What Does Cupping Do For Athletes?

Athlete receiving cupping therapy

Many athletes, including BJJ and MMA fighters, use different methods to aid their recovery. One method that is becoming more popular is the cupping method.

You’ve probably seen videos of cupping being done but may not know what it is used for. That is why we’re going to do in-depth and see what cupping does for athletes.

We’ll go over all of the benefits of cupping and a little bit into the history of the practice.

What does cupping do for athletes? The process of cupping has numerous health benefits for athletes that use it. Every from fighting off inflammation, improving blood flow, reducing trigger points, and relieving pain. These benefits and many more are why more athletes are trying cupping therapy.

What is Cupping?

Cupping is a form of alternative medicine where cups are heated up and placed on a patient’s skin. The cups being heated up causes them to suction onto their skin and raise it into the cups.

This suction causes the tissue to stretch up. Increasing blood flow and activating the patient’s immune system and flushes the area, which is why the skin turns purple.

Dry and Wet Cupping

There are actually two styles of cupping that are used. Dry cupping and wet cupping.

Dry Cupping: Dry cupping is the more traditional style, where cups are heated and cause suction on your skin. A more modern form of dry cupping uses a rubber pump instead of fire to create suction.

Some therapists will use another method where they move the cups around instead of leaving them in one spot. Creating a sensation of a massage mixed with cupping. The cups are left on for three minutes in all of these dry cupping methods.

Wet Cupping: Wet cupping starts out the same as dry cupping but with a slight twist. After three minutes, the suction cups are removed, and the therapist retrieves a scalpel.

They begin to make small incisions around the suctioned skin where excess blood has risen. Basically a modern form of bloodletting where they remove toxic blood that rose to the skin’s surface. The therapist will then rubber antibiotic cream around the cut areas to prevent infections.

The History of Cupping 

It’s hard to pinpoint who developed cupping therapy because so many cultures have used the method. Everyone from ancient Egyptians, Chinese, Greek, and Islamic cultures have used cupping.

The Egyptians

Egyptians may have been the originators of cupping. One of the oldest known medical textbooks is the Egyptian Ebers Papyrus details the cupping method. 

Ancient drawings within the Temple Kom Ombo also show that cupping was used. They used cupping for everything from fevers, menstrual imbalances, pain, and vertigo.

Chinese Herbalist Ge Hong

Cupping could have possibly been developed within China like many other forms of alternative medicine. In Chinese history, this alternative medicine can be dated back to the Han Dynasty.

A famous herbalist named Ge Hong is considered the first to use cupping in China. Hong believed that the use of cupping mixed with acupuncture could cure half of a person’s ailments.

Cupping in Ancient Greece

In ancient Greece, cupping was used by Hippocrates, who is considered the father of modern medicine. Hippocrates would use cupping for menstruation irregularities and many other ailments. These cupping uses were documented in some of the medical guides he wrote. 

Cupping in Ancient Islam

In ancient Islam, the cupping method is known as “al-hijamah.” Famous ancient Islamic physicians from Al-Zahrawi, Ibn Sina, and Abu Bakr Al-Rizi all documented the cupping process within their literature.

Cupping In Europe

After cupping was innovated in the cultures noted above, the practice would be adopted within Europe during the Renaissance era. It was popular in Italy for treating arthritis and gout for many years

The Benefits of Cupping

Cupping provides numerous benefits to athletes, which is why it has rebounded in popularity. Here are some of the numerous benefits that come from cupping.

Inflammation Reduction

One of the biggest problems for BJJ athletes and MMA fighters is inflammation in their muscles. Nagging muscle inflammation is painful and can prevent them from training.

The process of cupping heats up the areas suffering from inflammation and breaks it up by increasing the blood flow. 

Release Scar Tissue

Some athletes with prior surgeries, such as on their shoulder, have built up scar tissue around the area. This scar tissue can lead to problems persisting in the area, which is why it must be released.

This is why many athletes turn to cupping or massages to help release the scar tissue to help with healing.

Pain Relief 

Constant hard training will inevitably lead to muscle pain, making it hard to continue. By doing routine cupping sessions, combat sports athletes can continue training at a high level without stopping due to pain.

Improve Circulation and Mobility

Athletes might suffer from bad circulation that causes trigger points and lack of mobility around a joint. Cupping can help improve blood circulation to release trigger points and improve an athlete’s mobility.

Better Than Anti-Pain Meds

Many athletes will take over-the-counter pain meds like Tylenol or aspirin to deal with pain. In the long run, these meds do more harm than good and mask the pain instead of removing it.

Cupping is a much better option that actually treats the pain and won’t give you future health problems. 

Possible Negative Effects of Cupping

Even though cupping may offer many benefits to athletes, it may also give them other negative effects. Here are some of the possible negative effects of cupping.

Persistent Skin Discoloration

You may feel the positive effects of cupping, but doing it too much can lead to skin discoloration. You may develop semi-permanent suction circles on your body for overdoing it with the cupping.


A therapist that is just learning the cupping method may make some errors during one of the processes. One of the biggest is getting the cups too hot, which can lead to burns on your skin.

Worsen Skin Conditions

You may need to avoid cupping if you suffer from a chronic skin condition, such as eczema or psoriasis. Your sensitive skin may become irritated and cause a flare-up of your skin condition.


Infection is less likely with the dry cupping method but is possible with the wet cupping method. If you’re prone to infections, you may need to avoid cupping altogether and stick to massages.

Does Cupping Really Work? 

Even though cupping has been used for centuries, there is no solid proof that it works. That is why cupping is categorized as “alternative medicine.”

But if something has been consistently used in numerous cultures for centuries, there may actually be something to it. This could be one of the many reasons for its resurgence in recent years.

Should Combat Sports Athletes Use Cupping?

Combat sports athletes should do any type of therapy they feel is beneficial to stay on the mat. Whether it’s cupping, massages or acupuncture. Any one or a combination of all three can help MMA fighters and BJJ athletes on the mat and training.

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Let's Roll BJJ aims to be the leading source of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Grappling information and news on the web. Dorian, the owner and editor of Let's Roll BJJ is a purple belt in Jiu Jitsu and has been training and competing for over 6 years. Apart from being a BJJ geek, Dorian is a software developer by trade, a husband, and a father of two wonderful kids who he's recently began teaching Jiu Jitsu. When he's not training, coding, or writing, you can find him hiking, camping or occasionally binging on video games.


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