Why do we go where we go? When most people come in to see a Rolfer they are usually asking that we figure out what is going wrong and fix it. The trouble is that most of us don’t possess the understanding to even ask the right questions. “The pain is in my traps. Can you just work on my traps?” is a classic one. They may even note that one of their shoulders is higher than the other. “Why am I going this way?” they ask. The answer is often a complicated web to untangle.
The process of asking this question and then exploring the question with openness and honesty is one of the most important pieces of getting to feeling better. We don’t always like the answer. But the good news is that with the help of hands-on work and movement work we possess the neuroplasticity to relearn movement and find new options that work better than the old.
The structural paradigm: This model is what Rolfing is really known for and I think most people are satisfied by it. It basically says there’s pain because something is out of alignment eg. myofascia along the hip is interfering with proper walking gait or that a nerve is impinged.
The bad news is that generally fascia does not share the same plasticity that muscle fibers and the nervous system have. It is harder to change. But when it does change the physical changes are more stable than the musculoskeletal system.
The functional paradigm: I find this field very interesting. There is a lot of emerging science coming out on pain and what is actually going on when we say “ouch.” This paradigm is basically saying that the nervous system is overriding a good quality movement because it perceives a danger of injury. This usually emerges as a tight muscle or uncoordinated “wonky” movement. When this really is this case generally these issues are easier to resolve. This is because, and this is a very elementary explanation, the pain that is being experienced is really just faulty data caused by something along the nerve pathway. To use the metaphor of a computer with faulty data (code), the solution is a system reboot by way of a specific gentle movement and viola! The pain is decreased or gone. I think of this as the CNS “clearing the cache.” Some schools of thought are going a little overboard with this idea at the moment and claiming that pain is “all in the imagination” or even more ludicrous, that manual therapy and orthopedic surgery is not ever needed.
Although I”m sometimes puzzled by the results that I see from clients because I don’t always know if the problem was improved by hands on work that made a physical change to a structure or if all that was needed was the nervous sytem to sort itself out. The good news is that this sort of approach can be addressed through movement and manual therapy. The latter is done by locating troubled areas of fascial armoring, nerve inflammation, compression or impingement and treating them manually. The former is done by changing the order pattern of the movement to a more efficient one through movement re-education. In conclusion, I stand in both camps really. I think both Structural Integration and Functional Integration have their place in health and well being.