What Is Fascia and How Can Cupping Therapy Benefit it?
Everyone knows that the skeleton supports the body, but few could tell you how the muscles, organs, nerves and blood vessels are kept in place. Far from free-floating in your abdominal cavities, the body’s internal tissues are connected, supported and protected by a structure called the fascia.
This little-known and understudied structure is, in fact, one of the most vital components of our bodies, and is just as important for movement as the muscles and bones. But what exactly is the fascia, what does it do, and how can cupping therapy help to maintain its health and function?
What Is the Fascia?
The fascia are a series of sheets or bands of strong, connective tissue. These form a sprawling matrix that penetrates and surrounds the tissues of the body, holding them in place and connecting them to one another.
Broadly speaking, the fascia has two main parts; the solid fascia and the liquid fascia.
The extracellular matrix (ECM) is made up of collagen fibrils, which form a three-dimesional net that connects and supports the inner systems of the body, and a gelatinous fluid known as ground substance. Ground substance is found surrounding the fibers of the ECM, where it allows for the exchange of nutrients between the cells and capillaries.
The liquid fascia is made up of blood and lymph, which chemically and hormonally link the organs of the body.
The extracellular matrix can be further subdivided into four categories; these are the superficial fascia, the deep fascia, the visceral fascia and the parietal fascia.
The superficial fascia
The superficial fascia is the layer of connective tissue found directly beneath the skin. This layer carries blood vessels and nerves to and from the skin. It also allows the skin to slide easily over the structures beneath, facilitating ease of movement in different parts of the body (especially around joints).
The deep fascia
The deep fascia is denser and more fibrous than the superficial fascia, and surrounds and connects the bones, blood vessels, muscles and nerves. Its main function is to protect and support these structures, to reduce friction between them and to facilitate force transmission from the muscles.
The visceral fascia
This fascial layer surrounds and supports the organs inside bodily cavities, for example the abdomen, heart, lungs, thorax, liver and kidney.
The parietal fascia
Parietal fascia line the walls of body cavities and are found just beyond the parietal layer of the serosa (a thin membrane found covering the walls of some organs in the thorax and abdomen). The best known example of this is in the pelvis.
Both the parietal and visceral fascia support the structure and function of organs, compartmentalize the organs, reduce friction, provide shock absorption and reduce the spread of infection within the body.
Healthy vs. Unhealthy Fascia
Considering the essential role your fascia plays in protecting and supporting the inner systems of the body, keeping it healthy and functioning well is vital. A healthy fascia is relaxed and highly elastic, with a wavy appearance. In this state, it function
The best way to maintain a healthy fascia is by staying adequately hydrated. Dehydration can inhibit fascial sliding, increasing friction between tissues and causing sensations of pain and tightness.
How Do Hormones Affect the Fascia?
Hormonal fluctuations also play a key role in maintaining a healthy fascia, particularly in women. Estrogen (a female sex hormone) and relaxin are both known to contribute to extracellular matrix remodeling by inhibiting fibrosis and inflammatory activities. Studies have also found that women who use hormonal contraceptives have a more elastic fascia in comparison to nonusers, making them less prone to injury and myofascial pain.
Overall, estrogen and relaxin are vital for maintaining the fascia and promoting sliding between fascial layers. In doing so, these hormones can increase the elasticity of the fascia and help to reduce the risk of myofascial pain.
How Can Cupping Therapy Benefit the Fascia?
Myofascial decompression is a form of cupping therapy that uses negative pressure the stimulate fascial tissue and myofascial trigger points on various parts of the body. This treatment has been found to effectively treat a number of conditions, particularly those characterized by chronic pain.
When applied to myofascial trigger points, cupping therapy also been found to be effective in treating chronic pain.
Cupping As a Treatment for Myofascial Pain
Chronic shoulder, neck and back pain are all common conditions thought to be caused by myofascial trigger points. The myofascial pain experienced by sufferers is often debilitating, and can reduce function of the affected limb and severely impact on quality of life.
A form of cupping therapy, known as myofascial decompression, has been found to be highly effective in relieving the symptoms of chronic pain conditions. The treatment, in which cups are used to create negative pressure over myofascial trigger points, can assist with myofascial release and, therefore, reduce pain.
Several studies have concluded that cupping therapy reduces symptoms and improves function and overall quality of life in patients with chronic neck pain. The same is true for chronic back pain, and cupping therapy has also been found to alleviate the symptoms of plantar fasciitis, a painful condition affecting the connective tissue of the foot.
The fascia is a network of strong, connective tissue that forms a supportive matrix within the body, protecting and separating the internal systems. The fascia is vital for healthy, unrestricted movement yet for most people, this structure is largely overlooked.
If the fascia becomes damaged or unhealthy as a result of injury, inflammation or dehydration, sliding between fascial layers may be inhibited. This often results in pain and stiffness that can inhibit movement and reduce quality of life. Myofascial trigger points are also known to cause chronic pain, often in the neck, back or shoulder. A form of cupping therapy, known as myofascial decompression, has been scientifically proven to reduce pain in sufferers and (alongside adequate hydration) could help to promote long-term fascial health.
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