Home - Fixing Backs, Pain, Stress and Tightness
with Structural Integration
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You feel very relaxed from a massage because our conscious minds can tell the difference between tension and release of the muscle fiber lengths, and because it removes the built-up waste in the lymph channels and improves blood circulation. Having our acupuncture and reflex points rubbed, even coincidentally, and having our growth hormones stimulated by the skin contact also helps create this overall relaxation.
Since all of us accumulate quite a bit of muscle fiber shortness throughout the day, even though we don't bunch up a lot of fascia, a massage does help and we notice it. Muscle fiber tightness happens especially in the big "doing" muscles on the outside of the body. And it's caused from physical activity, emotional tension and general misalignment zig-zags. Blood, with its oxygen and nutrients, goes into a muscle when it's busy doing. And nerve signals are giving it instructions to operate. In the process of all its activity, it also generates waste products. And waste products also occur from incomplete digestion, routine removal of foreign matter and germs, and from natural organ activity.
The waste in the lymph channels has to get moved with muscular squeezing, because the lymphatic system of capillaries and veins is a one way "output" channel to the bloodstream, and it has no pump like the heart. So exercise as well as massage activates both blood and lymph circulation. This in itself creates relaxation since recent muscle hardness is caused by the blood still accumulated in the muscles (from the activity) as well as by nerve signals that haven't been turned off. This is also why daily stretching and even a hot bath help so much.
But we don't notice the bit-by-bit accumulation of shortness in the length and "compressed-ness" of the fascia. Daily activity, excluding very intense athletics, usually doesn't change our movement abilities enough. We also don't have input to our conscious minds about how long a muscle sack is, nor do we have conscious control over the size of our fascia to begin with.
We can't mentally relax out our fascia by reading a book or having a drink. In addition, most of us have had the same degree of limitations for years, even since we were children. So for all these reasons, we aren't aware of the background of unconscious chronic tension that we carry around with us, nor that this background is getting shorter and shorter. We only notice a problem when we notice limited movement or tension, feel an ache or pain, or get an injury.
structurally organized connective tissue manipulation removes this chronic
unconscious tension and also aligns your body's bones and muscles into a
more tensionless relationship. Then your muscles will relax further when you
have a massage, and you'll get less tense even when you don't have one.
Myo-fascial release is a connective tissue manipulation technique used by some massage practitioners, but it is not Structural Integration. (My-oh refers to fascia of the muscles.) It does lengthen fascia, mostly the superficial fascia on the outside of the body and in the outer layers of some of the big exterior muscles. If done well, it will loosen individual muscles and areas around some joints quite a lot, especially a lot more than regular massage, even deep massage pressing.
But unless the practitioner understands and applies a Structural Integration like approach, myo-fascial release is never applied deeply enough, nor in enough areas, to get anywhere near the kind of release this Bodywork does. Myo-fascial release also doesn't reorganize and align a body so the compensating tightnesses don't have to come right back. It is a locally oriented therapy that loosens muscles much better than regular massage does.
And while it's not a
whole body fix, it will work as a Bodywork tune-up if the practitioner goes
deeply enough into the whole area that needs the work and into its primary
interconnected muscles (like the hamstrings and buttocks for low back
stiffness in runners or the arms, chest, abdomen, neck and head for shoulder
Structural Integration Bodywork sessions, with their thorough application of the manipulations, are therefore a good substitute for massage when your primary concern is release of accumulated shortness and misalignment in your structure, especially if you have accompanying chronic or recurring pains. In this regard, they do a lot more, very quickly, and the improvements last a lot longer. They are NOT a substitute for the physiological muscle and fluid circulation benefits of therapeutic massage. So massage and Structural Integration Bodywork are complementary treatments.
Here is an example of how Structural Integration Bodywork is different from massage and other forms of tension release that relax muscles but doesn't lengthen fascia. Imagine a muscle and sack available, hereditarily, to be 6" long. Over time they have shortened to 5 1/2", even when you're relaxed, because the "layout" of the fibers of collagen and elastin have grown that way. (These numbers are hypothetical, by the way. We don't bunch up that much in any one muscle. But they're good numbers for illustration purposes.) Now, since there are no nerve signals to the conscious part of the brain to tell us exactly how long the muscles are, we haven't yet noticed that we've been contracting all over the body, bit by bit, over the months and years.
Then, when you emotionally tense up or physically contract some more, the muscle contracts another 1/4" to 5 1/4". That's the point at which it pulls on the pain sensor nerves and your brain notifies your consciousness that something is wrong. (In some athletic endeavors, that extra 1/4" occurs so suddenly that the muscle or tendon tears or pulls.)
A massage relaxes you back to 5 1/2"' so the pain goes away. But the next time you tighten, you'll be back to 5 1/4" and have pain again. Ideally you'd want the sack to be opened back to 6" so the 1/4" of routine tension won't result in pain. And you'd like to have your whole structure balanced so just everyday activities don't cause pain and don't tighten you up so much.
Integration Bodywork spreads the fibrous fascia so the sacks and the muscles
do lengthen out close to 6." And the interconnecting muscle groups are also
lengthened so that the body stays long without re-tightening compensations.
In a few sessions, months and even years of accumulated tightness can be
removed. When this is done over your whole body, the whole structure of
muscles and bones becomes opened and aligned. It then becomes an
inter-related, balanced system that has the tendency to stay loose and long,
so it works to keep you relaxed.
Back tightness presents another and related cause of recurring pain: the insufficiency of not correcting misalignment. Massage is designed to relieve muscle soreness from lots of activity, so it can remove that kind of back pain. But it doesn't necessarily correct the reason for the muscle to get sore in the first place. The massage is performed while you're lying down and usually on the areas in pain. This relaxes and even re-lengthens many of the back muscles. A feeling of total relief from the pain may even last for a few hours. The accumulated blood and waste products in those muscles has been cleared and that in itself removes soreness. The massage may even lengthen some of the shortened muscle fibers and some of the surface fascia.
But as you stand up and move around, the shortness in the leg and abdominal fascia (and sometimes in the arms and head) forces the back muscles to tighten all over again; your unconscious mind automatically and unconsciously needs to tilt your torso backward to stand up straight. No significant release of shortness, compression and misalignment has been created.
I might add that most
people are not aware they are tilting like this, and that's one reason why
we take Polaroid photos and use videos. It gives you objective data to see
for yourself. You can see the tilts, relate them to the tensions you feel,
and monitor your progress from session to session.
Trigger point therapy uses very deep steady pressure on sore spots in the belly of the muscle, to "break up" the holding patterns. This often works well in relieving chronically tight local areas, especially those that are tight because of food reactions and inhaled fume toxicity. Repeated tightnesses in the muscles, especially on a daily basis, are often food allergy reactions, and if it's in the same spots in the shoulder area it's sometimes to wheat. For this I would suggest to my friends massage, acupressure, trigger point therapy and an examination of one's diet.
But trigger point therapy doesn't manipulate fascia nor realign structure to correct the cause of why many of these muscles tighten up as they do. A lot of repeated muscle tightness is not due to localized causes; but is a balancing act between extensor and flexor muscles to keep us upright and to adjust for shortness elsewhere.
Most commonly, tightness in the neck, shoulder and back muscles occurs because muscles in the arms, legs and front of the torso are short in the fascia. Weekly or BI-weekly tightness build-up in the neck and shoulders commonly occurs from repeated arm bunch-up caused by routine athletics or job requirements, most typically massage.
Integration Manipulations, over the whole System, are designed to correct
patterns of chronic repeated "holdings," when it's caused by bunched-up
fascia and structural misalignment.
This includes "holding" that's really coming from
shortened muscles elsewhere in the body that are holding this
muscle tight. When the "base" form of the
structure is improved, it's also easier to identify muscular re-tightenings
due to toxins, food reactions and daily activity.
It's important to understand that Structural Integration Bodywork, while it does have some permanent and long lasting benefits, doesn't prevent us from retightening our muscles. We still have to do regular maintenance of stretching, exercise, massage and other forms of body therapy. It isn't a "fix me once and I'm fixed forever" type of improvement. But some benefits do last a long long time. The accumulated tightness and immovable hardness from decades of bunching-up and misalignment are indeed removed forever. They don't come back. Just new bunch-up occurs quite naturally. That's one of the reason's Dr. Rolf and her associates developed Rolfing Movement Education, to teach us how to move in integrated ways that take advantage of how the body can move without accumulating so much tension.
However, the fascia has been softened, the metabolic flows have been improved and if the work has gone deeply and thoroughly enough, the structure will be fairly aligned and muscle tone will be good. The whole body will stay less tense even in the midst of exercise and stress. And when tune-ups are done, pressure and massage on re-bunched-up areas can move the tissue back into softness and its longer lengths, and much easier and much faster than it took with the initial Bodywork manipulations.