What to look for in a cupping therapy provider near you


Cupping therapy has been around for thousands of years, and it was very trendy when athletes and celebrities rediscovered it in the early 2000s. One thing sets cupping therapy apart from most other alternative medicine practices: Many of its positive effects have been clinically validated. For example, it increases the production of endorphins during and after treatment. It also reduces LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. 

There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that cupping therapy is deeply relaxing. Some people compare the sensation to getting a deep tissue massage. But since it’s still considered an alternative treatment, practitioners aren’t required to have formal training or certification. That doesn’t mean you should avoid cupping therapy altogether. You can find experienced practitioners with certification from regional and national organizations, like the cupping specialists at several of our Advent Physical Therapy locations. 

When paired with manual techniques, cupping can multiply and extend the effects of physical therapy treatments. This article will outline what you should look for if you want to find a cupping therapy provider near you.

What should I look for in a cupping provider near me?

Before making an appointment for cupping therapy, you should make sure the provider has a license or certificate, experience with cupping therapy, and a treatment area that’s clean and sanitized. You may also want to ask about their level of education and areas of formal study.

Two authoritative bodies that provide cupping education and certification are the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork (NCBTMB) and the International Cupping Therapy Association (ICTA). At Advent PT, our cupping specialists all have master’s- or doctorate-level degrees in physical therapy and proper cupping certification. 

How does cupping benefit the body?

Researchers have found significant evidence of the benefits that cupping practitioners have known about for centuries. While the mechanisms of action aren’t always clear, certain effects have been reliably repeated in clinical studies. Part of the reason cupping is so effective is because it provides multiple different types of stimulation. In particular, it stimulates the autonomic nervous system and the skin, triggering various hormonal and immune reactions. 

Generally, a cupping therapy provider will place up to seven small cups on your back or other areas of the body. They create a vacuum by applying heat to the cups before placing them or by using suction. This improves circulation in local blood vessels and tissue, bringing hydration and healthy oxygenated blood in while flushing out excess fluids and relaxing tight muscles. The movement can improve lymphatic flow and release connective tissue, muscle knots, adhesions and scarring. There’s also some evidence that this blood flow and clearing of fibrous tissue can help your body’s natural elimination of toxins. Drinking lots of water before and after cupping treatments is recommended to maximize these benefits.

As another result of increased blood flow, cupping promotes the generation and repair of blood vessels themselves. It assists the production of red blood cells and the regulation of certain types of white blood cells, which are important for immune system functions. Cupping can also help bring high blood pressure down.

A study combining 14 meta-analyses found cupping treatments to be effective for managing chronic pain, knee osteoarthritis, low back pain, neck pain, chronic back pain and herpes zoster (shingles).

Cupping therapy is known to help with these common health issues:

  • Myofascial trigger points (muscle knots).
  • Common cold and flu.
  • Neck and back pain.
  • Fatigue.
  • Digestive issues (e.g., IBS).
  • Respiratory issues like asthma.
  • Chronic pain.
  • Osteoarthritis.
  • Sciatica.
  • Fibromyalgia.
  • Anxiety, depression and other mental health concerns.

What are the different types of cupping therapy?

Variations of cupping therapy involve different methods of heating the cups and sometimes the use of needles to make small incisions. No needles are used in dry cupping, which is what this article generally describes. In wet cupping, however, the practitioner will make a needle stick or incision under the cup so a small amount of blood can be drawn out. Some practitioners use fire to heat the cups, others use an electronic device, and some use cups with plungers or bulbs built in. 

A practitioner can move the cups across the skin to create massage-like sensations, enhancing the treatment and spreading the healing effects to surrounding tissue. The three techniques they may use include longitudinal, cross-fiber and circular motions. In the longitudinal technique, the cup is glided longitudinally across muscle fibers. The cross-fiber technique is used when tissue may be scarred. The circular technique is used at the end of the session.

Many cupping providers still use glass cups and burning herbs, paper or alcohol. However, electronic heat sources can provide more precision, and silicone cups can slide across the skin more easily. You may also find cupping sets made of bamboo, plastic, rubber, ceramic and metal.

What professionals can perform cupping therapy?

Again, because cupping isn’t a medical procedure, treatment providers don’t always have a license or certification. But some medical doctors do offer cupping therapy. In addition to physical therapists, some acupuncturists, chiropractors and massage therapists also provide cupping treatments.

Why is it important to find an experienced cupping practitioner?

Cupping therapy is a low-risk treatment when it’s performed safely and a qualified provider performs a thorough screening beforehand. Fire cupping and wet cupping carry a higher risk of injury. Most patients will get small blemishes at treatment sites, but these are harmless and go away within a couple of weeks. 

Cupping can cause minor side effects like nausea, headaches, burns, fatigue and soreness. If you receive cupping therapy from an inexperienced practitioner or if the area and equipment aren’t sanitized, you may have an increased risk of skin infections, burns, itching or scarring. If you experience extreme pain, soreness, skin irritation or fever after a cupping treatment, call your primary health care provider.

To summarize, these side effects may occur during or after a cupping treatment:

  • Headaches.
  • Bruising.
  • Fatigue.
  • Soreness.
  • Muscle tension.
  • Nausea.
  • Burns.
  • Skin infections, itching or scarring.

Cupping isn’t for everyone. People with low blood pressure and those who are sensitive to needle sticks may be at risk of passing out during or after cupping therapy. The effects of cupping treatments during pregnancy have not been sufficiently studied, so it’s not recommended. Cupping shouldn’t be performed on areas with wounds, infection, burns or active inflammation.

People with the following conditions and devices shouldn’t try cupping therapy:

  • Anemia.
  • A pacemaker.
  • Vasovagal syncope (fainting).
  • History of stroke.
  • Bleeding disorders like hemophilia.
  • Blood clotting problems, like deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
  • Heart disease.
  • Skin conditions, including eczema and psoriasis.
  • Seizures (epilepsy).
  • Pregnancy.

Try cupping during your next Advent PT appointment

Cupping has grown in popularity since celebrities like Lady Gaga and Olympic athletes have been spotted with temporary blemishes from cupping treatments. If you have aches and pains, respiratory issues, or indigestion, it may provide some relief. Even if you’re not suffering from a medical condition or training for a competition, cupping therapy can be a relaxing way to enjoy some star treatment. Share any medical conditions you may have with your provider before treatment and talk with them about your risks.

You can receive cupping treatment from our licensed physical therapists at Advent Physical Therapy, and your 15-minute screening is free. Pair cupping with manual physical therapy and other treatments to stimulate more blood flow to affected areas. Just 10 or 15 minutes of cupping at the end of your PT session can leave you feeling relaxed and rejuvenated.

Are you curious to see if cupping can help you? Call us or request an appointment today.