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Structural integration (including Rolfing)

Structural integration aligns, balances and lengthens the body by pressing into the connective tissues of the body and maneuvering them back into place.

By Zeel Editorial Staff, Last updated: August 9, 2016

Structural integration is a form of bodywork that requires extensive training. It is based on the theory that many injuries and chronic pains are caused by a misalignment of the connective tissues (the fascia) that cushion your muscles and joints.

A specialized school of bodywork, structural integration acknowledges that the fascia can overreact or freeze up in response to injury, and that the pull of gravity on the body, stress or even emotional pain essentially traps trauma in the body. Structural integration, a form of hands-on manipulation, releases, realigns and balances the body through a combination of bodywork and movement education.

The result: greater mobility, decreased chronic pain and a sense of emotional well-being. Some long-term clients even claim that they become taller as the fascia relaxes.

Rolfing® is a registered service mark of The Rolf Institute® of Structural Integration. The original form of structural integration, it is rooted in the notion that the source of human discomfort, both physical and emotional, can be boiled down to the internal connective tissues in the body. Only Certified Rolfers™ may perform Rolfing® structural integration.

The origins of structural integration (including Rolfing): Structural integration was developed by (and Rolfing® is named after) Dr. Ida P. Rolf, a female pioneer in the field of science and physiology. Rolf was a student and innovator of alternate forms of health, like yoga, homeopathic medicine and the Alexander technique, and aimed to explore and discover solutions to her own health issues as well as those of her children.

Rolf came to believe that manipulating the fascia, the layer of connective tissue that covers and connects muscles, nerves and bones, would unleash trapped stress in the body, allow better movement and relieve pain. She called this method structural integration. In 1971, The Rolf Institute® of Structural Integration was founded to teach Rolf's method.

Benefits Of Structural Integration (Including Rolfing)

Structural integration can potentially be very effective in relieving chronic pain, such as back pain, sciatica, scoliosis, tense or frozen muscles and carpal tunnel syndrome. Pupils of the practice learn to shy away from negative movement patterns known to cause physical, and oftentimes emotional, stresses on the body.

Some individuals who partake in this type of bodywork find that they experience an emotional release during structural integration as well.

What To Expect

A structural integration session involves the manipulation of fascia, ligaments, tendons and deep layers of muscle. Touch is slower than during a traditional massage, and pressure is deeper.

Some structural integration adjustments may be mildly uncomfortable. Clients with vascular or skeletal injuries or disorders should consult their doctor before commencing structural integration.

Specialized equipment: There are no special pieces of equipment necessary for structural integration. Clients normally wear gym clothing or underwear and lie or sit on a padded table or sit on a specialized bench. It's important to uncover most of the body so your therapist can observe muscle alignment and work directly on the body.

Recommended sessions: Typically, structural integration sessions are done in packs of 10 (called the "Basic 10") with about a week between sessions to allow the body to adjust, progress and heal. However, it is very common for professionals to offer a trial introductory session. Tune-ups can be performed as needed after the Basic 10. There are also movement-based sessions and exercises designed to bring the structural work into functional activity. Look for a Rolfer™ who is also certified as a Rolf Movement® Practitioner.

Preparation: Clients should inform their structural integration practitioner about any chronic pains or injuries, or if they are pregnant. Professionals who perform structural integration work directly on the body, so clients should not wear slippery lotions or perfumes to an appointment.

Risks

Some adjustments may be mildly uncomfortable. Clients with vascular or skeletal injuries or disorders should consult their doctor before starting structural integration.

Who wouldn't benefit: It is best for potential clients to be weight-height proportionate. Most providers will do a free consultation session to assess fitness for structural integration.

Pregnant women can often benefit from structural integration, the bodywork which can help them adjust to their changing body. Individuals nursing broken bones should avoid structural integration until cleared by a doctor.

Celebrity Devotees

Athletes are attracted to structural integration. Some well-known athletes who have undergone structural integration include skater Michelle Kwan, NBA player Charles Barkley and tennis player Ivan Lendl. Other celebs include Courtney Love and Denis Leary.

Find licensed and certified experts who offer structural integration (including Rolfing) near you