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What is Fire Cupping?

M.C. Huguelet
Updated Feb 24, 2024
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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.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
M.C. Huguelet
By M.C. Huguelet , Former Writer
Cate Huguelet, a Chicago-based freelance writer with a passion for storytelling, crafts engaging content for a wide range of publications, including WiseGEEK. With degrees in Writing and English, she brings a unique perspective and a commitment to clean, precise copy that resonates with readers. Her ability to understand and connect with audiences makes her a valuable asset to any content creation team.

Discussion Comments

By TrueNature — On Jul 19, 2013

I have done this for almost 40 years, and it's very simple to do. I do it the way I was taught in Mexico. A thick fruit juice glass works great. Cut a small section of an emergency candle off about two inches, light the candle and drip a few drops of melted wax on a penny. Sit the candle on the penny until it is secure. Then sit the candle with the penny on the area you want to treat, light the candle, and put the glass over the candle flame. The flame will go out and let it sit about five seconds. You'll see the skin rise up in the glass. Carefully move the glass around until it releases its suction and do the same thing in other areas.

I learned this when they wanted to do back surgery on my husband. I only had to do this once or twice every few years. He never had to have back surgery. The surgeon refused to accept it even though he took an X-ray and he could see how much better his back was.

Old ways are better and safer than putting a lot of harmful chemicals in your body. As most know, the side effects are usually worse than the condition you're being treated for. The only problem with doing this is you can't do it on your own back; you have to teach someone. And believe it or not, some chiropractors are trying this now. Mine does because I can't do my back by myself. Peace!

By anon307609 — On Dec 05, 2012

Absolutely do not try it at home. It takes practice to get it right, and you can't just cup any old place you feel like it. There are contraindications for cupping, as well. And there's the fact that you could very well set someone on fire if you're going about it willy-nilly.

Take a workshop or learn from a therapist who has training and experience with cupping. This is not something you experiment with at home.

By chivebasil — On Mar 27, 2012

The principle behind fire cupping seems pretty similar to acupuncture treatments. I have had acupuncture done several times but never really felt any results. I went in with an open mind and I was seeking treatment for a problem that Western medicine had failed to relieve me of. Unfortunately the pain persisted even after the acupuncture.

By Ivan83 — On Mar 26, 2012

What kinds of cups do they use? Is it a special cup or will any cup do? I am asking because fire cupping seems pretty easy to do and I think I might try it at home. I have cups and a stove so I think I have everything I need.

By ZsaZsa56 — On Mar 26, 2012

I am a big believer in traditional Chinese medicine. Even if medical science cannot back it up, I think thousands of years of tradition has to count for something. And the simple fact is that it works.

I have experienced fire cupping on several occasions and the sensation is incredible. I had the treatment done after a car accident when I was having persistent pain in one of my shoulders. After just a few brief treatments the pain was gone. I am not naive, I know that this was not a miracle, but the fact is that I was hurting and then I wasn't hurting.

M.C. Huguelet

M.C. Huguelet

Former Writer

Cate Huguelet, a Chicago-based freelance writer with a passion for storytelling, crafts engaging content for a wide...
Learn more
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