Cupping Therapy: Training, Tuition and Salary Opportunities

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Massage therapists specializing in cupping can bring comfort and healing to their patients, using a method that dates back thousands of years.

lisa schuetz

Written and Reported by Lisa Schuetz
Contributing Writer

Cupping therapy has become a trendy treatment sought by amateur and competitive athletes ever since record-setting U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps sported his circular bruises at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

However, cupping isn’t new. It has been used for centuries by acupuncturists and natural healers, and dates back to ancient Egyptian, Chinese, and Middle Eastern cultures.

What is Cupping?

Cupping is thought to improve blood flow, remove unhealthy toxins, reduce swelling, and create a sense of wellbeing in patients. Eastern medicine practitioners believe that cupping facilitates the flow of qi—or life force—in the body.

Cupping practitioners can use two methodologies: wet cupping and dry cupping.

When treating a client using cupping, a licensed practitioner—typically a massage therapist or acupuncturist—uses alcohol or another flammable substance to create a fire inside several round glass, earthenware, bamboo, or silicone “cups.”

After the fire goes out, the cups are turned over and placed on the client’s skin. The cups are left in place to cool for about three minutes. The cooling creates suction, and often a subsequent bruise. Some practitioners use a rubber pump instead of fire and cups to create the suction effect.

Cupping creates negative pressure to manipulate soft tissue, deal with scar tissue and adhesions, and increase blood flow.

This process is considered “dry” cupping. Another approach takes the process a step further. “Wet” cupping involves the use of a small scalpel to make light, tiny cuts in the client’s skin after the cups are removed. A second suction is performed to draw out a small quantity of blood.

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Who’s a Good Candidate for Cupping?

Cupping isn’t limited to athletes looking to improve their game. Massage therapists use this type of manual therapy on any client looking to recover from an injury, feel better after an illness, and improve range of motion.

“You will see cupping used by physical therapists, massage therapists, acupuncturists, even occupational therapists,” says Lisa McNeil, a massage health professional practicing in Sussex, Wisconsin, and medical team member for the 2020 Olympics.

Cupping is “a great way to manipulate fascia and layers of connective tissue. Used dynamically, it increases range of motion with less effort from the therapist. Used statically, it can help with releasing scar tissue and help with adhesions.”

Cupping can help release scar tissue and adhesions with less effort from the therapist.

What Type of Training Do I Need?

Those interested in administering cupping therapy will first need to be licensed, most commonly as a massage therapy provider. Cupping therapy is often introduced in basic massage therapy classes, says McNeil, but adding the specialty therapy to your toolkit will mean taking more continuing education courses, available both online and in person.

There are also varying degrees of cupping therapy education, depending on how you want to use it and the level of expertise you’d like to achieve. Some classes focus on cupping for medical treatment, while others focus on cupping as a tool for a relaxation massage.

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Do I Need to Be Certified?

massage therapist placing cups to patient's back

As with most massage specialties, a certification is not required. You don’t need a specific cupping certification to practice, but earning one can demonstrate your mastery of the subject to your clients. It can also help ensure you are administering the modality correctly and effectively. Many schools and programs offer courses and workshops in cupping therapy.

While a specialty certification is not mandated, a license to put your hands on a client is (in nearly all states). If you are already a licensed massage therapist, licensed acupuncturist, or other type of licensed provider, you’re likely covered. Requirements vary by state, however. Contact your state’s professional board, association, or organization to determine if they regulate massage specialties before practicing.

You may also want to look into liability insurance since cupping involves the use of tools beyond simply your hands.

Average Length of Study

Continuing education classes in cupping typically include at least three hours of education covering several topics. Instruction can take place over one long day or several days, depending on the institution.

If you are looking for certification from a specialized school, then your training may take two days or more of in-person learning with up to 20 hours of practice with clients. Be sure to confirm that the school you are attending is properly…

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