What is Cupping—and Which Celebs Love It?

Featured Article, Healthy Living, Natural Remedies
on April 18, 2013

Pretty much anything Jennifer Aniston does on the red carpet these days makes headlines. But the actress sported a new look this week: the telltale brown circular marks left by cupping, a Chinese medicine practice often used in conjunction with acupuncture.

Cupping therapy is just what it sounds like—placing cups made of various materials like glass, silicone or bamboo on the skin to create a vacuum, then removing them after about 20 minutes. The effect of the suction on the skin stimulates blood flow, which improves circulation and practitioners believe also optimizes “qi,” or the life energy of the body. Various methods are used to help create the vacuum, from heating the cups to using a pump. All of them tend to leave ring-like marks on the skin that fade after about a week. A more invasive method of the therapy called “wet cupping” also involves making small superficial cuts to the skin to cause a small amount of bleeding.

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Some sufferers of fibromyalgia swear by the treatment, while a 2012 study published in the journal PLoS ONE found that cupping therapy appeared to have a positive effect on several conditions that cause chronic nerve pain (herpes zoster and cervical spondylosis) as well as acne and facial paralysis (Bell’s palsy). A handful of small studies conducted in Germany last year found that cupping alleviated chronic neck pain and knee arthritis pain. The treatment typically costs from $50-100 per session.

Natural health trendsetter Gwyneth Paltrow was the first celeb to advertise her affection for cupping after revealing the telltale rings on her back at a premiere in 2004. Other celebrity fans include Victoria Beckham, 90210’s AnnaLynne McCord, Jessica Simpson, Denise Richards and David Arquette. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Chinese swimmer Wang Qun also sported cupping marks on her back.