By William F. Burton Jr., LMT, CMCE Originally published in Massage Today, May, 2015, Vol. 15, Issue 05.
Starting out as a tadpole of a therapist quite some time ago, during a typical massage session my main focus was (of course) the muscle, period. Pressing the time capsule fast forward button, we now know that to achieve a more positive therapeutic effect, we must look at the body both structurally and functionally.
No other soft tissue of the body influences structure and functionality and dominates the body more than fascia. Let’s look at some of the interesting facts about fascia.
Enveloping the entire body’s systems, fascia’s significant influence on both posture and movement cannot be ignored by bodyworkers and must be included in all bodyworker’s intent when dealing with musculoskeletal dysfunctions. Fascia is a 3D web like structure that connects everything from skin to subcutaneous tissue to the deep muscles and organs of the body. When dysfunctional, fascia is slow to heal because of lack of blood supply, but is the focus of pain due to a rich nerve supply. Comprised of three components: Collagen for strength, Elastin for flexibility, and Ground Substance for lubrication, this “system” is a unique networking structure; an inner body Wi-Fi if you will.
Let’s now look at how this “system” can become dysfunctional. As we go through life, we become fixated in what is termed “the norm.” Smart phones, laptops, desktops, gaming systems, fast food, etc. were all created to make life easier and simpler, yet has caused a plethora of other problems. We have now become a more sedentary society as well as what is termed a “flexion addicted” society, causing soft tissue dysfunctions along with obesity and other medical conditions. We see how trauma, surgeries, post-surgical healing, and repetitive strain injuries hinders and even disrupts the gliding actions of our soft tissue, thus creating a perpetual circle of compensatory actions that lead to chronic pain and eventually musculoskeletal dysfunction.
One of the results of this perpetual circle is dehydration of the fascia and soft tissue. Just like every other soft tissue in our body: muscles, tendons etc., our fascia is made up of water. Like every soft tissue in our body, fascia works more efficiently when well hydrated and in a constant fluid state. Here’s an equation: fascia with fresh blood, lymph and water = fascia that’s flexible, pliable, buoyant, and adaptable. Fascia without these factors = fascia that’s inflexible, rigid, hard, stiff, non-porous making you more susceptible to injury. When this connective tissue becomes dehydrated due to injury, holding patterns, inactivity, or stagnation, the fascial compartments become stuck or glued together, sending the cumulative injury cycle on a fast track to chronic dysfunction and pain.
With various hands-on techniques and modalities at our disposal that can bring hydration and pliability to the fascia: hot stone(s), warm bamboo, myofascial release, and AIS, to name of few, we can add to this list the techniques used in vacuum therapy. These techniques not only bring hydration and pliability to the fascia, but the uniqueness of these movements mimics our massage strokes along with creating separation in the tissues. This stretches and elongates the fibers so the fascia and muscles, which are functionally linked, can accept this fresh blood, fresh lymph and valuable water.
As I read in a book a while ago, “It’s not about drinking water, but about getting the water to where it needs to go.” With vacuum therapy and its movements added as an adjunct to our hands on techniques, the process of reversing this dehydrated state becomes more rapid, with longer lasting results. Using suction or negative pressure, the application of the various sized cups used in a typical session mechanically lifts the tissue and moves it transversely, having an almost instantaneous effect physiologically on the fascia. Fascia that is free from metabolic debris (“engine gunk”) can now accept the water and nutrients necessary to renew and regenerate.
With our fascia loose and supple, the net results are: fascia is free-flowing, trigger points deactivated, inflammation is decreased, and adhesions diminished, aiding in the elimination of soft tissue conditions and realigning the body for a more upright posture with pain free movement.