Cupping burns: don’t try this at home

Mr Marc Seifman1, Mr K. Skaria Alexander1, Mr Cheng Lo1, Assoc Prof Heather Cleland1,2

1Victorian Adult Burns Service, 2Monash University Central Clinical School


Cupping therapy is a practice that involves placing heated cups on the skin to apply negative pressure to a focal area, with purported healing properties. In recent times, the use of cupping has been popularised, including by high performance athletes, and recently American Olympian swimmer, Michael Phelps. Despite its recent popularisation cupping can result in severe burn injuries. A review of burns registry data was undertaken, identifying 20 patients sustaining cupping burn injuries over a seven-year period. The majority of cupping burns were flame-related, occurring in a residential environment. An accelerant was used in 95% of cases, and was the cause of the burn injury The mean TBSA affected was 7.90±4.46%. Seventeen patients (85%) underwent debridement under anaesthesia, and eight (40%) required a skin graft. Cupping is a traditional practice with limited empirical data to support its use. If cupping is to be performed in the domestic setting, extreme care should be exercised when using accelerants and performing this traditional therapy.

Marc Seifman is a Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon, having worked in his final registrar year at the Victorian Adult Burns Service at the Alfred Hospital. He is currently undertaking further fellowships and has interests in burns surgery, as well as craniofacial and aesthetic surgery.

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