Cupping Therapy for Knee Osteoarthritis: A Synthesis of Evidence

Complement Med Res. 2018;25(4):249-255. doi: 10.1159/000488707. Epub 2018 Jul 16.


Background: This systematic review was aimed to evaluate the efficacy and safety of cupping therapy for treating patients with knee osteoarthritis (KOA).

Methods: The following databases were searched from their inception until June 2017: the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, PubMed, EMBASE, and 4 Chinese databases (Wan Fang Data, Chinese Biomedical Literature Database (CBM), VeiPu, and China National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI)). Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) assessing the effects of cupping therapy on KOA were included in this systematic review. A quantitative synthesis of the RCTs was conducted using RevMan 5.3 software. Study selection and data extraction and validation were performed independently by 2 reviewers. Cochrane criteria for risk of bias were used to assess the methodological quality of the trials.

Results: A total of 5 studies met our inclusion criteria. We analyzed the data from these 5 RCTs involving 535 participants. All included studies were judged to be at high risk for bias. Dry cupping therapy plus Western medicine therapy was more effective than Western therapy alone in reducing the pain scores (mean difference (MD) = -1.79, 95% confidence interval (CI) -2.40 to -1.18; p < 0.01). In addition, the study participants in the dry cupping therapy plus Western medicine therapy group showed significantly greater improvements in the pain (MD = -0.73, 95% CI -1.61 to -0.41; p < 0.01), stiffness (MD = -0.94, 95% CI -1.30 to -0.58; p < 0.01), and physical function (MD = -10.07, 95% CI -13.45 to -6.69; p < 0.01) domains of the Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Osteoarthritis Index (WOMAC) compared to participants in the Western medicine therapy group. Moreover, when compared with Western medicine therapy alone, a meta-analysis of 4 RCTs suggested statistically significant favorable effects of wet cupping therapy plus Western medicine on the Lequesne Algofunctional Index (LAI) (MD = -3.44, 95% CI -4.21 to -2.68; p < 0.01).

Conclusion: There is weak evidence to support the hypothesis that cupping therapy has beneficial effects on reducing the pain intensity and improving the physical function in patients with KOA.

Keywords: Cupping therapy; Evidence; Knee osteoarthritis.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • China
  • Humans
  • Medicine, Chinese Traditional / standards*
  • Osteoarthritis, Knee / therapy*
  • Pain Management / standards