What is Fascia and Why is it Important to Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine?
Acupuncture muscle channels, identified by physicians over two thousand years ago and part of the system of acupuncture knowledge and treatment is now understood as the myofascial system and the various groups of muscles and connective tissues.
Muscles account for 40% of your body mass and are involved in more than just movement and stability - they provide and maintain heat to the body, support proper circulation and pumping of lymph and blood to the extremities, and conduct neurological and non-neurological signals across multiple tissues to the brain. It is like a fiber netting that keeps us warm to protect cellular metabolism dependent on normal temperatures, and is sensitive to movement and pain signals
The following video is from the UCSF Osher Center for Integrative Medicine intended to education the public on what the myofascial system is and why it is so important in the treatment and prevention of pain around the body:
The myofascial lines have been known for the last 2,000 years as 'Sinew/Muscle Channels' recognized in Chinese acupuncture texts. These myofascial lines, called "Sinew Channels" or "Muscle Channels" not only exist in the ancient medical texts, and have consistently been applied and treated using acupuncture and needle therapy contiguously for millennia, they are studied and taught in conjunction with Western anatomy and physiology in modern medical schools and hospitals and acupuncture schools around the world. They are understood from both the symbolic and qualitative language of Chinese Medicine but are also understood in current physiological and anatomical medical terminology. Thomas Myers, who was referenced in the video above, described the Chinese sinew channels in terms acceptable to Western-focused people and professionals.
Most techniques used in acupuncture, whether it is needle therapy, scraping techniques, manual therapy (Tuina), or cupping (myofascial decompression), or qigong (self-induced therapeutic movement or 'physical therapy'), they all are applying myofascial treatment. This is supported by clinical research (see our Acupuncture page or Research page for full articles).
Doing activities like yoga or qigong, which stretch, lengthen and rhythmically pump and release the myofascial chains not only help prevent painful buildup of metabolic waste and stagnation of fluids, salts, etc., but they also encourage regulation of the nervous system, immune system, endocrine system, cardiovascular system, and digestive system through healthy cellular metabolism and circulation. Let's look at what the lecture above discusses as the primary functional aspects of fascia in terms of anatomy and physiology: Fascial Contributions:
Support structure, tension, and suspension for tissues; "scaffolding"
Fluid mobility; high amount of plasticity
Connecting multiple muscles = functional kinetic chain
Discussing this from a Chinese Medical terminology, which has been describing diagnosis and treatment of these aspects of human body and disease for literally a minimum of 2,000 years, we would break it down in respective terms:
The primary goal of many of the treatments we perform in Chinese medicine for myofascial pain is said to be "to move Qi and Blood". This is a symbolic and simplified way of saying that we are applying force to painful areas, often called 'Trigger points' or 'Ashi points' to break up adhesion or 'stickiness' caused by lower levels of oxygen/nutrients/blood perfusion, either from lack of movement, traumatic injury, strain, or repetitive stresses (sports/poor posture/repeated work). Not only is there a decrease of oxygen to these injured or strained muscles and tissues, there is an accumulation of calcium, congealed fluids, poorly circulating substances (blood, lymph, watery substance in the fascia) that are creating dysfunction in the muscle cells, leading to chronic spasm and of course, pain. This persistent stress of the muscles and connective tissues leads to abnormal over-stimulation to the nerves in the areas. Acupuncture is excellent at breaking up the physical stickiness and encouraging focused increase of blood, lymph, and fluid circulation, flushing out calcium, inflammatory compounds, and other metabolic waste. Meanwhile, new oxygen, nutrient-rich blood, and fluids rush back in.
In addition to these more physical changes induced by the needling, affecting the 'Blood' or substantive tissue-level changes, we are also inducing 'Qi' regulation, which is focused on the neurological and electro-chemical interaction between the nervous system and the muscle fibers and related connective tissues. We are using acupuncture to turn off nerves that are over-stimulated, or turn on nerves and related muscles that have been restricted and underutilized. We know from decades of research into the mechanism of acupuncture, that stimulation of the peripheral nervous system causes changes in the central nervous system to regulate pain signals, along with many other regulatory reactions, simply by gently stimulating the complex interwoven layers of nervous, vascular, myofascial, and lymphatic tissues.
Acupuncture and related techniques (cupping, scraping, tuina/manual therapy) are amazingly effective and elegant and have been used to treat pain and injury for millennia. As we progress in our biophysiological understandings, it is helpful to maintain a connection to the traditions that have carried this knowledge from the past. We believe it is important to recognize the source of this knowledge and to recognize that Chinese Medicine has long held what is now becoming more widely accepted and integrated into our medical systems.