For anyone suffering long-term chronic aches and pain, Structural Integration, often called Rolfing, offers an alternative to better known soft tissue therapies, such as Swedish massage, and chiropractic. Over time the pull of gravity, the stress of daily activities and physical injuries can pull the body out of alignment. In order to compensate for this misalignment, the system of connective tissue surrounding muscles and joints, called fascia, gradually shortens, tightens and adjusts. As fascia tightens the body becomes stiff, leading to pain and loss of energy in the body. Eventually the body will begin to alter the way it moves in order to accommodate this stiffness, creating a spiral of ever increasing misalignment, tightening, and pain.
According to the Guild for Structural Integration, "Structural Integration aligns and balances the body by lengthening and repositioning the fascia. . . . When restricted fascia is released and lengthened the body can return to its structurally optimal position." Similar to chiropractic, the manipulation of fascia leads to better skeletal alignment, ease of movement, and overall wellness.
Like Rolfing, Hellerwork focuses on manipulating fascia to create structural integration, but includes awareness of movement and emotion. According to Joseph Heller, "Hellerwork makes the connection between movement, body alignment and personal awareness. By freeing natural movement, balancing the body's structure and opening up expression, Hellerwork allows you to optimize how you use your body."
A Hellerwork practitioner will include body awareness practice and dialogue to explore how emotions affect one's body and movement. This increased awareness of the interplay between emotions and the body allows the patient to discover how the emotional content of daily life can create misalignment in the body and lead ultimately to chronic discomfort.
But Doesn't It Hurt?
Rolfing and Hellerwork have gained a reputation for being painful therapies, painful enough to discourage people from trying it. In my own experience, Structural Integration is only as painful as the patient allows it to be. After 25 years of being crammed into cleats, kicking soccer balls, and getting kicked or stepped on, my feet caused me constant pain, leading to a posture that was so misaligned that I suffered daily back aches and headaches. But working closely with my massage therapist to define my personal pain threshold (not very high, I admit), I was able to gain the myofascial release needed to ease the pain in my feet so that I could stand and walk comfortably, without creating the stress on my back that caused me so much pain. More often than not, my therapy tingled, rather than hurt.
I recommend that you find a massage therapist that you trust and can communicate with to define a therapy that best fits your needs and provides you with the greatest relief from pain.