Cupping therapy eases low back pain by improving circulation, reducing inflammation, and releasing muscle tension.

In traditional Chinese medicine, qi is the life force energy that flows through the body and is responsible for overall health and well-being. When qi is blocked or stagnant, it can lead to pain, inflammation, and other symptoms.

Cupping therapy is believed to help restore the balance of qi in the body, which may help alleviate symptoms like lower back pain.

Cupping therapy is a traditional Chinese medicine technique that involves placing cups, usually made of glass, bamboo, or silicone, on the skin to create suction.

The suction pulls the skin and underlying tissues up into the cup, which can help promote circulation, reduce pain and inflammation, and improve overall health and well-being.

There are different types of cupping therapy, including wet, dry, fire, and massage cupping.

  • Wet cupping involves creating small incisions or punctures in the skin to release stagnant blood and toxins, and then using suction cups to draw out the blood and toxins from the body.
  • Dry cupping involves placing suction cups on the skin to create a vacuum effect without any incisions or punctures. This can help promote circulation, reduce muscle tension, and improve range of motion.
  • Fire cupping involves briefly lighting a flame inside a glass cup before placing it on the skin, which creates a vacuum as the flame goes out. Fire cupping is a form of dry cupping and is thought to help with pain, inflammation, and respiratory issues.
  • Massage cupping involves using suction cups to perform massage-like movements on the skin. This can help reduce muscle tension, improve circulation, and promote relaxation.

How does cupping work?

During cupping therapy, the suction created by the cups draws the skin and underlying muscle tissue into the cup, promoting increased blood flow to the area and reducing inflammation.

Cupping therapy is also thought to help release tension in the muscles and fascia (connective tissue underneath skin), allowing for an improved range of motion and reduced pain.

Cupping may also help activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which can promote relaxation and a sense of well-being.

Research on cupping for lower back pain shows positive results.

A 2017 research review found that after cupping, participants reported significantly lower levels of pain and disability regarding their lower back pain.

A 2018 study compared the use of medication with a form of dry cupping in 110 people with chronic low back pain.

Overall, the results show that dry cupping was as effective for lower back pain as medication. Cupping even outperformed the control (medication only) on the SF-36 physical component scale (a tool used to measure physical health and functioning) after 4 and 12 weeks.

Where do you put cupping cups for lower back pain?

The placement of cupping cups for lower back pain may vary depending on your specific condition.

However, some common areas where cups may be placed for lower back pain include:

  • Over the sacroiliac joint: This is the joint where the sacrum (the triangular bone at the base of the spine) meets the ilium (the large bone of the pelvis). This area is often a source of pain for people with lower back pain.
  • On the erector spinae muscles: These lower back muscles run parallel to the spine.
  • On the hip and gluteal muscles: These muscles can become tight and contribute to lower back pain.
  • Along the quadratus lumborum: These muscles run from the lower ribs to the top of the pelvis.

It’s important to note that cupping therapy should only be performed by a trained practitioner who’s familiar with proper cup placement and technique. If you’re pregnant, speak with a licensed healthcare professional before trying cupping therapy.

After a cupping therapy session on the lower back, you might expect the following:

  • Relaxation: Many people may feel a sense of calm or relaxation after the session.
  • Improved range of motion: Cupping therapy can help release tension in the muscles and improve circulation to the area, which may lead to improved range of motion and flexibility.
  • Redness: The suction of the cups can increase blood flow to the area, which may result in temporary redness or discoloration of the skin. This is normal and should fade within a few days.
  • Soreness: Cupping can be a form of deep tissue massage, and it’s common to experience some soreness or tenderness in the treated area after the session. This soreness should be mild and resolve within a few days.

Like any form of therapy or treatment, cupping therapy has potential risks and side effects. However, when performed by a trained and licensed practitioner, cupping therapy is generally considered safe.

While cupping typically leads to temporary redness, swelling, or bruising, there are occasionally more serious side effects.

  • Skin irritation or burns: Cupping therapy can cause skin irritation or burns if the cups are left in one place for too long, if the suction is too strong, or if the cups are placed on areas of broken or sensitive skin.
  • Infection: Cupping therapy sometimes involves creating small punctures in the skin, which can increase the risk of infection if proper sterilization practices are not followed.
  • Adverse reaction: Some people may have an adverse reaction to cupping therapy, which may include dizziness, nausea, or fainting. This is rare but can occur, especially in people with a history of low blood pressure.

The cost of cupping therapy can vary depending on several factors, including the practitioner’s experience and expertise and the duration of the treatment session.

On average, a 45- to 60-minute cupping session can cost anywhere from $30 to just over $100, depending on where you live and your practitioner. More than one session is typically recommended, especially if you have a chronic condition.

Cupping therapy is a traditional Chinese medicine technique that’s been used for thousands of years to help alleviate pain and other symptoms. It’s generally considered safe and may be used with other treatments for lower back pain, such as physical therapy or medication.

If you decide to try cupping therapy for lower back pain, be sure to find a qualified practitioner who has experience with this technique.