VacuTherapies: New Tools in Our Fight Against Scar Tissue

By William F. Burton Jr., LMT, CMCE
Originally published on William's blog, http://notagirlyman.blogspot.com

Fact:  All injuries cause micro tearing of the body’s soft tissue.  After the inflammatory process, which is the body’s natural healing process, healing occurs with the formation of scar tissue.  This action occurs during the proliferation phase of healing in which there are two types or stages of scar tissue formation:

  • Immature– Immediately after a wound heals, the scar is immature. During this period it may be painful, itchy or sensitive as nerve endings within the tissue heal.  Exercise, massage and heat application will have the greatest positive effect on an immature scar.
  • Mature– Depending on the size and depth of the wound, scar tissue will cease production 3 to 18 months following wound healing. When scar tissue is no longer produced, the scar is considered mature. While techniques to reduce scar tissue in a mature scar are effective, a more disciplined and vigorous approach is necessary.

Since our muscle tissue cannot take a surgical stitch (literally) and can only heal itself, our body forms a fibrous collagenous connective tissue called scar tissue which is formed from the natural healing substance in our body called fibroblasts.  Scar tissue can form on any structure of the body internally and externally including:  skin, old injury sites, surgical sites, and organs.  The formation of scar tissue as a healing mechanism has both a positive and a negative effect on the body’s structure where it was formed. Looking at scar tissue as a positive we look at its ability bind, allowing for healing and to protect but due to its fibrous state, physiological negative effect are created.

Scar tissue constricts nerve pathways, restricts circulatory/lymphatic flow because it has no circulation, and restricts range of motion trapping metabolic debris and heat within the injury site thus often exasperating the dysfunction.  Scars and adhesions disrupt the network of lymph capillaries that lie just under the skin. This disruption hinders lymph drainage and makes the treatment of lymphedema, for instance, in the affected area more difficult   Another negative upon forming, scar tissue not only binds the dysfunctional area but it can also bind to healthy adjacent tissue forming areas of adhesions thus complicating an already complicated situation for client and therapist alike.

The treating of scar tissue allows for the muscle(s) optimal performance, allows for nerve pathways to send their messages for efficiently, and blood and lymph flow is more free.

There are many specialties and techniques in our industry that are available for the therapist to use with the intention of bringing pain relief, increase ROM, and a diminishing of the body’s soft tissue dysfunction  all with  the intention of bringing the body back to homeostasis and increasing the client’s quality of life.  Let’s add one more “tool” to our toolbox; something old that is now something new and that new comes in the form of Vacutherapy:  ACE Massage Cupping bodywork, MediCupping bodywork and TheraCupping.

Soft tissue of the body, particularly the superficial fascia, responds to all therapies including those that include the use of heat.  But the deep fascia does not.  This is where the use of vacutherapies can be of most use, particularly for the deep postural muscles.

For an injured muscle to regain maximum strength and flexibility, dehydrated scar tissue needs to become aligned and integrated with the muscle fibers. Suction created by the vacuumobilization machine or by the manual plastic cups used in massage cupping creates the necessary separation of the tissue thus allowing for increased absorption of water and freshly oxygenated blood which is needed in aiding hydration to the muscles tissue that is “stuck” together by the formation of scar tissue.

In order for the body to heal and for muscles to function properly, all of their fibers need to be aligned in the same direction.  A massage therapist will use deep tissue massage, neuromuscular re-education, cross fiber friction, active release techniques, myofascial release and contrast therapies to assist the body in healing the injuries, realigning the muscle tissue, breaking up excess scar tissue and improving nerve response.  The addition of vacutherapies as a modality or as an adjunct can aid in the healing process and the diminishing of scar tissue.

Note:  Vacutherapy is the perfect adjunct to any modality that is use for the treatment of Scar tissue:  Deep tissue Massage,  Manual Lymph Drainage, Sports Massage, Myofascial Release, Crossfiber Friction Massage, and TPT  just to name a few.

Some of the benefits of using massage cupping in scar tissue work:

  • With the many size cups in a typical manual or vacuumobilization massage cupping set, the use of the cups offers less strain on the therapists’ hands, namely the thumbs.
  • With the “lifting” action or Negative Pressure caused by the suction of the cups tissue is release with little to no discomfort to the client.
  • As mentioned earlier, with the many different size cups, creativity is expanded as the therapist’s intention is focused and refocused during the course of a session.
  • The “multitasking” ability of the cups. In the treatment of scar tissue the  cups used in a session not only influences circulation and lymph flow in a positive manner but also can aid in the stretching of the muscle fibers but also help in the realigning of the fibers.
  • Scar tissue “softens” quickly allowing for increase in fresh oxygenated blood and nutrients to enter the healing process.
  • Stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system causing relaxation and the stoppage of the messages to the dysfunctional muscles to contract and defend themselves.

Vacutherapies can be used as a stand-alone treatment or can be incorporated within a regular massage session.  Medicupping is based on the foundation and structure of massage cupping bodywork with the MC 600 vacuumobilization machine providing the static suction or pumping action. Theracupping is also based on the foundation of massage cupping bodywork but more for home base.

Some other advantages to incorporating any of the vacutherapies to any bodywork session:

  • Pain free deep tissue release- up to 4 inches.
  • Effects are longer lasting and are cumulative with repeated sessions.
  • Movement of old stagnation and metabolic debris is the key to bringing the body back to homeostasis.

Massage cupping utilizes negative pressure or pulling action to lift and separate tissue layers.

  • Softens tight muscles
  • Tones attachments
  • Loosens adhesions.

Research has proven scar tissue renders soft tissue weaker, less elastic, and more prone to future re-injury and as much as 1000 times more pain sensitive than normal, healthy tissue. Chronic pain is the result, pain that could remain for years after the initial injury.  Untreated scar tissue is the major cause of re-injury, usually months after you thought that injury had fully healed.

Another tool in the vacutherapy tool chest is the Magnetic cups.  Since scar tissue is an active healing process the pH of the injured area is decreased.  Placing a negatively charged magnet cup on the injured area changes the polarity of the area from hot to cool, increasing the ph of the area allowing for much needed oxygen and nutrients to enter the area, circulation is increased allowing for an increase in oxygen to the scar tissue.

William F. Burton, Jr. completed the massage program at the National Massage Therapy Institute in October of 2002. While at NMTI, William received CEU certification in various modalities and is currently a member of the Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals (ABMP) as well as the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education (AMTE) and Advanced Continuing Education (ACE).

Upon graduating from NMTI, William opened his own professional medical massage services MINDBODY THERAPEUTICS, specializing in the treatment of chronic musculoskeletal conditions, injuries, scar tissue, and postural distortions. William has also taught for the past 6 years as massage therapy instructor at the DPT business school instructing: Anatomy & Physiology, Massage Techniques, Pathology, Kinesiology, and Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Upon completing the Massage Cupping and MediCupping CEU certification workshops in 2006, William was hired by the creator and owner Anita Shannon as a Certified Massage Cupping Educator (CMCE) hosting workshops and tradeshows nationwide.

William F. Burton, Jr.
LMT, CMCE
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