Tessa Davis. Cupping in kids, Don't Forget the Bubbles, 2016. Available at:
Cupping has become a hot topic this weeks thanks to Michael Phelps’ noticeable marks as he swam to Olympic Gold. But what’s the basis for cupping, and in there any place for it in managing childhood disease?
Cupping is part of Traditional Chinese Medicine and is seen as a branch of acupuncture.
Glass cups are applied over acupuncture sites. They can be filled with warm air and then turned upside down on the skin. Or it can be used as a vacuum alone. They are left for up to 30 minutes on the skin. During this time they create a vacuum and the idea is that they draw and poison (or Xi blockage) to the surface, thus cleansing the body.
This is usually due to pressure on the skin created by the vacuum. It causes capillaries to burst leaving purple marks in a circular shape. It is also possible to cause burns as the air is heated first – if it applied too quickly this can be hot
Apparently you just feel pressure and tightening rather than pain, but I haven’t tried cupping myself so cannot verify this. Some people report feeling relaxed.
It can be used to treat a multitude of things according to some claims – arthritis, the common cold, stress, muscle injuries, paralysis, migraines, gastrointestinal problems, hyperactivity, you name it.
I think Prof David Culquhoun puts it best in this BBC video where he describes it as ‘hocus pocus’ and ‘a voluntary tax on the gullible’
Although it has been claimed by ‘cupping practitioners’ that cupping is recommended in NICE guidelines, this simply is not the case. There is no evidence base for the efficacy of cupping at all.
Unfortunately yes. This video shows two young children ‘enjoying’ cupping. The eerie background music sounds like a tense scene in a horror movie.
There is no place for using cupping as a treatment in children. There is no evidence at all showing its efficacy, and until there is, I’d recommend steering clear of it. A recent ScienceBlogs post demonstrates clearly what can go wrong. One to avoid.