Is there any evidence that cupping therapy relieves fibromyalgia pain?

Answers from Brent A. Bauer, M.D.

Some studies indicate that cupping, when combined with acupuncture, may reduce fibromyalgia symptoms more effectively than conventional medications such as amitriptyline. Cupping therapy is typically practiced by traditional Chinese medicine practitioners. The theory behind cupping is that it moves or stimulates your body's natural energy — also called qi.

Cupping therapy involves heating the air inside a glass cup, which removes some of the air from the cup. The cup is then quickly placed on the skin, and the resulting vacuum pulls the skin part of the way into the cup. The cup may be left in place for several minutes and then removed, leaving behind a bright red, circular welt. In wet cupping, the skin is pricked with a needle before the cup is placed.

Studies of cupping typically measure the procedure's effectiveness by comparing it with that of other forms of treatment. However, high-quality research studies usually also include a group of people who receive a placebo — a sugar pill or a fake version of the procedure being studied. Because a sham version of cupping hasn't been devised, this level of quality is not yet available for cupping studies.

So while some of the available studies do suggest a possible role for cupping in treating fibromyalgia, the definitive answer to its actual role will have to wait for larger and more rigorous studies to be completed.

March 19, 2014