Some research suggests that cupping therapy combined with other treatments may help relieve shingles pain. It may also help shingles lesions heal more quickly. Still, cupping may present a greater risk to specific groups.

Shingles is a rash that results from herpes zoster, the same virus that gives you chickenpox. Because the virus stays in your body long after symptoms disappear, you can get shingles years or decades after infection.

Shingles is a painful stripe of blisters that appear on one side and in one area of your body, such as your face or torso. Even when the blisters heal, they can leave a trail of pain around where the rash used to be. This pain sometimes leads people to try cupping therapy.

Cupping therapy is a type of alternative medicine. Healers have used cupping for thousands of years to help with pain, blood flow, and other symptoms. Proponents of cupping say it could effectively complement Western medicine therapies to help relieve discomfort. It may even help shingles symptoms resolve more quickly.

Read on to learn more about what the research says about this ancient practice and its use in treating shingles pain.

The use of cupping dates back to Ancient Egypt in 1550 B.C., according to a 2018 literature review. Hippocrates, the Greek figure known as the “father of medicine,” used the practice in the 5th century B.C., as did ancient Tibetans, Chinese, Koreans, and others.

With cupping therapy, a healthcare professional or practitioner places a cup against your body to create suction on the skin’s surface or to draw fluid from it.

There are different types of cupping therapy. The practitioner may use wet or dry cupping, different temperatures, or cups of various sizes, materials, or shapes.

Dry cupping uses negative pressure that pulls your skin into the cup. In wet cupping, the practitioner makes small incisions in your skin to release fluids like pus or blood into the cup.

People choose cupping for a wide range of conditions. Cupping can increase circulation and blood flow. Studies show it can also promote healing.

Finding a qualified cupping therapist

Some cupping techniques, such as wet cupping, can include exposure to bloodborne pathogens. Only a qualified healthcare professional or practitioner should perform cupping therapy. You can find a board certified practitioner through the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.

Shingles rashes burn, itch, and hurt. Cupping, in combination with other therapies like acupuncture or medication, may help the blisters heal faster.

Even after the rash heals, you may have lingering pain months or years later along the nerve pathway affected by the virus. The pain is called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN).

Some studies show cupping can reduce many kinds of pain, including PHN.

Researchers aren’t exactly sure how cupping relieves pain and promotes healing. The authors of a 2019 research review suggested several possible theories, from biomechanics to the placebo effect, but concluded more research is needed.

What is postherpetic neuralgia?

PHN is severe pain that develops up to 90 days after a shingles rash heals. About 10% to 18% of people who get shingles will get PHN. The older you are, the more likely you are to experience PHN. It can last weeks, months, or years.

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Cupping may help reduce shingles symptoms when combined with other alternative therapies, such as acupuncture or moxibustion. Moxibustion is when a healthcare professional or practitioner burns a cone or stick of a ground substance (usually mugwort) near your skin at acupuncture points. It promotes warmth, pain relief, or healing in an area.

A 2021 research review found that combining acupuncture, cupping, and moxibustion was more effective in treating and preventing PHN than Western treatments, including medications.

In addition, a 2017 research review found that cupping and pricking together helped reduce pressure on nerves, relieving PHN. Pricking is an acupuncture technique that draws blood for therapeutic reasons.

In a 2017 study of 77 people with acute shingles, those treated with moxibustion, cupping, and pricking showed faster healing and similar pain relief to a control group treated with B vitamins, interferon injections, and oral antiviral medication.

In addition, a 2019 study of 60 people found that combining cupping, bloodletting, and acupuncture improved several healing markers in people with shingles.

Techniques like bloodletting can have serious side effects, so it’s important for a board certified acupuncturist to perform complicated cupping procedures.

Research indicates that acupuncture on its own can also help treat shingles.

Cupping doesn’t usually have many severe or lasting side effects. However, there are some to be aware of.

Possible adverse side effects are rare but may include:

  • burns
  • scarring
  • headache
  • itching
  • fatigue
  • nausea
  • pain or swelling at the cupping site
  • infection
  • abscesses
  • fainting, also known as vasovagal syncope


People with the following conditions should avoid cupping therapy:

In addition, people taking anticoagulants might want to avoid cupping therapy.

Finally, the following groups should consult with a healthcare professional or practitioner before trying cupping therapy:

  • children
  • older adults
  • pregnant or menstruating people

You can get shingles at any age, but your chances of getting it or having more severe pain increase as you get older.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends prevention first. You can get the shingles vaccine (Shingrix) starting at age 50, or younger if you have a weakened immune system.

If you already have shingles and don’t want to try cupping or acupuncture, here are some traditional options:

  • See a healthcare professional as soon as you think you may have shingles, as early treatment with medication could make an outbreak shorter and less severe. A healthcare professional may prescribe antiviral medication.
  • Try oatmeal baths, creams, and wet compresses for itching.
  • Consider over-the-counter pain medication for mild to moderate pain.

Learn more about natural treatments for shingles.

Shingles is a painful rash that causes itchy and painful blisters. Even when the rash subsides, it can cause lingering pain called postherpetic neuralgia.

Alternative treatments, such as cupping therapy, can help ease the pain, especially in combination with other approaches like acupuncture or medication. Be sure to discuss your options with a healthcare professional.