by putting a lighted cotton ball in the cup. It is believed that the heat helps extract Dampness from the body. For stronger effects, an acupuncture needle is inserted into an acupuncture point and the cup is placed on top of it.

  4. Wet cupping
    This is a bloodletting cupping. Multiple pricks are made in specific areas of the body using a specialized lancet needling device followed by stationary cupping on the point.


For the stationary cupping, a small cotton fire soaked in alcohol is lit up, inserted into the cup for 1-2 seconds and quickly removed and cups are swiftly placed onto the body. You will feel a slightly tight sensation and a suction around the cupped area. These cups are left for about 10 minutes only.


Cupping is suitable for most patients except those who are physically weak and have certain conditions such as:

  • Inflamed or sensitive skin

  • High fever or convulsions

  • Bleed easily (on blood thinners such as warfarin)

  • Pregnant women should not have cupping on their stomach or lower back

Personally and from experience in the clinic, I feel that cupping works best for muscle soreness.

Other than that, it can be used to:

  • Promote one’s overall health, cupping helps rejuvenate the meridians and internal organs that are not in their optimal condition. 

  • Help with digestive problems such as bloating, gastric reflux and constipation conditions. Cupping will be done when done on the stomach area. 


Remember seeing those purplish marks on professional athletes? Yes, you may get some of those too.

But fret not!  It is common for cupping to leave distinctive small, circular bruises on the areas where the cups were applied and is usually painless.



These cupping marks indicate that the blood and Qi stagnation in your body. Cupping will open up the capillaries (small blood vessels) to allow fresh oxygenated blood to nourish and heal the underlying areas.

The colour and pattern of the marks reflect the level of stagnation in that area.

The darker the colours, the more stagnation present.



These harmless marks will slowly fade before disappearing completely within a week of treatment, depending on the skin’s regenerative ability. After regular cupping treatments, you will find that the marks will be visibly lighter and lighter as the toxins are removed from the body.

  • Light pink: Fade within a few minutes to an hour.

  • Dark red: Fade between 3 days to a week (up to 2 weeks if it is an old injury and one is sedentary).

If you are going away on a beach holiday or do not wish to have marks on certain areas, please let your TCM physicians know… unless you want to look like Michael Phelps in Olympics!

Have you done cupping before? Share you experience!

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