According to one study, “Cupping therapy and acupuncture are potentially safe, and they have similar effectiveness in relieving pain” (Zhang et al., 2017). Traditionally, however, both acupuncture and cupping belong to traditional Chinese medicine. As practitioners of this medical method establish their diagnoses and design treatment strategies, acupuncture and cupping offer different sets of tools and techniques that allow the practitioners to achieve different clinical effects, which may be most beneficial either by itself or in combination with each other or other therapies.
Cupping and Acupuncture Treatments
While cups for cupping therapy come in different sizes, even the smallest cups still cover much larger area s than even thickest acupuncture needles do. Regarding cupping, the authors of one review concluded that “Meta-analysis showed cupping therapy combined with other TCM treatments was significantly superior to other treatments alone in increasing the number of cured patients with herpes zoster, facial paralysis, acne, and cervical spondylosis” (Cao, Li, & Liu, 2012), recommending more research studies. More recent studies focused more on specific conditions. For example, the conclusion of a later study was, “Ear acupuncture combined with cupping therapy was shown to be more effective in the treatment of chronic back pain when compared to treatment using only ear acupuncture” (de Castro Moura et al., 2022).
Cupping and Other Therapies
Since 1950s, many research studies that investigated the efficacy of cupping therapy have been conducted. A recent overview of reviews concluded that “The findings from six reviews showed potential benefits of cupping for conditions such as low back pain, ankylosing spondylitis, knee osteoarthritis, neck pain, herpes zoster, migraine, plaque psoriasis, and chronic urticaria. Cupping has been applied in a variety of clinical areas, and systematic reviews in a few of these areas have demonstrated statistically significant benefits” (Choi et al., 2021). One issue with all these studies is that clinically cupping practitioners have much greater flexibility than under the strict guidelines specific to each research study. Another issue is that while one patient will have minimal improvement from a cupping treatment, another can have a remarkable improvement. Finally, cupping traditionally is rarely used by itself, and combining it with acupuncture, tui na, gua sha, herbs, and other modalities, as research has demonstrated, leads to even higher success rates.
- Cao, H., Li, X., & Liu, J. (2012). An updated review of the efficacy of cupping therapy. PloS one, 7(2), e31793.
- Choi, T. Y., Ang, L., Ku, B., Jun, J. H., & Lee, M. S. (2021). Evidence map of cupping therapy. Journal of Clinical Medicine, 10(8), 1750.
- de Castro Moura, C., Chaves, E. D. C. L., Nogueira, D. A., Iunes, D. H., Corrêa, H. P., Pereira, G. A., … & Chianca, T. C. M. (2022). Effects of ear acupuncture combined with cupping therapy on severity and threshold of chronic back pain and physical disability: A randomized clinical trial. Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, 12(2), 152-161.
- Zhang, Y. J., Cao, H. J., Li, X. L., Yang, X. Y., Lai, B. Y., Yang, G. Y., & Liu, J. P. (2017). Cupping therapy versus acupuncture for pain-related conditions: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials and trial sequential analysis. Chinese medicine, 12(1), 1-13.