That’s Rolfed Up

Realigning your internal framework a la Rolf!

During the mid-point of my massage education, one of my professors described a technique known as Structural Integration. Falling under the alternative medicine umbrella, structural integration aims to put the body back into proper alignment by manipulating connective tissue (i.e. fascia) to release areas of restriction based on how the client has been moving and holding their body in space. This manipulation is done to affect the deepest level of the musculo-skeletal system (we are talking right down to the nerves) which might feel quite intense in the moment, but over time can reduce pain caused by improper movement patterns. In tandem with the work, the client is re-educated in how to move properly in order to maintain the results of the treatment.

One of the most popular modalities of structural integration is Rolfing. I was familiarized with this when a close friend, who suffered traumatic injuries from an accident, received this bodywork along with her physical therapy. She went from being unable to walk all the way to full on modern dancing within a year. I recall her saying it hurt – A LOT. Intrigued, I did some research to see what it entailed. Created by biochemist Dr. Ida P. Rolf, who recognized that the body’s systems were all interconnected through a seamless network of connective tissues, it was originally meant for the chronically disabled to help improve their mobility. However, she soon learned that her method of postural release also applied to people with chronic pain, stress and/or who put intense physical demand on their bodies. Hmm…sounds like somebody familiar, e?

Like any effective form of bodywork, Rolfing is a holistic approach, taking into consideration the individual and what their needs might be to adjust the treatment accordingly. Adjustment is key also in the depth of manipulation of their connective tissues as well as the mobilization of their joints. Some of us, although mentally psyched for it, find that our bodies will fight back. As a therapist, you have to know how to knock on the door in order to be invited into a particular area of the body. The client needs to feel safe, comfortable and trusting of your touch, especially when the work will be painful. The end goal is free and fluid movement. Usually this will be done in 10 sessions; however some people feel very dramatic changes to their posture and movement right after their first session. (See the diagram I posted in the header for an idea of what happens)

Now that the benefits and technique have been laid out for you, there is the task of finding and working with the right Rolfer. A therapist cannot claim they Rolf unless they have been Certified by The Rolf Institute of Structural Integration, the only organization worldwide that educates and certifies Rolfers. You can search for and check a therapist’s credentials via the Institute’s website Verification link. Certification aside, a therapist’s approach can and will vary. It is important to find a practitioner that communicates effectively and listens to your feedback in a constructive manner. Another friend of mine received the technique and found that her therapist would not ask her questions or address her comments regarding the work. She left the experience feeling she was treated like a body, not a whole person. That is never a good thing in any form of bodywork and usually does not produce results. If you are open to being Rolfed, take the time to research your practitioner and/or get referrals from those who have been privy to this treatment. Dramatic change is priceless.

For more information on the latest in Rolf techniques and research:

http://www.rolfresearchfoundation.org

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E tu, Iliopsoas?

What your Iliacus and Psoas look like – separate, but together…

Iliopsoas is a term used for the combo platter of muscles that is Iliacus and Psoas Major. These muscles call the posterior abdominal wall home, where they attach the lumbar spine and pelvis to the hip. This trajectory makes iliopsoas not only an important postural muscle (you need it for standing and walking) but also a strong flexor of the hip joint. Sprinting and running with high knees (i.e. hips and knees are flexed above a 90 degree angle) really recruits this muscle complex along with the usual suspects of Quads, TFL and Sartorius. Also, a wonderful calisthenic exercise known as the Mountain Climber is good for strengthening this muscle for the same reason that it flexes the hip beyond 90 degrees. We need our iliopsoas to be strong in order to keep that back straight and supported through all our daily activities outside of just exercise. Too much sitting shortens and weakens this muscle complex, causing an exaggerated curve in the lower back known as lordosis, which in turn tightens the muscles of the lumbar spine causing pain and instability. Another cause of weakness is inefficient recruitment, like say, if you were a long distance runner. Iliopsoas just goes along for the ride when your knees and hips stay below 90 degrees because you are running at a slower, more methodical pace. Even though you are maintaining a good level of fitness, overtime iliopsoas will weaken because it is not really being strengthened. Add old age to the equation, which naturally reduces muscle strength and viability, and you have all the factors that directly affect this muscular unit. Well, almost. What else is located in the deep recesses of your belly? Your guts.

Your guts and Iliopsoas have a “tight” relationship – pun intentional.

Aside from your abs, the iliopsoas (specifically psoas major) keeps that lower abdomen flat, preventing the intestines from pushing forward as it creates a kind of long shelf for them to rest in. In times of elevated stress and emotional issues, your psoas major tightens and is less efficient at keeping your guts at bay. Primordially tied into our “fight or flight” nervous system, the psoas is our true “gut” muscle, stabilizing and destabilizing at the will of our environment. Digestion and other non-essential activities cease when we are on high alert leading to a buildup of toxins, inflammation and other muscular disturbances. And speaking of said disturbances, also located in the lower right corner of your abdomen in the region of iliopsoas is a valve known as the ileocaecal valve (IVC). It is where digested food passes from the small intestine into the large intestine, so that water and vitamin absorption can occur and toxins can be eliminated. This valve is designed to open for the above function and then close to prevent back-up. Any number of factors including stress, diet, parasites and irritation of the nerves that power the valve can cause it to stay in either a closed or open position. This leads to a buildup of toxins where they do not belong. The body responds with fluid retention and a host of symptoms such as joint and muscular aches/pains, circulatory problems, pinched nerves or even whole body arthritis. How does this affect iliopsoas? One of the most common symptoms is low back pain that comes on suddenly and with no explained cause. Picture yourself sitting one minute, then getting a sharp, stabbing pain in your lower back upon getting up. This low back pain is due to the close relationship iliacus has with the valve. Any dysfunction refers to this muscle, which in turn destabilizes the lumbar spine and affects the surrounding musculature in the back and hip. Chiropractors, Massage Therapists who specialize in Applied Kinesiology and Naturopaths can all address this issue effectively through  a variety of changes to one’s diet, exercise and with soft tissue manipulation to name a few techniques. Do not underestimate the importance of this muscle complex. Its betrayal by either pathological and/or other causes can have severe repercussions in the whole body. Keep your guts and back in perfect alignment and they will take care of you.

Additional information and SOURCES:

http://blog.corewalking.com/psoas-major-and-rectus-abdominis-a-strained-alliance/

http://digestiveawareness.drupalgardens.com/content/ileocecal-valve-preventing-backflow

Fertility Massage: You + Me = Baby

Loving that procreative vessel!
(Copyright Linnea Lenkus Studio)

Within the past few weeks, I found that the majority of my new female clients are trying to get pregnant. Most are going about it the natural way, but a few have begun fertility treatments after that route didn’t produce any result. Their ages range from as young as 25 all the way to 43. Some have had children before; others are trying for the first time. They span multiple nationalities and economic brackets, but despite their differences, these women do have one thing in common – STRESS. Their bodies are experiencing and storing the physical and emotional strain of wanting to get pregnant, which if you have read any of my previous posts, wreaks havoc on your muscles, tissues and overall health. When in STRESS mode, one of the best things you can do is get a massage, as it is extremely effective at managing and reducing the negative effects that stress hormones like cortisol have on the body. However, there is a less obvious reason why a woman wanting to get pregnant should be getting massaged and it’s Doctor recommended.

Standard massage turns on the “rest and digest” switch in the body, sending feel good hormones coursing through your system that bring down blood pressure, flush toxins and increase circulation to tense areas of the body you wouldn’t be able to reach yourself. This is the stress reduction factor. Naturally, with a more restful state promoted in the body and nourishing blood flooding to all regions above and below, the ability for one to conceive could be increased physiologically. However, what M.D.’s and case studies have found to really prepare the “womb” is a more direct approach. Currently, there are two forms of massage that deal with fertility issues and both address the uterus and surrounding abdominal muscles and organs, specifically.

The first form of fertility massage is Mayan Abdominal Therapy, a form of abdominal massage brought to North America and Europe by herbalist and respected authority on Mayan healing techniques, Dr. Rosita Arvigo. It is an external, non invasive manipulation that repositions internal organs that have shifted, thereby restricting the flow of blood, lymph fluid, nerves and chi. Its founding principle is that when a women’s uterus is out of “balance” so is she. Centuries of Central American midwives and healers have found this to be the number one impediment for conception. Dr. Arvigo’s technique is focused on the position and health of the pelvic and abdominal organs. The work corrects a prolapsed, fallen, or tilted uterus and structurally realigns the spine from the thoracic to sacral regions. The practitioner will also prescribe herbal remedies to support the treatment and teach self-care methods that the client can practice at home. More information on session specifics and locating a practitioner near you can be found here: https://www.arvigotherapy.com/practitioners

The second method is called the Wurn Technique. This unique type of massage was developed more than 15 years ago at Clear Passage Therapies, a physical therapy network by a massage and physical therapist husband and wife team, Larry and Belinda Wurn. While treating an infertile woman for low-back and pelvic pain, the therapists discovered their client became pregnant, after seven years of unsuccessful attempts. This client had been diagnosed with two blocked fallopian tubes and had been sexually active the entire time. Intrigued, they tried the same technique on eight other infertile women. Half of them became pregnant following treatment. The therapy itself combines site specific abdominal massage with elements of physical therapy.  It addresses adhesions, spasms and mechanical factors that cause almost half of all female infertility. Most of their clients shared a history of inflammation, trauma and/or surgery of the structures involved in conception. The Wurn Technique is patent protected by the U.S. government and practiced all over the country. A 2004 case study that followed 22 women who had completed the treatment program, indicated 16 (73%)  became pregnant and carried to term.  On average, the women that were able to conceive had received between 20-25 hours worth of treatment before becoming pregnant. Ongoing studies are being conducted on the efficacy of the technique, but the results look promising.

Overall, conventional treatments for infertility are extremely expensive and oftentimes invasive, both physically and emotionally.  I have seen it first hand with my clients. It’s nice to know that there are forms of massage that are an affordable option for couples dealing with this frustrating and painful reality. They are slow, methodically deep and client centered with little to no side effects. It’s my belief that anything done to the body with love, promotes love. And if you are just a smidgen sentimental, the ultimate act of love between 2 people is the creation of a life.

The fruits of your labor…