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Is cupping therapy effective in patients with neck pain? A systematic review and meta-analysis
  1. Seoyoun Kim1,2,
  2. Sook-Hyun Lee1,
  3. Me-Riong Kim3,
  4. Eun-Jung Kim4,
  5. Deok-Sang Hwang5,
  6. Jinho Lee6,
  7. Joon-Shik Shin6,
  8. In-Hyuk Ha3,
  9. Yoon Jae Lee1
  1. 1 Jaseng Spine and Joint Research Institute, Jaseng Medical Foundation, Seoul, Republic of Korea
  2. 2 Graduate School of Public Health, Korea University, Seoul, Republic of Korea
  3. 3 Department of Preventive Medicine, College of Korean Medicine, Kyung Hee University, Seoul, Republic of Korea
  4. 4 Department of Acupuncture and Moxibustion, College of Korean Medicine, Dongguk University, Gyeongju, Republic of Korea
  5. 5 Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology, College of Korean Medicine, Kyung Hee University, Seoul, Republic of Korea
  6. 6 Jaseng Hospital of Korean Medicine, Seoul, Republic of Korea
  1. Correspondence to Dr Yoon Jae Lee; goodsmile8119{at}


Objectives Neck pain is a significant condition that is second only to depression as a cause of years lived with disability worldwide. Thus, identifying and understanding effective treatment modalities for neck pain is of heightened importance. This systematic review aimed to investigate the effects of cupping on neck pain from the current literature.

Design Systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials (RCTs).

Setting Nine databases, including Chinese, Korean and Japanese databases, were searched for data up to January 2018 with no restrictions on publication language.

Participants Patients with neck pain.

Interventions Cupping therapy as the sole or add-on intervention compared with no treatment or active controls.

Primary and secondary outcome measures Pain severity, functional disability and quality of life.

Results Eighteen RCTs were selected. Compared with the no intervention group, the cupping group exhibited significant reduction in pain (mean difference (MD) −2.42(95% CI −3.98 to −0.86)) and improvement in function (MD −4.34(95% CI −6.77 to −1.19)). Compared with the active control, the cupping group reported significant reduction in pain (p=0.0009) and significantly improved quality of life (p=0.001). The group that received control treatment with cupping therapy (add-on group) displayed significant pain reduction compared with the active control group (p=0.001). Of the 18 studies, only 8 reported occurrence of adverse events, which were mostly mild and temporary.

Conclusions Cupping was found to reduce neck pain in patients compared with no intervention or active control groups, or as an add-on treatment. Depending on the type of control group, cupping was also associated with significant improvement in terms of function and quality of life; however, due to the low quality of evidence of the included studies, definitive conclusions could not be drawn from this review. Future well-designed studies are needed to substantiate the effectiveness of cupping on neck pain.

PROSPERO registration number CRD42016047218.

  • neck pain
  • complementary therapies
  • meta-analysis
  • systematic review

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  • Contributors SK, M-RK, I-HH and YJL designed the study. SK, S-HL and YJL conducted the systematic search. SK, M-RK and YJL assessed the literature for inclusion and extracted the data. JL, J-SS and IHH monitored data collection. E-JK, D-SH, JL, J-SS and IHH interpreted the data. SK, M-RK, I-HH,and YJL wrote the draft; S-HL, E-JK, D-SH, JL and J-SS critically revised the manuscript. All authors have read and approved the final version.

  • Funding This study was supported by the Traditional Korean Medicine R&D Program funded by the Ministry of Health & Welfare through the Korea Health Industry Development Institute (KHIDI) (HB16C0035).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement No additional data are available.