Cupping is an ancient form of therapy used in classical Chinese medicine along with other traditional cultures in which a cupping device (often a glass cup, traditionally in China bamboo) is used to create a local suction in which the skin is gently drawn upward through a vacuum effect. Fire cupping is the traditional way of creating this suction involving the use of a small flame. The flame is briefly inserted into the cup away from the body, starving the cup of oxygen, before placing it quickly on the skin to create the desired suction. The cups are then either removed immediately and then quickly returned suction anew, or retain for some number of minutes, or moved (gliding cupping) in long, gradual strokes for a very satisfying and releasing “reverse massage”.
Cupping greatly increases blood profusion to the areas on which it is applied, helping to relieve pain, strongly promote blood flow to underlying tissues allowing the muscles and connective tissue to heal, relieving muscle knots, and reducing swelling. Cupping also draws old blood, pathogens, cold, or heat lodged in the deeper tissues to the surface of the body for release. Cupping calms the nervous system, relieves stress and tension, can relieve stiffness, anxiety, fatigue and many other conditions.
If you would like to learn more, read this excellent essay about the practical uses of cupping, which features a comprehensive description of what the cupping marks mean.