Updated: Jan 25
History of Cupping (Hijama)
Cupping has become more prominent in our healthcare community as natural medicine is being used more often as a less invasive way to help people recover from all kinds of pain and conditions. Cupping has a long and fascinating past. It has been used for all kinds of ailments, beauty, and pain relief. This modality has evolved over the years with cups made from animal horns, bamboo, glass, ceramic, metal, plastic, and eventually the silicone, vacuum, and modern glass fire cups we use today. While the history of cupping is steeped in lore and tradition, it has been used in many cultures throughout history. While many believe that it originated from ancient Chinese cultures there is pictorial evidence of the Egyptians using it back in 1500 BC.
What is Cupping?
Dry Cupping or Hijama (wet cupping) creates a suction, or negative pressure, over the body using a device. Typically, fire or another heat source is used to create suction, lifting body tissue and drawing fluids to the surface. Today, wet cupping or Hijama must be done by an individual certified in Traditional Chinese Medicine. A Hijama practitioner creates holes in the recipient’s skin and then uses cups to bring fluids such as blood and toxins into the cupping device to remove them from the body.
Traditional Chinese Medicine
Cupping therapy in China can be traced back to 28 AD. Traditional Chinese Medicine has used a variety of natural medicine for healing. Modalities such as acupuncture, herbal medicine, diet therapy, massage, and eventually cupping were used and are still prevalent in modern healthcare today. Cupping was originally used in surgery as a way to divert blood away from the surgical site. It would later be used as an effective way to treat diseases and be used for therapeutic treatments.
East Asian societies believed cupping could move Qi or energy throughout the body like acupuncture. Ge Hong who was herbalist and alchemist of the Jin Dynasty is believed to be the first to use this modality in China. Ge Hong believed, “cupping and acupuncture combined, more than 1/2 of the ills can be cured.”
Chinese cupping therapy can be traced to 28 C.E. Ge Hong was herbalist and alchemist of the Jin Dynasty who is credited with popularizing cupping in China. Ge and Asian societies believed cupping could move Qi, or energy, throughout the body, much like with acupuncture. Healers originally used cupping in surgery as a way to divert blood away from a surgical site but would eventually use cupping as an effective therapeutic for many ailments. Ge Hong believed that with “cupping and acupuncture combined, more than half of the illnesses can be cured.” Cupping, acupuncture, herbal medicine, diet therapy, and massage are all contemporary therapies with roots in Ge’s era.
Cupping in ancient Egypt was used for a variety of ailments. Ancient texts describe using cupping to address pain, weakened appetite, menstrual imbalances, fever, vertigo and accelerating the “healing crisis” or recovery from disease.
Cupping spread from ancient Egypt to Greece and eventually other European and American societies.
Cupping has been a popular treatment in Muslim societies and is considered prophetic medicine, which means it was recommended directly by the prophet Muhammad. The Arabic term is “Al-hijamah.” Muhammad said to his followers, “Indeed the best of remedies you have is hijamah.” Al-hijamah is still used today.
In the fourteenth century, cupping started appearing in Europe and would be used to treat ailments such as gout. While it waned in popularity through the seventeenth century, it would be used for pain relief during a difficult labor. Medical professionals in France started using cupping in the 1920’s for pancreatic pain and respiratory issues. Like in Muslim and East Asian societies, cupping remains a relatively common therapy in Europe today.
In the 1950’s, the Soviet Union and China formed a collaborative research effort and confirmed the clinical efficacy of cupping therapy. Large number of European, American, and Chinese doctors started using the modality and it became an official therapy of Chinese hospitals.
Cupping on breast also started to be used for lactation dysfunctions and inflamed breast. These usages are what led to the modern breast pumps used today.
Cupping has gone mainstream in the United States. In 2005, celebrities such as Justin Beiber and Jennifer Anniston showed off their cupping marks at Hollywood events. In 2016, Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps caused a surge of interest in cupping when he was seen with marks on his back. He said this helped him improve his performance and recovery and soon many other athletes would follow suit.
Cupping today is commonly used by physical therapists, acupuncturists, chiropractors, massage therapists, naturopaths and more. Hundreds of thousands of medical professionals worldwide agree, dry and wet cupping can improve circulation, boost the immune system, stimulate lymphatic drainage, reduce muscle tension, break adhesions and scar tissue, remove toxins, work through fascial dysfunctions, and much more.
Check out Level Up’s Cupping page to learn more about this treatment method.
History of Cupping: ACE Massage Cupping & Medicupping
The History of Chinese Medicine Cupping: Kootenay Columbia College of Integrative Health Sciences
The History and mystery of cupping: Hektoen International A journal of Medical Humanities
The History of Cupping: Melboune Remedial Massage News, Myotherapy, Remedial Massage