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.