Rolfing/Structural Integration for Back Pain
Most cases of back pain are the result of repeated physical stress or chronic conditions. Back pain sufferers often believe that during those periods when their pain disappears that the problem also goes away. This is not always the case—the cause of the pain does not disappear with the symptoms, and in many instances back pain will recur. If left untreated, most back problems only worsen as time and gravity take their toll on our bodies.
A system of deep-tissue massage called Rolfing, also known as Structural Integration, has the ability to dramatically alter a person’s posture and structure. It is estimated that more than one million people have received Rolfing work, many for back pain.
Research has shown that Rolfing creates a more efficient use of the muscles, allows the body to conserve energy, and creates more economical and refined patterns of movement. Research also demonstrates that Rolfing significantly reduces chronic stress and changes in the body structure. For example, a study showed that Rolfing significantly reduced the spinal curvature of subjects with lordosis (“swayback”). Rolfing has been gaining popularity in the past few decades as a successful treatment for many types of back pain.
How Can Rolfing Help Back Pain?
Rolfing, developed over fifty years ago by Ida Rolf, realigns and balances the body so that the head, shoulders, chest, pelvis, and legs are in a better vertical alignment. The underlying principle of Rolfing is that injuries, poor movement habits, and chronic muscle tension from stress cause the fascia to stiffen. Fascia is the tough, densely woven connective tissue that spreads continuously throughout the body in a three-dimensional web from head to foot. This stiffening in turn prevents a person from moving freely and easily.
Rolfing is designed to loosen the fascia, resulting in a freedom of muscle movement and the unlearning of bad patterns of muscle strain and misuse, resolving the source of the back pain. This release should then enable the back to properly align itself. When the back is properly aligned, back pain should recede.
For Scoliosis, Rolfing specializes in de-rotating the connective tissue of the thorax and entire body to bring a certain level of balance and peace to those with scoliosis.
For low back pain as well as disk herniation, Rolfing would focus on softening, releasing, and lengthening the muscle tissue and creating space between the intervertebral disks (most easily seen when space is created between the pelvis and the ribs).
While Rolfing is contraindicated for pregnant women, structural issues can be addressed prior to the pregnancy to insure there is good ear/shoulder/pelvic alignment. This will help to decrease extra pressure on the disks often brought about by abdominal weight gain during pregnancy. Also, structural integration can balance the pelvis and improve the muscle tone of the pelvic floor, since an imbalance could result in poor pelvic muscle tone. Consequently, a woman could experience increased pelvic pressure during pregnancy and delivery, causing incontinence and sexual dysfunction.
It is crucial to understand that Rolfing will treat the body not as individual parts, but as a whole, so the whole organism realigns. Then, movement education would be provided to help prevent future recurrence of the problem.
What Happens at a Rolfing Session?
Rolfing consists of ten one-hour sessions, called a “Ten Series”, preferably given weekly, starting from the head and working down to the feet. Each session builds upon the last until the body is totally aligned, front to back, side to side, top to bottom, and inside to outside. Rolfers take into account the unique needs of each client, so additional sessions can be added as needed for a “tune-up.” Rolfers often also incorporate Joint Mobilization Techniques, a range of soft-tissue techniques that release the motion restrictions that impede whole body organization.
Rolfers also utilize Rolf Movement Integration, in which the Rolfer helps clients become aware of inhibiting movement patterns and then teaches clients how to change these patterns. This approach adds a functional aspect to the structural approach of Rolfing.
What Causes Back Pain?
Back pain occurs for a variety of reasons. Lack of exercise, weight gain (especially in the abdomen), and incorrect posture can result in physical stress in which the back will move out of alignment.
Injuries to muscles in the back due to strains, sprains, or spasms usually result from lifting, bending, twisting, sitting, or standing incorrectly. In these circumstances, pain can occur immediately or several hours later.
Slipped or herniated disks also can cause back pain as a disk or disks in the spine bulge or even break. Spinal nerves often become impinged, or pressed, as a result. Impingement can cause numbness or shooting pain in the arms or legs. Sciatica, a condition in which the sciatic nerve is pinched or irritated, causes pain that runs down the lower back and down one leg.
Often, back pain and stiffness can result from wear and tear leading to osteoarthritis. This is due to the narrowing of disks with age, and the vertebrae developing bony growths that rub together.
A variety of other health conditions can cause back pain, including osteoporosis, or brittle bones; cancer; infection, and emotional stress and tension. Additionally, structural problems, such as lordosis (swayback) or scoliosis (a sideways curve in the spine), can cause back pain. Finally, due to weight gain and changes in posture, pregnancy often precipitates back pain in expectant mothers.
Is Rolfing Safe?
Rolfing is generally believed to be safe for most people. However, it should not be used as the sole therapeutic approach to disease and it should not delay the time it takes to speak with a health-care provider about a potentially severe condition.
Because Rolfing/Structural Integration involves deep manipulation of tissues, some people should avoid this technique, including pregnant women and people with broken bones, severe osteoporosis, disease of the spine or vertebral disks, skin damage or wounds, bleeding disorders, varicose veins, or blood clots in areas being manipulated. Additionally, those taking blood thinners such as warfarin (Coumadin) should also avoid Rolfing.
Aetna Intelihealth has a site on Rolfing.
Ezinearticles.com has a page on Rolfing and scoliosis.
Jeffrey Burch has a website on Rolfing and various conditions.
Rolfblog.com has articles on Rolfing and low back pain.
The Rolf Institute of Structural Integration has a page on the Rolfing approach.