Fire cupping is a wonderful therapy that has been a part of Chinese medicine for at least 3,000 years, and it’s becoming more common and familiar to Americans. Thank you!  Though on first impression it may look a little daunting, fire cupping feels great and moves Qi magnificently.  However, it is not for everyone and considerations must be taken into account with each individual  client.

A little history on cupping

Before the invention of glass, cupping was done with hollowed out horns, or bamboo and ceramic cups.  However,  they carried with them a few problems–namely sterilization, access to horns (not a wildlife friendly practice), and the ability to see how treatment was proceeding.  Glass jars proved far superior because they seal better to the flesh, are easy to clean and their clear structure allowed the practitioner to observe the progress of treatment better.  Today, some practitioners use plastic cups with a suctioning apparatus–but I simply favor the fire.

What is fire cupping?

Fire cupping uses glass jars that have an ignited material (I use cotton balls soaked in alcohol, held tightly by a set of hemastats)  placed briefly inside them to create negative pressure.  The flame is then quickly removed and the jar placed over specific areas of the body creating suction.  This pressure moves the Blood, Qi and fluids of the area raising a petechiae rash–that’s a good thing in this case.

Fire cupping for stagnation and congestion.

Fire cupping for stagnation and congestion.

Petechiae Rash

The rash itself is an assessment tool  for the practitioner.  Its color, how quickly or slowly it rises and how long  it remains reveal how deep the pattern of disharmony is.  For example a deep purple rash indicates stagnation whereas, a bright red rash indicates excess of heat.  In some instances, like a very calming treatment, the cups may in a very light set, to not bring up the rash.  In my practice, I do use cupping on children with the parent’s very clear consent, and using a gentle set to not lift up the rash.  We don’t want to bruise the kids, but regular gentle treatments for asthma can go a long way.  The sliding technique utilizes oil on the skin and the practitioner slides, or glides the cups along a particular region covering more area. Like setting the cups, sliding can be done very lightly or very deep, depending on the client’s needs.

Fire cupping is performed only with a client’s consent and understanding. 

Any practitioner offering  cupping should be able to articulate clearly to the client what the procedure is, why they may be using it, and get consent from the client before they provide the treatment.

The functions and indications of fire cupping

  • Warms the body–poor circulation, cold extremities
  • Dispels cold–increase circulation and promote Qi movement
  • Dispels damp–arthritis, asthma, aches, MS, fibromyalgia, digestive issues, autoimmune disorders, Gall Bladder and Liver disorders 
  • Reduces pain–wonderful for strained, over worked muscles, arthritis, general aches and pains
  • Unlocks stagnate Qi–feeling stuck? Cupping can help, and I recommend meditation too.
  • Harmonizes the Stomach and Spleen–stabilizes the core and improves digestion
  • Calms the Shen–settles you down, anxiety, tension, mental and emotional disorders–a light gliding set is especially effective for this. My daughter loves this technique and asks for it–it usually knocks her out–nap time.
  • Opens the Lungs–great for bronchitis, asthma, allergies,pneumonia, COPD, cough with phlegm, colds and flu
  • Bee stings, snake bite and splinters–can be quite handy for removing stubborn splinters that tweezers dance around–haven’t had to use it for snake bites (thankfully) but it is a classical application.

Types of cupping

Based on the clients needs, the practitioner will choose the method of cupping and length of set.

Dry cupping–Cups are set over specific areas or points for any where from 5-30 minutes depending on the color rising.

Sliding–The area of treatment is rubbed with oil, cups are set and then slid across the skin to bring up the petechiae.

Wet cupping–Least common method, restricted to acupuncturists.  The skin is broken before the cups is applied allowing a little blood to be released. Blood letting in Chinese medicine is a drop or two…

Contraindications for fire cupping–As with any therapy, there are times when fire cupping is inappropriate.

  • Fainting or convulsions
  • Coma
  • High fever
  • Broken, fragile or delicate skin
  • Varicose veins or broken vessels
  • Over the heart
  • Over the abdomen or low back of a pregnant woman
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Over moles, warts or lumps
  • Areas of edema
  • Over bruises–we do not fire cup an area again until the bruises have vanished
  • Over very hairy areas
  • Over very boney areas–it’s hard to get the cups to set in bony joints, gua sha may be more appropriate.
  • Dry skin
  • Over very large vessels
  • Children–although classically use on children in China and other Asian nations, most practitioners in America prefer to not cup (or at least, not bring up the petechiae) children for legal reasons.  Do I use it on my daughter, Clara?  Yes, she loves it. But I rarely left a rash when she was younger. Know that she’s older, it’s a great tool in treating my little athlete.
  • Forbidden with hemophiliacs and bleeding disorders

Client consent

Because fire cupping usually leaves a rash, the therapy should not be administered without client understanding and clear consent.  Cups are not reapplied until after the sha rash or petechiae has vanished.

Try it some time.