Celebrities from Jennifer Aniston to Gwyneth Paltrow have bared their backs publicly to reveal circular shapes on their bodies, which look painful, but are actually marks of an ancient Chinese medicinal treatment called cupping. As more Westerners are asking for it, it’s even become available at some posh spas. One high-end hotel in Los Angeles even sells cupping as a cellulite treatment.

In traditional cupping therapy, heated, sometimes herb-enhanced cups made of glass or bamboo are placed on the skin to create suction which mobilizes blood flow to treat a broad range of ailments.

Could it heal or help you?  Here’s a breakdown of the benefits, risks and side effects.

Benefit: Relaxation

Superficial skin and muscle layers are drawn gently into the cup for an effect that’s like a massage. Rather than pushing into the muscle, the therapist is pulling up on the muscle with the cups, which can be slid across the skin without pain.

Benefit: Pain Relief 

Cups are also placed at specific energy points, similar to acupuncture, which are said to sedate the nervous system and even help headaches. Because improved circulation is said to be one of the key benefits of cupping, sometimes patients report relief from minor back and shoulder pain.

Benefit: Freedom from Congestion

With stubborn congestion strikes, and mucus from a cold or flu is stagnant in the lungs, cupping is said to loosen it so the body can purge it easier, sometimes within 24 hours. Respiratory conditions, including asthma, are some of the most common and oldest documented uses for cupping.

Side Effect: Cupping Marks 

If you’ve been living an unhealthy lifestyle of alcohol binging and lack of exercise, you may be harboring higher levels of toxins in your body, so the cupping can leave marks that are intense, but more scary than painful. It’s important to breathe through the process and relax. The marks will fade within a few days.

Risk: When Not To Cup

Cupping is not a great idea in cases of high fever, skin disease, or when someone tends to bleed easily, according to the Institute for Traditional Medicine.

If you decided to “get cupped,” how do you find a reputable place or person to treat you?  Western medicine has yet to endorse cupping as a scientifically proven health treatment, but the Acupuncture Society of America or the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine can offer advice. As always, consult your doctor before adding cupping or any other health treatment to your self-care regimen.