Myofascial Decompression

Myofascial Decompression (MFD), otherwise known as Cupping, is a form of soft tissue work where a pneumatic pump is used along with clean, plastic vacuum cups and placed on the skin to release the fascia and muscle tissue underneath.



Fascia is a hot topic lately. If you don’t know what it is check out this video from fascia guru Thomas Myers (a former student of Ida Rolf, the founder of Rolfing). He has done a wonderful job of bringing the concepts of fascia and movement into the public eye.

or this funnier one from anatomy guru Gil Hedley:


The traditional way of using cupping is following the meridian lines of the body. The cups are placed along these particular lines to cause change within the body (either in the tissue or targeted to specific organs) by unblocking Qi. In contrast, MFD is used specifically to treat the fascia and muscles following fascial lines across the body. MFD can also include movement of the body or movement of the cups during treatment to effectively break down adhesions or scar tissue in the fascia.

Picture 2

An example of fascial lines as described by Thomas Myers in his book Anatomy Trains.

Most manual therapy is very compressive in nature. MFD works to decompress fascia and muscle. It is effective in decreasing stiffness and pain, improving tissue health and increasing mobility. I use MFD clinically to:

  • Reduce scar tissue formation following inflammation or trauma
  • Release trigger points and decrease tightness in a muscle and the surrounding fascia
  • Decrease myofascial dysfunction, break up adhesions/scar tissue already present in an area of the body
  • Increase blood flow to a slow healing muscle, tendon or ligament

Almost everyone is left with circular marks from the negative pressure of the cups. These marks are normal, non-painful and can last anywhere between 2 days to 1 week. The coloring of the marks can sometime be an indication of the health of the tissue underneath. Darker marks mean more tissue stagnation (lack of blood flow) and increased build up of adhesion/scar tissue.




Myofascial Decompression can be useful in the treatment of chronic overuse injuries such as bursitis, tendinitis, tendinosis, and other myofascial pain syndromes (low back, mid back, neck pain, elbow pain, shoulder pain etc). It also may be effective with some post-surgical patients who develop soft tissue restrictions as a result of surgical trauma causing adhesions around the surgical site and around the surgical scar.

As an example, Simon (pictured with permission below) had surgery to repair a ruptured pectoralis major muscle a few years ago. The re-attached muscle and the area around the surgical scar is tight and the scar tissue is palpable. We used MFD around the surgical site to free up the tissue under the surgical scar and the surrounding fascia.




Here is what Simon had to say about his experience:

“Cupping is something that I was immediately interested in trying when you first introduced it to me a few years ago. Being a climber for most of my life my body consists of a lot of tightly adhesed facia and connective tissue especially in my upper back. I respond exceptional well to any myofacial work and acupuncture and therefore I was interested to see how the myofacial decompression (cupping) would work for me.

In our sessions we focussed mainly on the upper back with immediate results. The cupping in combination with some ART work resulted in a steady improvement of symptoms over a reasonably short space of time. The cupping really breaks down the adhesions in the facia and improves the circulation of blood to the connective tissue. After a session the tacky, tight and restrictive sensations in my upper back are resolved and over time an occasional maintenance session is all that is required to maintain a symptom free back.

The cupping experience itself is reasonably pleasant. The first session on an adhesed section of facia feels slightly strange but you can also immediately feel the results of the work.

Recently we have targeted my pectoralis major region due to some scar tissue from an old injury. The session was very localized and focussed on the point of injury. The work not only helped break down the scar tissue from the surgical incision but also immediately increased mobility in the shoulder itself.

I would highly recommend this treatment for anyone with muscle and connective tissue tightness issues especially back and neck problems. It’s efficient, really focussed on the problem area and feels great.” 

Below is another example on Simon where we used MFD to keep the tissue in his back healthy. We all know how much junky tissue climbers have in their backs. We worked around his shoulder blades to free up the fascia around the rhomboids and upper/middle traps.








Yes! For climbers and other athletes it can help improve blood flow to the muscles by decreasing tightness and improve movement by reducing adhesion/scar tissue. This can mean improved recovery from training and injury prevention by keeping the tissue healthy.


If you are suffering from any of the above mentioned conditions or simply want to prevent injury look for a qualified practitioner in your area who does Myofascial Decompression (cupping). Usually a physical therapist, chiropractor, or athletic trainer.

If you are in San Francisco make an appointment now at Embrace Health and we can get to work! 

If you are still not sure drop me a line in the comments section and we can discuss how this therapy might benefit you.

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