Cupping is a form of treatment often used alongside acupuncture as part of Traditional Chinese Medicine, as well as being widespread across traditional cultures in Asia, the Middle East and North Africa. It involves first of all applying a massage oil or other suitable lubricant to the part of the body to be treated and then a special cup in which the pressure has been temporarily lowered, either by briefly introducing a flame inside the cup (the traditional method) or with modern cupping devices using a suction pump. It is a little like reverse massage - rather than someone applying pressure to your body, they are reducing the pressure. The immediate effect is that the tissue on which the cup is placed is drawn up into the cup.
If you've not seen it before, it can look a little alarming, but actually it just feels slightly tight and not at all painful - in fact it is sometimes a useful form of treatment for people who might benefit from acupuncture but whose severe needle phobia puts them off. Once the cups are removed, a circular mark will remain on the skin, perhaps for a few days in some cases, which may be inconvenient if you are a fashion model for instance.
One of the most immediate benefits of cupping is that it stretches the tissue under the cup, which makes it a useful treatment for problems involving overly tense muscles. A recent meta-analysis of research into cupping for neck pain, for example, showed significant reduction in pain and corresponding improvement in function (i.e. the ability to turn your head); unwelcome side effects were infrequent, mild and temporary.* Since a lot of neck pain is at least partly due to muscle tension in the neck and shoulders, that cupping should be helpful is not surprising.
Another effect of cupping is to increase blood flow through the area being cupped and its surroundings - often the area will flush red because of this. Again this helps with tight muscles and facilitates tissue healing, which makes it useful in the treatment of ligaments and tendons, which tend to heal slowly because of their limited blood supply.
* Is Cupping Therapy Effective in Patients with Neck Pain? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis MJ Open. 2018 Nov 5;8(11):e021070.
Acupuncture is more effective than anti-inflammatories in the treatment of period pain according to a meta-analysis of 17 randomised controlled trials. (In plain English, that means that some people have taken the trouble to have a look at 17 different respectable clinical trials and pulled all the results together to form a conclusion.) I guess, though, that some women will still prefer to just pop a pill or two to try to deal with their pain at period time, since this is quicker than going to the trouble of having some acupuncture, and maybe cheaper too if they don't have to pay for the drugs. But on the other hand anti-inflammatory medication is not free from side effects; less likely to be a problem perhaps if you only take them once a month. But then suppose you have some other aches and pains as well?
The advantage traditional acupuncture has is that, apart from being such a safe form of treatment, it looks at a woman as a whole being, and not just at her reproductive organs in isolation. In this view, period pain is maybe just the major, or one of the major, manifestations of an underlying disharmony which is not being dealt with at all by just taking a painkiller, convenient as that might be if it works. For example, consider a woman who has painful periods, who also tends to get a bit irritable running up to her period, who sometimes has migraines and who has irritable bowel syndrome. From the point of view of traditional acupuncture, all of these symptoms are part of a package, all of them are branches of the same tree, and what the woman really needs is some treatment which treats the tree as a whole, and not just one branch or another - one medication for the period pain, one for the migraines, one for the bowels etc.
In this example the root of the problem, the disharmony which underlies the various symptoms, is likely to be what is called Liver Qi Stagnation. (This could perhaps be confirmed by asking a few more judicious questions, and perhaps taking the woman's pulse.) Liver Qi Stagnation, of course, is not a term that has any meaning in the context of the form of medicine we are used to, but it has plenty of meaning within the context of the 2,000 years plus of Chinese medicine. In short, it means that things in our system are not flowing freely, transitions are not smooth; as far as the menstrual cycle is concerned, it means that the transitions from one part of the cycle to the next is not happening quite as nature intended, one consequence of which is pain. Live,r Qi Stagnation usually arises as a result of frustration, stress, even repressed anger and might be said to be the characteristic malaise of the modern woman, and the modern man as well, reflecting a way of life which involves a fairly relentless pursuit of ' success' at the expense of some of our deeper needs and nature. (What we are doing to the planet, we are also doing to ourselves.)
From this point of view, acupuncture is a way of restoring the free flow of Qi, releasing built up tension and loosening us up a little, supporting the natural cycles of our being and, in the case of the monthly cycle, promoting a smoother transition from one stage to the next. As well as thus relieving the pain at period time, it can start to open a door to a way of being in which we are more in harmony with our own bodies, with the natural world around us, and are as a result happier, freer and more content.
(Comparative efficacy and safety of NSAIDs-controlled acupuncture in the treatment of patients with primary dysmenorrhoea: a Bayesian network meta-analysis. J Int Med Res. 2018 Nov 30:300060518800609.)
Here is some of the latest news on acupuncture and related things, perhaps with a few of my thoughts thrown in for good measure.