Baguanfa Cups LargeThe ancient art of applying suction cups to the body has gotten a boost from several new studies that show it helps relieve a variety of painful conditions. But scientists say larger, more rigorous studies are needed.

Cupping, as the practice is called, was performed traditionally in China and other countries, and is now available from acupuncturists, and some chiropractors and massage therapists in the U.S. In the traditional method, called fire cupping, a ball of burning cotton is briefly placed inside a glass cup to heat the air inside, which then creates a partial vacuum as it cools. Newer-style plastic or silicone cups have valves that attach to hand pumps used to create suction.

Until recently, there was scant published evidence in favor of cupping for pain relief. Over the past three years, a handful of new studies have shown it helps relieve back, neck, carpal tunnel and knee pain.

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