Updated: Sep 25, 2021
It can seem odd - one manual therapy which has dozens of clinical studies backing it, being combined with an ancient, enigmatic therapy which still leaves people wondering of it’s efficacy (that is, until they’ve tried it for themselves.) What is it about these two therapies that makes them so complementary? In this post, I will be going into the details of how it really works, so that you can just book your appointment and relax without wondering what the heck is going on.
Scientists have been studying pain for decades, and with modern advancements in neuroscience, we have been able to come to the conclusion that our experience of pain isn’t happening within our peripheral bodies at all, but instead within our brains. Fun fact: tissue damage isn’t necessary for pain at all!
We’ve always thought that a pain signal was caused by something structurally going wrong, but in fact, more often than not, pain is the result of faulty wiring, for lack of a better term.
You see, your pain may have manifested from some injury originally, this is oftentimes the most common cause. Maybe you tore your rotator cuff when you fell off your bike. After that healing process was complete, you were left with residual pain, and it leads you to believe there is another tear happening. After all, the pain is in the exact same place as it was when you were injured, and it feels really similar.
Or, your pain could have come from nowhere. After a long road trip, perhaps, you now experience low back pain that radiates down your leg, and nothing touches it. You’re convinced something is going on with your spine. Why would pain radiate down your leg if there wasn’t a compressed nerve somewhere?
Here’s the thing - our understanding of pain has come a long way since we made our first assumptions about it, and a lot of what we were taught when we were younger, isn’t true at all. Even though it makes a lot of sense. But when we look through a different lens, and begin working with a massage therapist who knows how the brain and body communicate pain signals, it all starts to unlock, and you can finally be free of chronic pain!
Here’s what happens: An original injury causes our brain to experience pain. True, very real pain. It is pain that allows us to respond, seek medical attention, and move away from whatever may have been causing it. But, once it’s healed, sometimes the brain gets stuck in a loop. Let’s say we’re talking about that rotator cuff tear we had years ago. All of a sudden, we have a stressful week, and some of the muscles in that same general area tense up, maybe on top of it we don’t sleep so well, and our nutrition isn’t so great. This area, which already has scar tissue and a memory for pain, begins to lock up. The brain remembers the last time something similar to that happened. Immediately it locks up the area even more! It’s a protection mechanism, but it actually makes the problem worse.
You see, when a muscle is in a locked position for longer than it should be, it gets fatigued. It takes a lot of energy to hold muscles tight! And so, as a way to conserve energy, some of the muscle fibers turn off, and they stay in a locked position. This causes the muscle to be weaker, and reduces the amount of blood flow that is able to get to an area. These are what we know as “knots” or “trigger points.” That weakness ends up causing other muscles to tighten up to maintain stable posture and functionality, and becomes a chain reaction.
Now, within those muscle fibers, where there was already pain happening from that stressful day, circulation is inhibited. And the blood carries useful nutrients and fresh oxygen - without it, the cells cant function properly. And, the waste products that our cells produce as part of normal metabolism can’t be flushed away, leaving them to hang out in areas of chronic tension. These metabolic wastes are actually quite irritating, and the nerves in those areas begin to send even more signals to the brain saying “Hey! Something wrong is happening here!” And so, the brain responds with even more of a tension response, making the issue worse. This becomes an endless loop, and anyone with chronic pain knows exactly how progressive these situations can be. But, the good news is that this is merely caused by the brain and body miscommunication, and bodywork can help rewire these signals. Simple tricks, activation techniques, and massage strokes utilized in a specific manner have been highly studied and proven to be very effective for chronic pain.
Cupping makes these processes even more effective! Because half the problem is the stuck metabolic wastes, cupping is capable of literally pulling these wastes away from the triggered nerves, flushing the area with nutrient-rich blood, and correcting the problem from that end of the cycle. In addition to that, cupping is such an odd sensation that the brain doesn’t know how to interpret it! I like to think of it like shaking a set of keys in front of a baby who is crying. It is so strange and distracting, that the brain literally forgets that it was experiencing pain. And in that moment, we have the opportunity to flood the nervous system with good sensations, run it through activation techniques to prove to it that it can indeed move without pain, and re-wire it’s perception of the whole area.
After several sessions, clients who receive this therapy tend to feel significantly better. Because we’re working with how the brain perceives pain, and overriding a signal that was meant to protect us but actually causes more harm, we are able to create change that actually lasts. The best part is the psychological relief you feel, knowing that it was just a pattern, and not something seriously wrong with you! Now, there are definitely circumstances where damage is causing pain and a doctor is necessary to resolve it - but often there is great success with trying NeuroDynamic Muscular Cupping Therapy first.