Rolfing/Structural Integration for Chronic Pain
Many people are affected by chronic pain that continues long beyond the body’s normal healing time. This pain can be continuous or intermittent; it can also be limited to a single part of the anatomy or affect the entire body. The origin of chronic pain may have a clear connection to a physical cause or its origin may be unclear. Often it can be treated successfully using a holistic system of bodywork called Rolfing, named after its founder, Ida Rolf.
How Does Rolfing/Structural Integration Work?
Rolfing, also known as structural integration, focuses its attention on the fascia, strong connective tissue that envelopes and isolates the muscles, covers bones, and surrounds the heart, lungs, and other internal organs. Through direct pressure, Rolfing/structural integration loosens or releases the fascia, restoring the flexibility and elasticity that is lost through injury, repetitive movement, poor posture, or disease. Structural integration relieves pain and reduces stress during movement by correcting misalignments in a natural way.
Sources of Chronic Pain
Chronic pain often has its origin in physical causes such as sprains or strains from injuries, inflammation, damage from repetitive motion, overwork, injury to joints, arthritis, fibromyalgia, or other diseases. Lower back pain is the most common type of chronic pain. Because all the fascia of the body is connected, a shortening of the fascia in one spot may cause stress and pain in a distant area. Through hands-on work, a therapist trained in Rolfing can detect these interconnected relationships and work directly on the source of the pain without causing additional harm.
How Does Rolfing/Structural Integration Help Chronic Pain?
Because the fascia throughout the body forms one seamless network, pain in one area of the body affects body function everywhere. Therefore, Rolfers treat the body by working on all areas, not just the area that is feeling the immediate pain. By lengthening and releasing the fascia, Rolfing helps the body regain its flexibility. The fascia release integrates the entire body and returns it to its state of natural alignment, leading to less restricted movement and free from the conditions that lead to chronic pain.
Chronic pain can also have a psychological or emotional component that can be addressed by a Rolfing/structural integration specialist. Although Rolfing is not intended to directly address emotional sources of chronic pain, many clients discover through treatment that emotional damage has resulted in long term tension, causing a misalignment of the body. In other words, holding their body in abnormal positions in response to emotional trauma has caused them to develop chronic pain. Recognizing and releasing the fascia in the areas of the body that have been affected by emotional stress can have a positive effect in initiating emotional healing, helping the body heal from the inside out.
What Happens During a Rolfing/Structural Integration Session?
The Rolfing/Structural Integration regimen consists of ten weekly one-hour sessions. The ten are divided into three distinct, structured parts: three “sleeve sessions,” four “core” sessions, and three integration sessions. For each session, individuals lie on a massage table. Men wear shorts, and women wear shorts and a top to allow the practitioner access to the major muscles of the body.
During the first session, the client completes a health questionnaire and is evaluated for posture and body imbalances. Then, the client and the Rolfing professional discuss specific therapy goals. During the “sleeve” sessions, the Rolfer focuses on the superficial layers of the body. The client may be asked to breathe or move in certain ways to help release the fascia.
During each of the four “core” sessions, the Rolfer performs deep tissue work on a specific part of the body, moving upward from the feet in session four, to the head and neck in session seven.
Finally, during the three “integration” sessions, the Rolfer is free to determine how best to treat the client. Treatment can include working on a specific area of the body that is causing pain or else integrating areas of the body. The final session brings the body into complete integration and balance.
After the tenth session, the client is advised to wait at least six months before undergoing additional treatments so that the body can consolidate gains made throughout the ten-week regimen.
Finding a Rolfing/Structural Integration Professional
Rolfing Practitioners can be found anywhere in the world. Both the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration and the Guild for Structural Integration offer beginning- and advanced-level certification programs and training. The Rolf Institute’s basic program includes a minimum of 600 hours of training. The Guild was founded by Ida Rolf and is based in Boulder, Colorado. Both of these organizations can also provided additional information on the benefits of Rolfing, research on Rolfing, and an explanation of training requirements to become a certified Rolfer.