The positive effects of myofascial release and cupping therapy on muscle tension and alignment are well-documented. So how can this be applied to help people who have sustained spinal cord injuries? I’d love to share some incredible results I have recently had in therapy sessions!
Fascia is everywhere. It is a web-like tissue that spans the entire body, surrounding all the organs, lymph and blood vessels, the nerves, the brain and spinal cord, and every muscle in the body. If all the muscles in your body were taken away, you would still be recognisable due to this strong, tendon-like structure. All movement involves and affects fascia and, due to its continuous nature throughout the body, any tension or restriction in one part will affect the rest of the body. This will impact on the way the muscles it surrounds are held and therefore, the postural alignment of the body.
When someone’s neurological system is somehow impaired, this affects the other systems in the body, which can cause abnormal posture, tone, movement and alignment. Tightness or spasticity and muscle weakness are common as a result of damage to the portion of the brain or spinal cord that controls voluntary movement. In turn, this can cause the fascia to become more restricted in those areas of tightness, and pull the body out of alignment.
A client recently came to me for myofascial cupping therapy, having been referred by his personal trainer. He had sustained a spinal cord injury five years ago and as a result, had initially lost the use of his left leg. He’d worked extremely hard, with physios and in the gym, to get the control and strength back and had come a huge way since. Amazingly, he could now walk, and run on the treadmill with little difficulty. Anyone who didn’t know him would never have guessed that he had sustained such an injury relatively recently. However, he was still unable to move the three outside toes on his left foot. Crucially, this affected his balance; if he leaned over onto his left foot, his toes were unable to support him and his body would continue to fall in that direction. Running outside of the treadmill was impossible; his foot was unable to adjust to the uneven surfaces outside so falling was a real risk.
Using myofascial cupping, I had seen excellent results for clients with injuries, scar tissue and muscle tension, but had yet to use it for clients who had sustained neurological injuries.
I started by placing cups on the meridian points on the client’s back. While these were in place, I continued to work with the cups down his left leg, being careful to include the whole fascial chain. So far, nothing of note, although the did report that it was good to experience the sensation of having the fascia lifted and manipulated.
By the time I got to the client’s foot, I was wondering if we would see any changes at all. I worked along the entire base of his foot, the base of his toes and on the toes themselves. Still, nothing to write home about. Finally, I tried placing the smallest cup on top of his foot – this was when the magic happened.
As soon as I placed a cup at the base of the middle toe, his middle and fourth toes tensed and extended against my hand. This was an involuntary movement, but movement all the same. It was exciting, as he had not moved these toes since his accident. As I continued to move the cup along the foot towards the outside, each toe responded. I left a cup at the base of each toe for a few minutes to finish. We agreed that the real test would be when he stood up – would he feel any different?
He stood and we both fixed our eyes on his toes. Incredibly, I watched as he moved his third and fourth toes – bending and pressing into the carpet – in complete control. This new found control lasted outside of the treatment room and during a follow-up session we even got his little toe to join in.
How does myofascial cupping work?
Cupping works on the superficial layers of muscle, or ‘myo’, fascia, found below the skin. Cups are placed onto the skin and a vacuum pump is used to create suction – lifting the skin and underlying structures into the cup. It’s an odd sensation, but most clients find the process relaxing and tension-relieving. The practitioner will either leave the cups in a particular place on the body, or move it around to improve the elasticity of the tissue in a particular area or from head to toe. The process improves circulation by drawing blood to the area, bringing with it oxygen and nutrients, which are essential for healing, releasing muscle tension and breaking down scar tissue.
It is worth noting that as well as the person mentioned above, other clients of mine with spinal cord injuries have had equally exciting responses during our cupping sessions – from increasing body temperature in areas that were previously cold, to new movement, control and sensation.
It is fair to say that even I had initial scepticism about the usefulness of cups as a therapeutic tool. Based on my experience and observations with clients, I am now totally convinced and, where appropriate, will continue to use them with clients as an addition to my ever-growing toolbox!