Cupping Therapy May Not Be Effective Treatment Option for Fibromyalgia, Study Shows

Cupping Therapy May Not Be Effective Treatment Option for Fibromyalgia, Study Shows

Cupping therapy may not improve fibromyalgia symptoms, and therefore should not be recommended as a treatment option for patients with the condition, according to new research.

The study, “Efficacy Of Cupping Therapy In Patients With The Fibromyalgia Syndrome – A Randomised Placebo Controlled Trial,” and was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Cupping therapy is a noninvasive ancient Chinese medical practice which consists of applying suction to the skin, generally using small circular cups. A vacuum is formed by either using a handheld pump or heating the inside of the cups. Variations of this therapy include skin incisions that allow blood and other body fluids to escape, as well as dry cupping and cupping massages, in which no incisions are made.

Practitioners believe that cupping increases blood circulation, eliminates toxins and relieves painful muscle tension.

To study whether cupping therapy could offer relief to fibromyalgia patients, 141 patients ages 18 to 75 were enrolled in the study and randomly assigned to one of three groups: therapy with dry cupping, sham cupping, or usual care.

“Sham” cupping resembles the real treatment to study participants, but is done in such a way so that patients should not feel any pain relief. Patients generally don’t know whether they are getting the sham or the cupping therapy.

Cupping and sham groups received five sessions at twice weekly intervals within 18 days. Cupping was performed on the patients’ upper and lower back using four to eight acrylic glass cups (50–100 mm diameter). The skin suction was performed using a mechanical device and the negative pressure on the skin was adjusted to a comfortable level. After 10 to 15 minutes, the cups were removed.

The sham group received the same treatment, but their cups did not maintain skin suction. The usual care group did not receive any therapies to treat their symptoms.

Researchers evaluated treatment outcomes at the study’s start, day 18 and after six months. The primary outcome of the study was pain intensity at day 18, but other parameters, such as functional disability, quality of life, fatigue, sleep quality, pressure pain sensitivity, satisfaction, and safety were measured at day 18 and at six months.

After the treatment, patients reported significantly less pain compared to patients in the usual care group, as well as an improvement in certain quality of life aspects (bodily pain, vitality, social role functioning and mental health). However, no differences were found between patients in the cupping and sham groups, except in bodily pain, at day 18.

“Despite cupping therapy being more effective than usual care to improve pain intensity and quality of life, effects of cupping therapy were small and comparable to those of a sham treatment, and as such cupping cannot be recommended for fibromyalgia at the current time,” the authors wrote in their report.

6 comments

  1. Denise Bault says:

    Thought about trying this. Not covered by insurance, of course. Your article probably saved me much needed money. Thanks!
    p.s. Anyone on this site try it and actually have positive results?

  2. Marilynne Rowland says:

    I love cupping and really get results, but this is not a one time treatment. I have been receiving cupping when needed for 6+ years. It is especially helpful on my shoulders and neck when my stress exacerbates the tension I carry in those areas. Also, it does NOT have to be painful if done correctly. The more intense the “bruising” the better the results. This treatment also helps my Atlas Orthogonal chiropractic treatments work better.

  3. Don says:

    Did I read incorrectly, or am I missing something in my education. The title states cupping therapy may not be effective treatment treatment. But the body of the summary clearly states that the group receiving the actual therapy had positive results. As I cut and paste here: After the treatment, patients reported significantly less pain compared to patients in the usual care group, as well as an improvement in certain quality of life aspects (bodily pain, vitality, social role functioning and mental health). However, no differences were found between patients in the cupping and sham groups, except in bodily pain, at day 18.
    Maybe the title should be rewritten as “Cupping Proves Positive”. Maybe “Cupping, A Great Therapy”. But, to be negative about a therapy that induces no drugs into ones body that has positive effects with no negative side effects is a wonderful treatment that should be exploited exponentially.

    • Tim Bossie says:

      Hi Don! Thank you for your comment. You may be right in that the title does need a little reworking. I will make sure that the editors know about it. While the results were positive, there are still those who do not benefit, most notably in the long term, from cupping. Perhaps we should reflect the title to say as much. However, you make an important point about treatments without the use of drugs. That is something that needs a lot more awareness and support. We will try out best to do a better job.

  4. Jan says:

    I have been having cupping treatment for 6 months and feel that it has really helped me. My range of motion in my arms has increased considerably. Pain has decreased and been more manageable.

  5. GT says:

    Am i missing something here? The study clearly showed there were some benefits such as “less pain compared to patients in the usual care group, as well as an improvement in certain quality of life aspects” and the post discharge follow up was up to 6 months. Cupping effects can clearly not last that much, nevertheless, even ignoring the Chinese Medicine’s therapeutic perspective, cupping provides myofascial decompression, soft-tissue releas eand a plethora of pharmacological actions (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jtcme.2014.11.036). During its application the skin becomes hyperemic and thus increase local circulation. In addition, muscles tend to relax and trigger points may be released.

    I believe the title of this article is misleading as the article and the trial demonstrate that cupping provides some short lasting results..

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