A Woman Fell Asleep During Cupping Therapy

January 11, 2021

When you think of cupping therapy, your mind may conjure up large round bruises. In fact, the bruises are often a side effect of this alternative medical technique, which uses suction to attach the round cups to the skin.

Generally speaking, cupping therapy is fairly safe, but for one woman in California, the experience left her with a rather painful aftermath: a neat collection of large, round blisters. According to a new report on her case, the injury was caused when she applied the cup herself and fell asleep.

The woman, who is in her 60s, recently fell and injured her shoulder. To try to heal the injury, she decided to try dry cupping, which proponents of the therapy say increases suction to increase blood flow to the area, which in turn reduces muscle tension and inflammation and promotes healing.

Suction is created by heating the inside of the cup (creating a vacuum) or using a handheld pump. The cup is usually left on the skin for 5 to 15 minutes, according to Healthline.

In this woman’s case, she used a handheld pump to apply the cup to her body, according to the report, published today (Dec. 12) in the journal JAMA Dermatology. But she fell asleep after applying the cup and woke up 30 minutes later. She immediately noticed large, painful blisters in a circular pattern where the cup had been.

These blisters formed because the vacuum had damaged the patient’s skin.” The vacuum suction was strong enough to split the skin, separating the normal two layers [top and bottom] of skin,” said Dr. Maria Wei, co-author of the case report and professor of dermatology at the University of California, San Francisco.

When performed correctly, cupping therapy should not cause blisters, Wei told Live Science. but in this case, the device was not supervised, resulting in “too strong a vacuum” and damaging the skin, Wei said.

“This case illustrates the need for supervision when cupping with a mechanical device” such as a pump, said Wei, who treated the woman.” If properly supervised, there shouldn’t be a problem.”

Cupping gained international attention during the 2016 Summer Olympics, when several athletes, including champion swimmer Michael Phelps, developed round bruises on their bodies as a result of receiving the treatment. (The bruising is a known side effect that occurs when suction causes small blood vessels to burst.)

While many athletes say they’ve experienced benefits from the therapy, there is little rigorous scientific research on the subject, and it’s unclear whether the perceived benefits of the treatment may be due to a placebo effect, Live Science has reported.

Wei said she and her colleagues decided to publish the image to alert users and physicians to this potential side effect of blisters.

According to the report, doctors drained the blisters and applied petroleum jelly to the area under a sterile dressing because of the discomfort they caused the patient.