Vacuum therapy of the fascia is a technique we simply cannot do with our hands. It adds a valuable new dimension to our manual therapy toolbox.

Sponsored by Ace Massage Cupping and MediCupping

Have you seen the “Strolling Under the Skin” video?

The visual wonder of viewing the fascia in a way we’ve not seen before is mind-blowing.

When you can actually watch the intricate formations of the strands and the geometric symmetry as the shapes work together synergistically, movement patterns and restrictions resulting from damage to the fascia make sense.

One question that occurred to me and my colleagues as we watched the movement of fluid through strands of fascia that are basically tubules was, what happens when there is an injury to or incision through this three-dimensional system?

After viewing the “Strolling” video, it is apparent how damage to the geometric symmetry and fluid content of the strands of fascia (as well as scar tissue formation) can impact movement of muscles and limbs far away from the injured area.

This supports the concept John Upledger, DO, OMM (1932–2012), creator CranioSacral Therapy, proposed: By pulling on the big toe we can affect fascia in the neck, if the tissues along the way are free of adhesions and restrictions.

The Effect of Dehydration

A second question was how the fascia system would function if the body and tissues were dehydrated. It stands to reason that the tubule strands would lose elasticity and range, with resulting changes in body movement.

Dry strands would tend to stick to each other and bind together.

Tissues dehydrate in cases of chronic inflammation, which can be caused by everything from athletic activity to inflammatory disorders such as arthritis or diabetes. Dehydrated tissues can also be the result of the common use of diuretic and other medications.

We can feel bound fascia as we move our hands along the tissue, and use of vacuum cups will show dents and divots in the skin, clearly showing adhesions. If these were viewed from under the skin, it is not difficult to imagine how tangled and stuck these strands would appear.

The Purpose of Observing Skin

One of my favorite vacuum therapy movements we teach, rolling rotation, is a valuable tool to assess the tissue surrounding an injured area in order to observe how far the stuck strands are affecting the network.

Rolling rotation also stretches the strands in multiple directions for the best opportunity for them to separate and move freely again.

The key to this observation is the skin. If you magnify the skin, you can see a beautiful geometric pattern that appears to reflect the patterns of the underlying fascia.

As the structures beneath the skin are moved, a rippling effect is seen on the surface.

Try this: Place a large cup with moderate suction strength over the upper scapula on almost anyone and manipulate that shoulder to get a great view of the mechanics of this common restriction, and how that affects movement.

Since the skin and fascia appear to have a deep relationship, it is reasonable to speculate on the effects of damage to the skin.

It would be fascinating to observe the fascia from under the skin of someone with severe burns or a disorder such as scleroderma, as examples, to see how the movement of underlying structures is affected.

Do these conditions progress from the skin deeper into the fascia and soft tissue over time?

And how do aging, nutrition and lifestyle affect the fascia? As we age, the skin and other soft tissues, including fascia, lose their elasticity. It is likely that strand tubules would have lower fluid/hydration levels, and strand strength and range would diminish.

Poor nutrition and other lifestyle choices would be expected to create these same issues in the tissues.

While many healthcare professionals are not trained to look at the skin for indications of deeper imbalances, try adding evaluations of skin texture and indications in your assessment to see if the information is useful in your vacuum therapy treatments and protocol development.

The Benefits of Vacuum Therapy

One of the most effective approaches to freeing the fascia is combining manual fascia release techniques with decompression using a vacuum tool.

There is no set protocol for when and how to use these techniques and tools; they work together to assess and treat as the client progresses.

Application of moist heat prior to this type of treatment is often beneficial to hydrate the area so the strands can separate more easily to regain structural integrity.

Decompression techniques that use a vacuum tool are relatively new in the manual therapy arena, and are quickly becoming widely used by a variety of healthcare professionals.

Vacuum decompression pulls the entire structure up and out to expand into the cup, allowing the strands space and a unique form of traction to free themselves. This release can be observed in the tissue inside the cup, as the dent or divot begins to disappear.

Chiropractors are finding that adjustments to the skeletal structure are more effective if the tissue memory in the form of tangled strands of fascia is released.

Fitness instructors and trainers are using these techniques in conjunction with other manual therapies to rehabilitate injuries and increase performance by freeing the strands of fascia to allow for longer muscular movement.

A great side effect of this type of decompression is shorter recovery times for athletes post-event.

Massage, physical and occupational therapists have reported they are able to treat more issues or progress more quickly on a main issue in one session due to vacuum decompression techniques being added into the treatment.

The vacuum cup can also be used as part of a manual technique, such as trigger point therapy or pin- and-stretch. (The vacuum cup could either be the pin or the stretch, depending on the desired outcome.)

Vacuum decompression of the fascia is a technique we simply cannot do with our hands. It adds a valuable new dimension to our manual therapy toolbox.

There is a big difference in vacuum decompression techniques and traditional cupping therapies: The same tool—the cup—is used in vastly different ways. Education is necessary in order to learn to use the tools and techniques safely and effectively.

Cupping has long been used in Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicines.

Now, we celebrate the evolution of this powerful practice by embracing a new form of healthcare: decompression techniques using vacuum therapy.

About the Author

Anita Shannon has been licensed in massage therapy and cosmetology since 1983. An educator since 1990, she appears at national chiropractic, massage, and spa conventions and currently presents workshops on ACE Massage Cupping and MediCupping at international locations since developing these brands of bodywork in 2002. She has published multiple articles in Les Nouvelles Esthetiques, Massage Today, Massage & Bodywork and Massage Magazine and has created five educational videos on vacuum therapies. She was inducted into the Massage Therapy Hall of Fame in 2011.

About ACE Massage Cupping & MediCupping

TheraCupping, LLC does business as ACE Massage Cupping & MediCupping to provide training and equipment for vacuum manual therapies. The techniques and equipment can be used by hospitals and other medical professionals, CAM (complementary alternative medical) service providers, spas and massage therapy clinics, and the general public. The products range from professional vacuum machines to soft silicone cups for home use, and all equipment is supported with comprehensive educational videos, certification workshops, and online education.

ACE (Advanced Continuing Education) techniques are based on a somatic approach to treatments that is clearly understood by both health care professionals and laypersons. Many other companies promote traditional uses from Traditional Chinese Medicine (and other traditional medical approaches) that utilize a vastly different system of evaluation and treatment. ACE is dedicated to teaching safe and highly effective techniques that utilize medical massage and manual and physical therapies as the foundation.

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