Wet cupping and Back Pain

Kim JI, Kim TH, Lee MS, Kang JW, Kim KH, Choi JY, Kang KW, Kim AR, Shin MS, Jung SY, Choi SM.



Persistent non-specific low back pain (PNSLBP) is one of the most frequently experienced types of back pain around the world. Wet-cupping is a common intervention for various pain conditions, especially in Korea. In this context, we conducted a pilot study to determine the effectiveness and safety of wet-cupping treatment for PNSLBP.

We recruited 32 participants (21 in the wet-cupping group and 11 in the waiting-list group) who had been having PNSLBP for at least 3 months. The participants were recruited at the clinical research centre of the Korea Institute of Oriental Medicine, Korea. Eligible participants were randomly allocated to wet-cupping and waiting-list groups. Following the practice of traditional Korean medicine, the treatment group was provided with wet-cupping treatment at two acupuncture points among the BL23, BL24 and BL25 6 times within 2 weeks. Usual care, including providing brochures for exercise, general advice for PNSLBP and acetaminophen, was allowed in both groups. Separate assessors participated in the outcome assessment. We used the 0 to 100 numerical rating scale (NRS) for pain, the McGill Pain Questionnaire for pain intensity (PPI) and the Oswestry Disability Questionnaire (ODQ), and we assessed acetaminophen use and safety issues.

The results showed that the NRS score for pain decreased (-16.0 [95% CI: -24.4 to -7.7] in the wet-cupping group and -9.1 [-18.1 to -0.1] in the waiting-list group), but there was no statistical difference between the groups (p = 0.52). However, the PPI scores showed significant differences between the two groups (-1.2 [-1.6 to -0.8] for the wet-cupping group and -0.2 [-0.8 to 0.4] for the waiting-list group, p < 0.01). In addition, less acetaminophen was used in the wet-cupping group during 4 weeks (p = 0.09). The ODQ score did not show significant differences between the two groups (-5.60 [-8.90 to -2.30] in the wet-cupping group and -1.8 [-5.8 to 2.2] in the waiting-list group, p = 0.14). There was no report of adverse events due to wet-cupping.

This pilot study may provide preliminary data on the effectiveness and safety of wet-cupping treatments for PNSLBP. Future full-scale randomised controlled trials will be needed to provide firm evidence of the effectiveness of this intervention.