Are Cupping Blisters Harmful?

Cupping therapy has a long history in traditional medicine especially in Asian countries. Cupping marks can last a few days to a few weeks. In rare cases, clear or yellowish colored blisters may result. These blisters are a harmless, yet relatively uncommon side-effect of cupping.

Cupping blistersThough these blisters might look painful and worrisome, they are quite easy to treat, and typically will disappear and heal quickly. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is believed that these blisters are often excess amounts of toxins and fluid build up in the skin that the body wants to expel.

Nevertheless, for a long time, there were questions as to whether cupping induced blisters had any beneficial healing effects, and the formation and content in the blisters remain unexplored.

In 2018, a study was conducted by the Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine (SUTCM) to analyse and compare the molecular components of the blister fluid between blisters caused by cupping and scalding. This was done to determine the necessity of inducing blisters during cupping therapy.

Subjects of the study were divided into two groups of fifteen with one group receiving cupping to induce blisters while the other group had blisters induced by scalding. Fluid samples were collected from the two groups and analysed by mass spectrometry as well as other methods.

It was discovered that the protein components in cupping induced blister fluid differed substantially from scald induced blister fluids. There was a significant increase in immune responses, oxidative stress and metabolic related proteins in cupping induced blister fluids.

From that, it can be seen that cupping induced blisters contain several proteins which relate to the activation of certain immune pathways including anti-oxidation, anti-apoptosis (cellular death), tissue repair and metabolic regulation.

Patients that wish to avoid blisters can request that the cups be left on the skin for less than five minutes, which reduces the risk of these blisters from occurring. While this is a good way to avoid them, it may reduce the effectiveness of treatments.

Generally these blisters are very easy to treat and typically will disappear and heal quickly while leaving no scars.

Cupping has been performed for thousands of years in many different cultures and can be considered a folk medicine. Cupping is now most used by acupuncturist, chiropractors, massage therapist and physical therapist.

Give it a try, all you have to lose if your pain.

References

  • Liu Z, Chen C, Li X, et al. Is cupping blister harmful?-A proteomical analysis of blister fluid induced by cupping therapy and scald. Complementary Therapies in Medicine. 2018 Feb;36:25-29. DOI: 10.1016/j.ctim.2017.11.002.
  • Yun, Hye-Yeon & Kwon, Sun-Oh & Kim, Seung-Tae & Park, Hi-Joon & Hahm, Dae-Hyun & Lee, Hye-Jung. (2011). The Study of Blister Caused by Cupping Therapy. Korean Journal of Acupuncture. 28.