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8 Points I Have to Make on the Recent Cupping Therapy Debate

A Chronic Voice: 8 Points I Have to Make on the Recent Cupping Therapy Debate

Recently there has been much furore in Western media outlets, over the red marks seen on the bodies of some athletes competing in the Rio Olympics. I might be a little late to this cupping therapy debate, but I do have a few points that I think are still relevant to make. The angle I would like to offer for this piece is threefold:

  • As a Chinese person in regards to a traditional Chinese therapy.
  • As a chronic illness patient in regards to alternative treatments.
  • General thoughts on cultural differences.

1. It is Not A Fad or Trend

Many of the titles in Western news outlets have labelled this traditional therapy as a fad or trend, such as these opinionated articles from The Atlantic, Forbes and CNN. Cupping therapy has been around for thousands of years. To give a rough time frame for reference, modern antibiotics has been in usage only for the past 90 years or so. And the first modern vaccine was used in the late 1700s for smallpox, although they were used in some form by older civilisations as well.

Just because it is something unknown in one’s own culture, doesn’t mean that it is a new invention. Even the use of the words ‘alternative therapy’ ties back to Western medicine; a lot of these alternative treatments have been primary to a certain culture for centuries. Hence in some way, I can’t help but feel that this whole debate isn’t just a medical one, but overlaps with cultural aspects too.

2. Lack of Proof Does Not Mean Proof of Quackery

Scientific studies all need monetary investment, often by the million. Perhaps the reason why there isn’t enough data to verify the health benefits of such therapies, might be due to the lack of funding. A lack of evidence does not equate to evidence of quackery however. A lack of evidence simply means insufficient data to conclude definitively.

3. It’s Not Your Body, So It’s Not For You to Decide

That’s pretty straightforward I think. To each their own – you have the right to disagree with this article I’m writing as well.

4. What Do We Really Know?

Something that never fails to leave me in awe, is how much knowledge the universe contains. We cannot even begin to comprehend the infinity of it. Our arrogance is astounding too. We can’t even say for certain why some people are left-handed, can’t even explain many of the brain’s functions, can’t even clean up after our dump on the environment. What do we really know about cupping therapy at all?

To illustrate with an example, human beings can see an estimated seven to ten million colours. That does seem like quite a lot, yet birds have the ability to perceive many more colours, and some can see UV light as well. These are things that we can only imagine in theory and not comprehend in reality. At the end of the day, our understanding of things is limited to the confines of our mind and experience. The good news is, the room for expansion within our minds is also limitless.

5. Blood Clotting Disorders

The red marks left on the skin are so tangible, that there is one thing we know for certain about cupping therapy. They are a result of blood capillaries rupturing at the surface of the skin from the suction. As someone with a blood clotting disorder, such a therapy isn’t even one I can consider.

However, cupping therapy isn’t the only alternative treatment people like me need to avoid. Popular, mainstream treatments can cause us harm as well. Many health diets that include vegetable juicing and certain super or even regular fruits, can actually trigger clots, bleeding or inflammation in our bodies. To phrase it in another way, the consequences of such health diets are no different from that of cupping therapy’s, except for the visibility of impact.

6. It is a Normal Sight in Asian Societies

I grew up seeing these marks on people walking around the streets, and it is nothing unusual at all. No major issues have arisen from it and if it helps someone to feel better, whether placebo or not, then why not?

Local newspapers gave this topic a cursory cover due to the outburst from Western societies. But it wasn’t too newsworthy and they moved on the next day to other more important topics of the Olympics.

7. Of Course, Always Exercise Common Sense

In general, I believe that everything should be taken in moderation. When done or taken in excess, even a good thing becomes a bad thing more often than not.

There is no need to go to extremes like this man, or this poor boy who ended up dead. Never stop taking medications without your doctor’s advise, and always listen to your body. Common sense extends beyond cupping therapy, to other areas of healthcare and self care too.

8. I Am Definitely Not Against Western Medicine

In fact, I am very grateful to it for having saved my life many times, and for all the good it’s done for the world as a whole. From curbing epidemics, to reducing the number of preventable deaths, and so much more. The current regimen for my multiple autoimmune, heart and brain disorders are all Western in nature, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Cupping therapy isn’t something I will ever try due to health and vanity reasons (ahem), but I wouldn’t conclude that it is definitely a bad thing to do. If you wish to analyse it from a scientific approach, then you need to disprove it with hard evidence as well. Also, just because we can’t ‘see’ visual feedback on a machine or quantify something, does not mean that it is non-existent. Sometimes I think that is the biggest difference between Western and Asian cultures in general. Neither is better or worse, and it is great to have differences so that we may grow beyond our limited worlds.

I’m finally done bashing on the bashers, so that makes me no better than them 😉 But I do hope that this article provides a reasonable and different perspective as well.

    Interesting Reads:

  1. Birds See Colors Invisible to Humans (article on Futurity):
  2. Color & Vision Matters (article on Color Matters):
  3. The History of Chinese Medicine Cupping (article on Academy of Classical Oriental Sciences):
  4. History of Chinese Cupping (article on Chinese Cupping):
  5. Timeline of the Discovery and Introduction of Antibiotics (article on Nature Review):
  6. Who Invented Vaccination? (article on Explorable):
  7. A Brief History of Vaccines & Vaccination in India (article on National Center for Biotechnology Information):
  8. 11 Alternative Medicines Explained (article on Greatist):
  9. Cupping or Acupuncture: Which Alternative Body Treatment Is Right for You? (article on

  10. List of Negative, Opinionated Articles on Cupping Therapy Found:

  11. Rio 2016: What Is ‘Cupping’ and Why Are Olympic Athletes Doing It? (article on The Independent):
  12. Please, Michael Phelps, Stop Cupping (article on The Atlantic):
  13. Olympics in Bright Red Spots: What Is Cupping? (article on CNN):
  14. Michael Phelps Is Getting Some Awful Medical Advice (And Bruises Too) (article on Forbes):
  15. Michael Phelps, Other Olympians Spotted with Tell-Tale Signs of ‘Cupping,’ but Does It Really Help? (article on Forbes):
  16. Thanks, Michael Phelps, for Glamorizing Cupping Quackery! (article on Science Blogs):
  17. Cupping, the Rio Olympics Health Trend, Can Do More Harm Than Good (article on Nautilus):

  18. List of Neutral or Informative Articles on Cupping Therapy Found:

  19. Why Are so Many Olympians Covered in Large Red Circles? (article on BBC):
  20. Cupping Therapy 101 (article on Hospital For Special Surgery):
  21. Michael Phelps and the Great Cupping Debate: Why the Olympic Gold Medalist May Actually Be Right (article on Newsweek):
  22. Michael Phelps Has Big Red Circles on His Back from ‘Cupping Therapy’ — Here’s How It Works (article on Business Insider):
  23. Cupping Therapy Is so Popular in China That People Just Do It in the Street (article & video on Business Insider):

  24. Other Opinions on Cupping Therapy:

  25. I Use Cupping for My Chronic Pain. Please Don’t Call It a ‘Fad’ (article by C.D. Mesta on The Mighty):
  26. Cupping and Coining: I Did It Long Before Phelps (article on CTV News):

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Carrie Kellenberger
September 18, 2020 12:17

I didn’t realize there was a debate or people bashing cupping therapy, aside from my story, which genuinely was just a bad decision for me. Had I known then what I know now, I wouldn’t have tried it.

But I also know plenty of people who love this type of therapy and it works well for them. To each their own.

Great article, Sheryl! I like seeing personal perspectives and studies as well, even though it’s not an option anymore for me.

Sheryl Chan
September 22, 2020 03:07

I wrote this during the Olympics, when people were bashing athletes who were using it and had clear marks on them.

Yes to each their own! I’ve never tried it myself as I have a blood clotting disorder, but my parents even enjoy it from time to time ll.