Cupping refers to an ancient Chinese practice in which a cup is applied to the skin and the pressure in the cup is reduced (by using change in heat or by suctioning out air), so that the skin and superficial muscle layer is drawn into and held in the cup.  In some cases, the cup may be moved while the suction of skin is active, causing a regional pulling of the skin and muscle (the technique is called gliding cupping).  Massage oil is applied in this case to reduce friction.

Generally, the cup is left in place for about 10 minutes (typical range is 5–15 minutes).  The skin becomes reddened due to the congestion of blood flow.  The cup is removed by pressing the skin alongside it to allow some outside air to leak into it, thus equalizing the pressure and releasing it.  Some bruising along the site of the rim of the cup is expected.

Cupping is usually indicated for pain conditions and is applied to the back, legs or arms.  It is a painless treatment as the amount of pressure in the cup can be adjusted.