Cupping therapy has been a cornerstone of numerous traditional medicine systems for thousands of years. This ancient therapy is widely practiced in Chinese, Korean, Tibetan and Persian cultures, and can be used to effectively address a wide range of conditions and ailments. Frequently, modern cupping therapy is used to relieve chronic pain caused by conditions affecting the fascia. By creating negative pressure and lifting the skin, cupping therapy can be used to stimulate and release the fascia beneath.
But what is the fascia, how and why does it cause pain, and how can cupping therapy benefit the health of the fascia?
What Is the Fascia?
The fascia are sheets of strong, connective tissue that form a supportive matrix within the body, connecting and encasing the muscles and organs.
Though often overlooked, the fascia are essential for providing structure and support to the muscles and tissues so they can function healthily. They also reduce friction within the body, facilitate muscular force transmission and provide protection to the underlying nerves and blood vessels.
Broadly speaking, the fascia can be classified into four main categories.
These are the superficial fascia (found just below the surface of the skin), the deep fascia (which protects and supports the bones, blood vessels, muscles and nerves), the visceral fascia (encasing the organs) and the parietal fascia (found lining the walls of body cavities).
Collectively, the fascia form a strong matrix of connective tissue that supports and protects the internal structures of the body. It also promotes movement by reducing friction between different body parts, and helps to limit the spread of infection within the body.
What are Fascial Adhesions?
An adhesion is a band of scar tissue that forms between two tissues that are not usually connected and fuses them together.
Adhesions in the fascia can form as a result of injury, improper movement patterns, surgery or infection, and can inhibit sliding between tissues. When they form in the superficial fascia, adhesions can restrict movement, especially around the joints.
What is Fascial Densification?
Fascial densification is a condition in which the layers of the fascia cease to slide smoothly across one another, possibly due to scarring. Densification is characterized by thickening of the fascia, and often produces painful symptoms.
What is Myofascial Decompression Cupping?
Myofascial decompression cupping, also known as modern cupping, is a form of negative massage in which suction is used to release the fascial tissue beneath the skin. To address problems with the fascia, cups are strategically placed on certain acupressure points or by following the muscles and disrupted fascial patterns by a trained practitioner or home user for basic myofascial decompression cupping, who typically uses either glass, plastic, or silicone cupping cups to create a vacuum inside the cup. The negative pressure created by the vacuum sucks skin up inside the cup, separating it from the fascial layer beneath.
The cups are then typically left in place for 1-20 minutes as directed and with caution to stimulate specific acupressure points (site cupping), following muscles or disrupted fascial patterns or are moved up and down along problem areas (moving cupping) before being removed.
What Conditions Can be Treated by Myofascial Decompression?
Myofascial decompression cupping is an ancient healing technique that can be used to alleviate the painful symptoms of a wide range of conditions. Multiple clinical studies have been performed on the benefits of myofascial decompression cupping for relieving a variety of ailments relating to the fascia, including plantar fasciitis, chronic neck pain and carpal tunnel syndrome.
Modern Cupping therapy for plantar fasciitis
Plantar fasciitis is a common condition affecting the plantar fascia; the thick band of connective tissue that stretches beneath the foot and connects the heel to the toes. The condition is usually characterized by stabbing pain and tightness in the heel that is often worse after exercise and on first standing up in the morning.
This pain is caused by chronic thickening and fibrosis of the plantar fascia, often as a result of repetitive strain and the formation of tiny tears in the fascia. Plantar fascia is most often seen in athletes, but can also occur as a result of injury. The condition is generally poorly understood and, as a result, treatment can be difficult; however, cupping therapy can be a viable solution.
One study examined the effects of dry cupping on the degree of pain experienced by patients with plantar fasciitis, with promising results. Researchers found that, when a single cup was applied to the site of pain and left in position for 10 minutes, dry cupping therapy reduced pain as much as electrical stimulation therapy.
Cupping therapy for carpal tunnel syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a common condition affecting 2-3% of the general population. It is caused by compression of the median nerve, the main nerve that runs down the length of the forearm, and frequently causes pain and paresthesia or numbness in the fingers.
CTS is one of the many fascial conditions that can be improved by the application of cupping therapy. One study found that wet cupping of specific shoulder zones successfully alleviated the pain and other symptoms associated with CTS. This is because cupping as a form of myofascial decompression can promote myofascial release, which a separate study found to reduce pain and numbness in patients.
Cupping therapy for chronic neck and back pain
Chronic neck and back pain can be debilitating, and can significantly impact on quality of life in sufferers. Myofascial release, as stimulated by myofascial decompression cupping , may be an effective way to relieve symptoms, which can reduce reliance on medical treatment strategies.
Studies have found that compression at myofascial trigger points in the neck can significantly reduce pain scores in patients with chronic neck pain, and modern cupping therapy has been reported to have similar benefits. By creating negative pressure through suction, modern cupping therapy has been proven to reduce pain and improve function and quality of life in neck pain sufferers. Modern Cupping therapy has also been found, by many independent scientific studies, to be effective for alleviating chronic back pain.
The fascia is one of the body’s most frequently overlooked components; yet this sprawling web of connective tissue is vital for maintaining the structure and health of the body’s internal tissues. One of the key roles of the fascia is to reduce friction and promote sliding between different bodily tissues. However, fascial adhesions, densification and fibrosis can all cause thickening and fusing of the fascia, restricting movement. The fascia can also become damaged from repetitive movement, or become compressed and put pressure on the nerves. For many people, this results in chronic pain and other unusual sensations, such as tingling and numbness.
Myofascial decompression cupping (AKA modern cupping therapy) is an effective method of alleviating the pain and discomfort caused by a variety of fascial conditions. By creating negative pressure over acupressure points or stimulating myofascial release, cupping therapy has been scientifically proven to reduce the painful symptoms associated with plantar fasciitis, chronic neck and back pain and carpal tunnel syndrome.