A person sitting with Hijama cups on their knee and ankle.

What Is Hijama (Wet Cupping)?

I personally take biologic medications. However, I am always interested in learning about and using different complementary techniques.

In the 2016 Olympics, the cupping technique was displayed on the world stage. Michael Phelps presented with circular marks on his back during the swimming competitions. He revealed that he used cupping to help improve blood circulation and to help with muscle recovery time.1

What is hijama?

Hijama is an Arabic word meaning “sucking” or vacuum. It essentially is a bloodletting technique and is used to rid the body of toxins and increase blood flow and circulation. It is a technique used in the US, the Middle East, China, and Europe.1

Hijama has been used in a variety of medical conditions such as rheumatic conditions like fibromyalgia and some blood disorders.2 Hijama also been used to help:1,2

  • Pain
  • Speed up the healing process
  • Soothe inflammation
  • Decrease swelling
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Anxiety and depression

How does wet cupping work?

In essence, Hijama strives to take out or free up and move congested blood from certain areas in your body. In Hijama’s theory, when blood flow is decreased or slowed down, it interferes with the delivery of needed oxygen, enzymes, vitamins, immune system cells, and specific antibodies to your body’s organs, cells, and tissues.1,2

Steps for wet cupping

  1. Specifically designed cups are placed on the body. In individuals with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), cups are placed directly on the joints.
  2. A flammable substance, such as alcohol, herbs, or paper is placed in the specially designed cup. The substance is then set on fire.
  3. As the fire goes out, the therapist places the cup upside-down on the affected area or joint. This creates a sucking or vacuum. This vacuum that is created pulls the body’s vessels and skin towards the cup.
  4. Cups are left on for approximately 3 minutes though this can vary depending on the patient's need
  5. Once cups are in position, blood is drawn into the cups through small incisions on the skin made prior.

This isn't an option for everyone

Always speak to your medical team and rheumatologist before trying any treatment like this. It is not for everyone. There is not a lot of research directed towards the validity of the use of this technique in those living with RA. Wet cupping is contraindicated in:3,4

  • Children under the age of 10 years old
  • Adults 70 years and older
  • Individuals using blood thinning and anti-clotting medications such as, but not limited to, aspirin, heparin, Eliquis, Pradaxa, and warfarin.
  • Women who are pregnant and breastfeeding
  • Individuals recovering from surgery
  • Individuals with anemia (lack of red blood cells in their body)
  • Individuals with a history of cancer, diabetes, asthma, and heart attacks.

Does it hurt?

This answer is completely dependent on each person and how they perceive pain and the intensity of pain. Potential side effects may include:3,4

  • Mild discomfort
  • Circular bruises or discoloration of the skin (on average last 4-5 days) where cups are placed
  • A temporary light-headed feeling post wet cupping therapy
  • Potential infections. Often, the therapist will provide you with an antibiotic ointment prior to leaving sessions. They will also provide application instructions as a preventive measure against any infection.

How many treatments are needed?

I have not found any currently published literature that provides a guideline. Some of the literature I’ve researched suggests that treatment is based on how you are feeling after receiving treatment. Most people will return once per month and others every 3 months, 6 months, or 12 months routinely.

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