Cupping is an alternative medicine practice associated with acupuncture. This ancient healing tradition has been made popular in recent years by athletes and celebrities who have been spotted with telltale circular bruises on their backs. During a cupping treatment, specially designed cups are applied to the skin, and a vacuum is created that causes the skin to rise and redden. After five to 20 minutes, the cups are removed. This provides increased circulation to the area, much like a deep-tissue massage, and potentially offers a whole host of healing benefits. This quick guide has everything you need to know when shopping for at-home or professional cupping sets, including our three favorite products. Our top pick is a set of eight silicone cups that are professional-grade and easy to use.
Benefits of cupping
Cupping dates back 3,000 years to medicinal use in Egypt, China, and the Middle East. Though science has yet to back up the health and wellness claims of this ancient practice, modern-day practitioners maintain it gives their clients the following benefits:
Good respiratory health
Better digestive health
Considerations when choosing cupping sets
Although cups used in cupping were traditionally made from earthenware or bamboo, Western practitioners of cupping typically use glass cups. The majority of cupping sets available for home use, however, are made from durable silicone or plastic. Cups are shaped either like bell jars or knobs, not so much like drinking cups.
To create the necessary vacuum inside a cup, either heat or physical suction is used. Glass cups typically employ "fire cupping," in which a cotton pad is soaked in alcohol, lit on fire, and then extinguished inside the cup. The heated cup is then quickly placed on the skin where it creates a vacuum once it starts to cool.
Suction can also be created without heat by using a suction gun that attaches to the outside of the cup or a pistol-grip hand pump that is included with silicone and plastic cupping sets. Alternatively, knob-shaped cups are manually squeezed once applied to the skin and work like a suction cup to create a vacuum. Most cupping sets available for home use employ one of these suction techniques.
Some cups come with removable magnetic points, called biomagnetic needles, that serve as an alternative to the needling cupping method, where an acupuncturist inserts a needle into the skin, then places a cup over it. These magnets inside the cups exert pressure on acupuncture points without piercing the skin.
A good cupping set will offer cups of varying sizes, from small (0.7 inches in diameter) to extra-large (2.7 inches in diameter), with several sizes in between. Larger cups are suited for the back and shoulders, while smaller cups are better for the neck or even face area.
Number of cups
Cupping sets that come with fewer cups, such as four, will be less expensive than larger sets that have 24 cups.
Cupping sets range in price from $20 to $240. The higher end is reserved for professional glass sets. You can, however, find a professional-grade silicone cupping set for as little as $60.
A suction-cup cupping set will cost you between $25 and $50, depending on the number of cups, which is typically four to eight. Cupping sets that come with a suction gun range from $20 to $35, for which you can expect 10 to 24 cups.
Q. What's the difference between dry cupping and wet cupping?
A. In dry cupping, the cup is placed on the skin in one spot and kept there anywhere from three to 30 minutes. In wet cupping, a cup is placed to create suction, then removed, and an incision is made in the same spot. Then a second cup is placed to draw out some blood, which is also why it's called "bleeding cupping." This process is thought to remove toxins by some alternative practitioners.
Q. Should I ever move the cups when they're suctioned to the skin?
A. There are two methods that involve moving the cups. One is sliding, where massage oil is applied to the skin and the practitioner continuously glides the cup over a large area like the back. This is similar to a massage in that it can relieve muscle tension. Flash cupping is when the cup is applied, then quickly popped off at a rapid pace, often in the same spot.
Cupping sets we recommend
Best of the best: Cupping Warehouse Professional Silicone Cupping Therapy Set
Our take: Easy-to-use, no-pump silicone cupping set for manual cupping.
What we like: This set of eight cups in various sizes can be used for sliding or fixed cupping. Made from thick, durable, professional-grade silicone.
What we dislike: Although these cups are flexible, for some users they aren't flexible enough.
Best bang for your buck: Lure Essentials Edge Advanced Body Cupping System
Our take: An entry-level cupping set of manual silicone cups.
What we like: An inexpensive set of four silicone cups. Cups are easy to grip and easy to apply by hand, no suction gun required. Excellent for self-massage and gliding techniques.
What we dislike: Suction is sometimes hard to create with these cups.
Our take: A classic cupping set equipped with a pump gun for strong suction.
What we like: Set comes with 17 bell-shaped plastic cups. Includes a carrying case for portability or storage. Suction level can be controlled and is strong enough to provide pain relief.
What we dislike: Plastic cups can crack.
Ana Sanchez is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. BestReviews and its newspaper partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.