Cupping Therapy for Colds, Flus, and Lung Health


Cupping glass, photo with shallow depth of field

The Olympics showed the world that cupping therapy is a great tool to help relieve muscle soreness, pain, and to improve recovery after athletic training; but cupping therapy can do so much more. Cupping therapy’s other main uses are to stimulate the immune system, protect respiratory health, and to facilitate detoxification. We’ll talk about cupping therapy’s detoxification uses next week. This week we’ll focus on the lungs.

One of the first introductions to cupping therapy that I had as a patient was in college when I developed a cold that progressed quickly into a strong cough with a nice chest rattle within 24 hours of getting sick. I was worried since two months before I had struggled with pneumonia, and didn’t want to repeat the experience. I already had an appointment with my acupuncturist, so I decided to see him first before heading into my primary care physician. My acupuncturist told me that cupping therapy had a solid chance of getting me over that cough in a day or two. I tried it. Noted the strange pulling sensation on my back that I actually enjoyed, and by evening my cough was less juicy, so to speak. Within 24 hours I was completely over my cold.

Fast forward to the first year of my master’s program at the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine in Portland, OR. During our first class on cupping therapy, I remember the first salient point regarding the uses for cupping therapy was for the health of the lungs and the immune system. Cupping is often used to overcome a cold or flu, quickly, efficiently, and to help avoid an upper respiratory tract infection progressing into bronchitis or pneumonia.

The lungs in East Asian medicine govern or are in charge of part of the immunes system, and ailments that impact the entire respiratory tract from the nose to the deepest lobes of the lungs. Some of these ailments associated with the lungs are: seasonal allergies, chronic year round allergies, colds, flus, any cough including those from bronchitis and pneumonia, and COPD. To address these ailments, you must treat the lungs often with a combination of acupuncture and cupping therapy.

Specifically for overcoming colds, flus, bronchitis, and pneumonia, it is important to  get cupping early. If you get cupping therapy as soon as you recognize that you are getting sick, you stand a good chance of limiting your illness to 24 to 48 hours. I have seen this play out in my clinic when strong colds and flus run through town. The patients that got cupping early, were only sick for a day or two, while non-patients or individuals that didn’t know to get cupping therapy done where sick for two weeks.

Cupping therapy will help your lungs recover and especially to deal with phlegm if the cold or flu does make it into your lungs, or if it takes you a few days to realize you’ve come down with a cold. In these cases, cupping will help shorten the length of your cold, but it may take more than 24 to 48 hours.

How does cupping help?

Cupping helps to stimulate the immune system to focus on the lungs and upper respiratory tract. This means the immune system essentially sends troops to the area to clean up the cold and flu virus or bacteria invaders. Getting cupping early in a cold or flu, may cause you to spike a fever for 24 hours. This is a sign that the immune system is quite active.

Cupping also will help break up phlegm in your lungs, which will allow you to cough it out. This is especially useful if you feel any congestion in your chest. Ever have a cold where it felt like you had some phlegm that needed to come out, but you just couldn’t cough it up? Cupping will help with this.

Can cupping be preventative for colds and flus?

Cupping therapy can help keep your immune system in tip top shape if done regularly during the autumn and winter cold and flu season. This will make you less likely to get sick. In other words, if you keep your immune system strong, you can be exposed to colds and flus from kids at school or your coworkers and you will not get sick. Just being exposed to a cold or flu does not always correlate to getting sick. We all know people who seem to never get sick, and people who seem to always get sick. This is a reflection of the strength of their immune system.

Eating well, exercising regularly, and getting regular sleep all contribute to a healthy immune system. Adding regular cupping therapy to your routine if you work in an environment where you regularly get exposed to colds and flus can also help give you that added protection against getting sick.

Cupping therapy has origins in most countries across the globe. I took a three day seminar from the International Cupping Therapy Association and learned about both Greek and Russian cupping to overcome colds and flus. These techniques have many similarities to East Asian fire cupping, but have specific protocols for either breaking up phlegm in the lungs with the Greek method, or to stimulate the immune system to overcome a cold quickly with the Russian method.



Cupping therapy is a tool that has withstood centuries and is still used across the globe for various treatment modalities.  Many cultures have developed specific techniques for overcoming colds and flus or avoiding them completely. So if you are someone who often gets sick during the autumn or winter, you can become someone that rarely gets sick by utilizing cupping therapy. Or if you just want to quickly get over a cold, find a healthcare practitioner with certification in cupping therapy to help you get back to your super healthy self.

Here’s to a healthy autumn and winter everyone!


Lindsey Thompson is the owner and acupuncturist at Thompson Family Acupuncture Clinic.     She established in 2012 to help spread the joy and passion of Chinese medicine to the anyone who is interested.  She loves whole foods, looking at tongues, talking about tongues, and in her off hours can be found running, rock climbing and raising chickens.

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