"a small cup from the collection they used to heat and place on my back to take the blood"
A patient receiving fire cupping treatment
Creative Commons AttributionA patient receiving fire cupping treatment - Credit: Alanna Ralph

Cupping (sometimes known as fire cupping) is an alternative form of medicine which is thought to date back to around 3000BC. Small porcelain cups are heated and placed on the patient’s skin, forming an airtight seal. As the cup cools, the air inside contracts which forms a partial vacuum and suction on the skin, drawing blood to the area. The practice is sometimes combined with blood-letting: a small scratch is first made in the skin; when the cup is placed over it, the pressure difference causes blood to be drawn out of the wound.

Cupping was a common form of therapy which general practitioners used until the end of the 19th century. It is now uncertain whether it does actually have any benefits – the American Cancer Society has refuted any health benefits of the technique, but in some countries it is still widely practised. The British Cupping Society is attempting to keep the practice in use and can provide more information about the methods and supposed health benefits.