What is Hijama?

K.C. Bruning

Hijama, which is a derivation of hajm, the Arab term for sucking, is a traditional medical practice that uses the application of cups to the skin via the removal of air. The practice is also commonly known as cupping. It is believed that the suction created by the cups on the skin works to move the blood to specific points in the body in order to improve health.

Hijama uses cups to create suction on the skin.
Hijama uses cups to create suction on the skin.

There are three common types of hijama: dry cupping, dry massage cupping, and wet cupping. The dry procedures can be done either by a professional or at home. As the wet version involves drawing blood, it is typically performed only by professionals.

Clear cups allow a practitioner to gauge the intensity of the suction.
Clear cups allow a practitioner to gauge the intensity of the suction.

During the dry cupping version of hijama, cups are attached to the skin in order to draw the blood to specific areas. Dry massage cupping is nearly the same, but the skin is first rubbed with olive oil so that the cups can be glided across the skin when their position is being changed. Wet cupping is the process of using the cups to remove small amounts of what is believed to be impure blood from the body via a tiny, scratch-like incision. Aside from the incision, it is essentially the same process as dry cupping.

Traditional hijama was performed with vessels made of horn. Now most modern cupping is done with glass, plastic, or metal cups. Suction was originally attained by burning a small amount of material in the cup after it had been placed on the skin, thus removing oxygen and pulling the skin into the cup. There are now machines which serve the same purpose without fire, but many practitioners still believe the fire method is the best. For the wet method, the cup is attached to the skin, removed so that the incisions can be made, and then reattached.

Hijama is most widely practiced in Islamic culture. It is believed that the practice is most effective when performed on the 17th, 19th, or 21st day of the month on the Islamic calendar. Traditionally, it was thought that performing Hijama on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday would be detrimental to the health.

Some of the ailments that hijama is claimed to treat include general aches and pains, particularly back problems and migraines. It has been used for overall detoxification as well. There have also been claims that the practice can be used to increase fertility by encouraging ovulation.

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Discussion Comments


@letshearit - I think hijama is one of those traditional cures that you have to try to appreciate. While it may seem strange to people who are not familiar with it I think that is the case with a lot of things, take acupuncture for example.

For myself I tried dry cupping while traveling and found that it really did help to relieve my aches and pains from my voyage. While I am not sure I would do it again, because it did hurt a bit, I think it can be effective. For myself it reminded me a bit of a pinch, and throb that you get from a massage that goes a little too deep.


Having seen pictures of cupping before I really was surprised to learn that it originated in Islamic culture. It seemed to be very similar to some traditional Chinese medical practices that I had come across before.

Many of the photos I have seen of hijama look downright painful and I am not really sure if there is any real medical benefit from this procedure. I would be very concerned about the conditions in which cupping were done, especially in the cases where they actually cut into the skin to let blood out. I can't imagine the problems it would cause if the instruments weren't cleaned properly.

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