In order to understand how acupuncture treats fascia and connective tissue problems – Iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS), for example – it is important to understand their structures, and some of the science behind acupuncture’s effect on those structures.
First, a quick lesson on the general workings of acupuncture. Acupuncture points, when stimulated, relay messages from the surface of the body to internal organs. This explains why acupuncture can treat various internal disorders – from PMS to IBS. Acupuncture points also link to connective tissue, thus enabling treatment of the entire fascia network.
One study in particular mapped acupuncture points in specific points through the human arm and found an 80% correspondence between the location of acupuncture points and their related connective tissue planes. As such, it is worth taking more time to understand the positive effects that acupuncture can have on fascia and connective tissue.1Relationship of Acupuncture Points and Meridians to Connective Tissue Planes.” Helene M. Langevin* and Jason A. Yandow. The Anatomical Record (New Anat) 269: 257-265, 2002
What Is Fascia?
Fascia is an uninterrupted connective tissue that surrounds and penetrates all structures of the body, extending from head to toe, connecting every muscle and organ. It has an inner and outer layer. The inner layer is composed of bones and cartilage. The outer layer consists of muscle packets attached to the inner layer by tendons and other connective tissue.
There are three main types of fascia:2Stecco C, Macchi V, Porzionato A, Duparc F, De Caro R. The fascia: the forgotten structure. Ital J Anat Embryol. 2011;116(3):127-38.
- Superficial, which is associated with the skin
- Deep, which is associated with the muscles, nerves, bones and blood vessels
- Visceral (Subserous), which is associated with the internal organs
To help you visualize fascia, compare your body to an orange. The outer rind is like your skin, the fruit part that you eat is the muscles, and the clear membrane between the fruit and the rind is like the fascia.
Symptoms of Fascia Problems
Because it is a connective tissue, fascia has sensory receptors and can become painful if it is damaged. But many people don’t even realize that the cause of their pain is from the fascia unless it is properly diagnosed. One clear symptom of possible fascia problems is soreness or tightness that can’t be pinpointed to one single muscle. Other symptoms include:3Stecco A, Stern R, Fantoni I, De Caro R, Stecco C. Fascial Disorders: Implications for Treatment. PM R. 2016 Feb;8(2):161-8.
- Pain that is worse under stressful conditions
- Decreased blood flow
- Trouble sleeping
- Hindered range of motion
Why We Need to Take Care of Fascia
Many people fail to realize this when they feel achy or have tight muscles, but the culprit could very well be related to fascia. Even if you have strong muscles, the fascia needs to be able to keep them in place and protect them so you can move them properly.
In short, fascia has three main functions:4Stecco A, Stern R, Fantoni I, De Caro R, Stecco C. Fascial Disorders: Implications for Treatment. PM R. 2016 Feb;8(2):161-8.
- Wraps around each muscle and organ, holding them where they’re supposed to be
- Separates the muscles so they can expand and contract independently
- Provides a lubricated surface so the muscles can move against each other without friction
Although muscle pain is more commonly talked about than fascia pain, the latter role is just as important as the role of the muscles. Ignoring fascia pain can cause damage to the joints, bones, tendons and ligaments.
How Acupuncture Affects the Fascia
One goal of acupuncture is to insert and manipulate the needle until a tissue reaction called “de qi” occurs. If you’ve heard of the term qi before, it is likely because it is common in both traditional Chinese medicine and the martial arts. In relationship to martial arts, the concept of qi refers to the ways the body is aligned in order to create a connected flow of stabile, powerful body movements. In relationship to acupuncture, qi is understood, in basic terms, as the energy that circulates through the meridians.
Acupuncture: A Treatment of Choice for Fascia Pain – and More
Whether athletic or moderately active, patients who choose acupuncture can benefit from fascia pain relief and more. This is due to acupuncture’s roots in Chinese medicine, and its ability to regulate all the body systems.
For those used to taking NSAIDs for a quick fix when experiencing fascia pain, acupuncture can offer a deeper, longer lasting choice for relief.
Thanks to Tom Bisio, LAc for granting permission to use the reference materials in this article.