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What’s the Difference Between Traditional and Modern Cupping?

Credit: Cupping Warehouse TM

Cupping Therapy: Differences Between Traditional Cupping and Modern cupping

Cupping therapy is an ancient healing technique in which cups are used to create suction on specific points of the skin, lifting the dermis and promoting increased blood flow to the area. The earliest medical records of this practice date back to the Ancient Egyptian era, where they were mentioned in Eber’s papyrus (1550 BC). Since this time, cupping therapy has featured heavily in many ancient healing systems such as Chinese, Korean, Unani, Oriental and Tibetan traditional medicine.

Today, cupping is still widely used as an alternative treatment for a variety of chronic conditions including neck, back and shoulder pain, cellulite and digestive issues. However, modern versions of the technique often forgo the practice of bloodletting, which largely characterizes the more traditional forms of cupping therapy. But what are the main difference between modern and traditional cupping therapy, and do these differences have an effect on the outcomes of the treatment?

What’s the difference between modern and traditional cupping therapy?

Cupping therapy can be broadly divided into two categories. These are ‘dry’ cupping (largely thought of as ‘modern’ cupping) and ‘wet’ (or ‘traditional’ cupping). In both forms, cups (made of plastic, glass, rubber, ceramic or bamboo) are placed on the skin and used to create a vacuum which applies suction to a specific site.

Traditional (wet) cupping therapy

Traditional cupping more commonly involves bloodletting; hence the classification of ‘wet’ cupping. In wet cupping therapy, a small incision is usually made in the skin before the cup is placed. When suction is applied, blood is drawn from the wound into the cup. This practice is thought to facilitate the release of toxins and other ‘harmful’ substances from the blood.

Modern (dry) cupping therapy

Modern cupping therapy is often referred to as ‘dry’ cupping, and doesn’t involve bleeding. Instead, cups are applied to selected spots on the skin and suction is used to create negative pressure. This draws some of the skin into the cup, separating the dermal layers and stimulating the underlying tissues and blood flow. The cups may be applied to acupressure or myofascial trigger points and left in place (site cupping). Alternatively, they may be moved up and down problem areas as a form of therapeutic massage (moving cupping).

What are the health benefits of dry (modern) cupping?

Dry cupping is widely used to treat a variety of conditions, ranging from nausea and chronic pain to digestive issues and skin complaints.

Pain relief

One of the most common uses of dry cupping therapy is as a treatment for chronic pain, usually in the neck, shoulder or back. Clinical trials into the effects of cupping therapy on lower back pain found that two types of dry cupping (minimal and pulsatile) effectively reduced symptoms in patients. Further studies have concluded that dry cupping is also an effective treatment for neck pain, with the potential to significantly improve quality of life in patients.

When used as a treatment for pain, dry cupping therapy is often applied to create pressure over myofascial trigger points. This stimulates the underlying tissues and can effectively ease pain in several different sites around the body.

Cellulite reduction

Cellulite is a common condition affecting the vast majority of adult women, and refers to the bumpy, uneven texture of skin commonly seen on the thighs and buttocks. Though completely harmless, cellulite is widely considered undesirable and many treatments claim to tackle the issue.

When performed over affected areas, dry, moving cupping therapy can effectively improve microcirculation, stimulate lymphatic drainage and stimulate fascial tissues in the area. Combined, these effects have the potential to visibly reduce cellulite for smoother, more even-looing skin.

Alleviation of digestive complaints

Dry, moving cupping therapy is commonly used to address digestive complaints, especially constipation. When applied to the stomach and moved up and down over problem areas, the suction and massage effect of the cups can improve microcirculation and stimulate large bowel peristalsis. This has been found to effectively relieve constipation, promoting healthier overall bowel movements and digestive function.

When applied to certain acupressure points, site cupping (another form of dry cupping) was also found to reduce nausea and vomiting in pregnant women.

What are the health benefits of wet (traditional) cupping?

Wet cupping is similar to dry cupping, with the key difference being the practice of bloodletting. During a wet cupping treatment, a small incision is made to the skin so that blood is drawn into the cup when suction is applied. This is done to release toxins and other ‘harmful’ substances from the bloodstream.

Address skin complaints

The antioxidant and detoxifying effects of wet cupping therapy are effective for treating several skin complaints, such as acne. Studies have found that this traditional treatment effectively reduced ‘break-outs’ (of spots commonly seen on the back, neck, shoulders and face) in acne sufferers. Therefore, wet cupping therapy could be an effective complementary treatment for inflammatory skin complaints.

Lower LDL cholesterol

Studies have found that wet cupping therapy may also have the potential to lower LDL cholesterol, as the treatment was found to reduce serum lipid concentrations in healthy participants. When used as part of a regular wellness routine, traditional cupping therapy could, therefore, be useful for preventing long-term health conditions associated with high LDL cholesterol.


The practice of cupping therapy has been a part of traditional healing systems for thousands of years and, today, is a popular alternative treatment for a wide variety of complaints and conditions. This therapy has naturally evolved and expanded over the years and, today, is broadly divided into two categories. Traditional (or ‘wet’ cupping) involves a small incision being made in the skin to allow blood to enter the cup after placement, as a method of releasing toxins from the bloodstream. Modern (or ‘dry’ cupping) involves no bloodletting; instead, cups are used to apply suction to specific places on the body and then left in place (site cupping) or moved up and down along problem areas (dry cupping) to stimulate the tissues beneath the skin.