Cupping Therapy (Ba Guan)

Are you curious about the peculiar round, red marks that you might have seen on people’s backs sometimes? These marks likely stem from them having undergone cupping therapy, also called Ba Guan.

What is Cupping Therapy?


Cupping therapy is a common treatment in traditional Chinese medicine that involves placing cups on the skin to create suction through negative vacuum. 

There are two ways cupping therapy can be implemented:

Dry Cupping: Cups are placed on the skin and suction is created by applying flame to the glass cup (also known as fire cupping). 

Wet Cupping: Small incisions are made on the skin using a lancet needle. The cups are then applied to draw out the small amount of blood.

At PULSE, we primarily employ dry cupping. Occasionally, wet cupping may be recommended for certain conditions when deemed beneficial (with your consent). 

How Cupping Works

A TCM Perspective

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the human body is interconnected via a network of pathways called meridians;  through which blood and life energy (Qi) flow. When Qi and blood flow normally, the organs and the body are able to perform their respective functions ideally. This allows the human body to be well-nourished; and people to function and feel balanced. However, when there are blockages or stagnation at any areas, the Qi and blood are unable to flow normally. This results in an accumulation of harmful elements which hinders the organs and body functioning. This can manifest into pain, illnesses or other conditions. 

The principle behind cupping therapy is based on the TCM quote– “Where there’s stagnation, there will be pain. Remove the stagnation, and you remove the pain.” In cupping therapy, a strong suction is created from the negative pressure in the cup.  By deploying this suction on the meridians and collaterals, cupping is believed to:

  • Invigorate the circulation of Qi and blood to target areas 
  • Remove any Qi blockage and thus relieve pain. 
  • Help strengthen the body’s immune system
  • Remove toxins and promote detoxification. 

The Meanings of Your Cupping Marks

The red marks that can result from cupping therapy are a common and expected side effect of the treatment. They are caused by the suction created by the cups during the cupping session, which lead to the rupture of tiny blood vessels (capillaries) just beneath the skin’s surface. This rupture results in the release of small amounts of blood into the surrounding tissues. 

These marks are not usually painful nor indicative of injury. On the other hand, they are often seen as a sign that the therapy is effectively releasing tension and promoting circulation.

The specific shade of cupping marks can provide insights into a person’s health and signify any underlying issues. Your physician might use this information in conjunction with other factors to inform your diagnosis and treatment. 

Shade of Cupping Marks


Mild redness

Healthy circulation

Pale and white

Qi and blood deficiency

Moderate redness

Moderate stagnation

Dark red bruises

Severe stagnation

With water droplets


Dark circular dots within bruise

Presence of toxins and severe stagnation


Benefits of Cupping


Cupping is especially beneficial for bodily pains, such as shoulder pain, upper or lower back pain. Patients often report tremendous relief from their pain after cupping. Cupping is also often performed on tense muscles, after which patients usually report feeling much relieved and relaxed on the treated body parts. 

The following lists the common conditions and issues cupping is used for. It is often used in tandem with another treatment such as acupuncture. Note that this list is not exhaustive and your physician may recommend it for other conditions not listed.  

  • Shoulder pain
  • Upper and Lower back pain
  • Upper respiratory tract infection 
  • Slimming
  • Digestive issues
  • Shingles

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Cupping generally is not painful. Some patients have described it as a suction force when the cups were placed on them, some said it has a massage-like effect, while others said they felt nothing.Certain cupping techniques; such as ‘slide cupping’; might lead to transient pain and discomfort. However, your physician might still recommend using them when judged to be beneficial. With slide cupping, for example, patients often report that despite the initial pain, they feel great relief from tense muscles after the process.

This varies person-to-person. For some patients, their cupping marks may disappear within a week. For others, it may take around two weeks. 

To maximise the benefits from your treatment:

  • Ensure that all of your cupping marks are gone before going for another session of cupping therapy.
  • Wait at least two hours after your cupping session before showering. 
  • Do not consume cold drinks right after the treatment.

Yes, you are not recommended to undergo cupping if you have any of these conditions:

  • Open wounds or active infections in the areas where cupping would be performed
  • Pregnancy
  • Bleeding disorders
  • Taking anticoagulant (blood thinning) medications

During the initial consultation, please inform your physician of any medical condition you have or any medications that you are taking. 

In deciding which type of TCM treatment is best for you, it would be best to consult your condition with your physician, who will conduct a proper assessment and recommend the treatment tailored to your needs.

Do also discuss any questions or concerns  with your physician before the start of treatment. To alleviate your worries and provide you with a clearer understanding of what to expect. 

Begin your journey to wellness. Book your appointment with a PULSE physician today.

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