The Rolf method of Structural Integration is a form of bodywork rather like a very deep tissue massage, which aims to re-establish correct movement patterns across joints, and improve physical alignment and posture. In the process it treats muscular pain and dysfunction.
Over time due to age, injury or vocational repetitive action, our body looses its natural alignment. Examples are: rounded shoulders, uneven hips, flat feet, scoliosis or a thoracic kyphosis.
A distortion of posture always influences our ability to move. Fluidity of movement and the ability of the nervous system to co-ordinate movements that are efficient without tremors or pain, is dependent on a well aligned structure.
Limitations in movement may be precise muscular movements; or important everyday movements requiring the co-ordination of groups of muscles – such as; walking, standing up, raising your arms, or turning your head whilst reversing a car.
A good posture indicates that the joints of the body are in correct alignment relative to each other, which enables bio-mechanical efficiency.
Where there is physical misalignment, joints loose their congruence and muscles will track in an unbalanced fashion across them. This causes loss of movement, pain and swellings to arise; the most common of these being back pain.
Misalignment may also influence the position of internal organs and affect our physiology in various ways. This may cause anything from fatigue, digestive issues, poor circulation, breathing problems to headaches.
Structural Integration can reverse postural change, and in the process treat a wide variety of physical symptoms. It achieves this by lengthening myofascial structures around the body, opening the patterns in the connective tissue, releasing thickened tough tissue, which enables it to soften and rehydrate. This creates space such that the bones of the skeleton can return to a better alignment, and allows muscles the space to work and joints the freedom to function. The analogy used is to view the musculo-skeletal system as a tent, where the fascia binding everything is like a network of guy ropes. If there is a change anywhere, then there will be tension throughout, and to get right placement requires over all adjustment.
To understand how structural integration works, we need to understand what fascia is.
Our bodies consist of a bony skeleton, which is moved by skeletal muscles and held together by fascia. Fascia is the name given to the dense fibrous connective tissue which surrounds, permeates and supports all our muscles, bones and organs, and connects every part of our body in a continuous and web-like manner. In its healthy state, fascia allows structures to glide freely past each other, enabling us to move freely.
However, fascia may also adapt and change in a manner that limits our movements and pulls our skeleton out of alignment.
- Lack of movement where fascial sheaths stick together causing stiffness.
- Gravity over time. The classic look is is a body that stoops forwards, a head that thrusts forwards, rounded shoulders and a curved thorax. Fascial changes make it difficult to stand upright.
- RSI or chronic tension in muscles from vocational or habitual overuse. This applies to sports people, builders, office workers and musicians. Where ever a particular set of muscles are used repetitively, the surrounding fascia thickens and supports that movement, pulling on other areas and distorting posture. Also where other muscles are not used, they may become glued together, and unable to work independently.
- Injury – Injured fascia forms scar tissue, which tends to be thicker and less flexible than original fascia. This alters movement patterns and may affect the balance of the skeletal system. As no injury is ever localized due to an overall compensation pattern, different injuries cumulatively cause progressive distortion and a further change in movement pattern and posture. The human body is very bad at adapting back to what it was before an injury occurred, and we can carry around the effect of a life time’s worth of injuries.
People from all walks of life can benefit from Structural Integration.
- Sports people – Structural Integration improves performance in movement related activities such as yoga, dance or sport; where optimal physical alignment is important. Improved physical alignment seriously reduces injury occurrence and recovery time after injury from strains and sprains.
- Those in pain.
- Those with physical disabilities or those who have difficulty moving.
Every age can benefit:
- For children receiving the Structural Integration, this may effectively set them on the right track for growth and development, and correct potentially harmful postural habits. Many adults complain of chronic backache, neck pain and other physical and emotional stress which may have originated from a childhood imbalance. Childhood trauma in the form of falls, accidents, injuries and birth traumas, if left untreated may cause spinal problems, limps or posturally affect physiology.
- For the middle aged, receiving the ten series can be likened to a mid life M.O.T, ironing out bad postural habits and bringing an invaluable physical self awareness and improved movement patterns that will benefit you through the later part of your life.
- For seniors, receiving the Structural Integration ten series will bring all the benefits of improved posture, greater ease of movement, less stiffness and an increased quality of life.
Although intelligent exercise like yoga can to some extent create better alignment, some patterns are very hard to change, and trying to force an alignment on a misalignment may create new body imbalances. However, once changes have been established with the help of Structural Integration, yoga postures may be instrumental in growing into those changes, and help previously weak areas to strengthen. Work with a yoga therapist is highly recommended.
Treatments need a few days between each other to allow for the integration and incorporation of changes that have occurred. A week is ideal, although the time may vary from a few days to a month. Leaving more than a month between treatments however is not advisable as it increases the possibility of old patterns re-establishing themselves, and reduces the cumulative effect of the treatments which build up one on another.
The session begins with an assessment of the client, viewed in their underwear performing a few simple movements such as walking, arm raising, squatting and breathing. These movements bring attention to areas of restrictions, asymmetries and misalignments. The actual session of hands on work is an hour to an hour and a half hour long, and before and after photos may be taken to record changes taking place.
The treatment itself consists of a series of manipulations which are applied by the therapist’s hands, fingers, knuckles and elbows; carefully moving tissue at specific places around the body. Work over certain areas close to the bone may feel intense, but work will never exceed your tolerance level. Following a treatment you may feel tired and some people experience emotional releases. This is nothing to worry about, and is common for work done around the chest. You may also feel new sensations whilst exercising, which are a consequence of previously unused muscle groups becoming available, along with changes in the range of motion and demand on muscles.
People often feel very inspired following treatments as many changes are felt immediately. This is especially the case with those who never believed change was possible.
Water, rest, yoga and walking are recommended to integrate the changes, and encourage new correct bio-dynamic movement patterns. Resuming similar bad habits will only encourage the return of previous movement patterns.
Changes may be immediate or need time to integrate. Structural Integration is a process, and some changes will not become apparent for any period of time up to a year after the ten series. This is because neural patterns of muscular use are being re-wired, some of which are very established and have been present for a very long time.
Receiving Structural Integration treatments does not interfere with chiropractic, osteopathic or massage treatments. Due to the fact that Structural Integration works on fascia with a specific emphasis, it may even help and work very well alongside disciplines offering bony adjustments.
Whatever work your body receives is complete in itself. Your body will respond to and integrate what ever positive changes in fascia and physical alignment have been presented. There is little regression in the body unless old habitual ways are resumed with full force.