With 13.7 million Americans in 2003 seeing physicians for shoulder problems you know it is a serious problem. I have seen Rolfing do amazing things for shoulder problems. I wrote a post how Rolfing helps shoulders – here.
Editor’s note: This article is an excellent description of what Rolfing can do to assist a client who is experiencing dental problems. While I had my client in Scottsdale I worked with many dentist, orthodontists and oral surgeons. Rolfing can certainly help. Benjamin Shield, Ph.D., a Rolfer in Los Angeles wrote this article as much for dental and Rolfing patients as he wrote it for dentists. It is long, but if you have one of these problems you will appreciate reading it.
This article will explore the symbiotic partnership between the dental profession and manual therapeutics. It is intended as an interface for communications with dental professionals. It is meant as a primer for the dentist, as most manual therapist will already be aware of the information contained here. It will focus on the evaluation and treatment of functional disorders such as sensory disturbances, headaches, neuralgias, endocrine dysfunction, and autonomic nervous system imbalances. [Read more…]
A lot of us believe that the secret to better skiing is better equipment. Let’s face it—the sport equipment companies are very convincing. So we spend hundreds of dollars getting top-of-the-line equipment, we dream of strapping it on and taking that great run.
But to ensure a great ski season, there’s one vital piece of equipment: your body. Even with all your state-of-art equipment, you need your body to be at its peak. Your body needs to be more than strong; it needs to be loose, aligned and relaxed to assure top performance. [Read more…]
Is your neck bothering you now? Is it stiff? Do you have a numb arm? Chronic headaches? If so, you’re in good company. Neck pain affects two-thirds of the population at some point in their lives1.
Virtually all neck pain starts from the soft tissueâ€“the muscles, tendons, ligaments and fascia (the connective tissue that holds the muscles together). Soft tissue tightens and shortens after an injury, due to postural strain, or just from stress. Then soft tissue literally pulls the bones out of alignment. Eventually, it may even cause the cervical discs to deteriorate. This compression may ultimately impinge on a nerve, causing shooting pain down the arm or numbness.
The soft tissue pulling on the head often causes headaches. Every client I’ve seen who was suffering from headaches also had a tight neck. Inevitability, when the neck released, the headaches would disappear. [Read more…]
Respiratory disorders, such as allergies and asthma, can actually alter the body’s physical structure. In the case of respiratory difficulty, restricted breathing can create a misshapen rib cage. If breathing is difficult–or even scary–the body will distort around that stress, adapting by creating fascial adhesions, or scar tissue. Not taking full breaths creates the restricted structure, reinforcing the experience that breathing is difficult.
So how do we reverse this pattern?
First, you free the chronic structural and soft tissue pattern by releasing the chronic tension held in the body. Rolfing was specifically designed to remove the chronic tension held in the body’s soft tissue, and can reestablish the subtleness to allow the rib cage to move more freely.
Twenty years ago, I conducted a study on Rolfing with elite runners at Arizona State University. The biggest improvement they collectively experienced was increased vital capacity (the ability to take in more air). Even the world-class runners—including an Olympic marathon runner—experienced breathing improvements. Chronic allergy and asthma sufferers, after decades of breathing restrictions, usually see considerable improvement with Rolfing.
The other key factor with optimal breathing is to learn not to respond to stress in the old tension-producing manner.
When I had a clinic in Scottsdale, AZ, we operated a Mindfulness Stress Reduction program for hospitals and corporations. In the eight-week course, we often had students who experienced breathing problems. After a few weeks of teaching their mind and body to relax in the face of stress, the respiratory symptoms would decline. The core of the course was learning to feel, and then let what was occurring to occur. When we stop resisting our bodies, we stop tensing. For whatever reason, we learned to hold our breath when stressed; when we just let go and breathe, the stress seems to dissipate. When the tension of stress is gone, we breathe naturally.
There’s an 80% chance you will see your doc about back pain during your life. In the last article, you learned the distinction between acute and chronic back pain, and how to not cause either. And you learned that breathing is the key to preventing and healing back tension. This article will explore, in greater depths, what is behind chronic back pain and what you can do about it.
As a Rolfer, I tend to treat people after they tried everything else. This in not because other treatments are ineffective – it’s because the tension that is causing the persistent problem is old. After many years of repeated back problems, the entire body gets tighter and more distorted. The original problem might have been from a childhood injury. Over the years, the body has more stress, more injuries and more patterns of compensation that all add to increased tension. At some point, the body exhausts its ability to counteract the original strain pattern. Now you are worse off – you have the original tension plus years of coping with it.
The Often-Overlooked Source of Back Pain
We all know we get shorter as we age. But it’s not our bones shortening—it’s the soft tissue shortening and screwing down. Here is a quick test to evaluate what your low back is up against:
Stand up, and place your fingers on your pelvis.
Push in a little until you feel that lower twelve rib.
Optimally, you should have the space of three finger widths between your pelvis and your lower rib.
Rarely do I find that much space. Two finger widths is great, one is adequate. When you are at no space or having your ribs inside your pelvis, you have a problem.
This is where we lose most of our height. Our discs are like jelly donuts being space fillers between the vertebras allowing the spine to move. They become pancakes from this compression. When the discs compress and the tissue around them tighten, they dehydrate from lack of circulation and movement. This sets up the bulging or ruptured disc that may require surgery. This chronic tension and shortness just makes you more vulnerable to back injury and pain.
Strengthening your back will often give your short-term gain; you’ll have increased movement, and you may develop a new pattern of compensation. Over time, the soft tissue just gets tighter.
We need to go in the other direction. We need to release and lengthen the tissue. Unfortunately at this point, stretching does not work for most people. Stretching these muscles is like stretching a steel cable. We need to make the soft tissue soft again.
What Is Possible
If the body created soft tissue strain, it can usually un-create it. When the correct amount of pressure is applied to the right area, the tissue begins to release. Over time, hydration, subtleness and movement returns. The body begins to unwind as it lengthens out. The space in between the pelvis and the ribs returns.
Once the body attains a level of order and relaxation, the change becomes sustainable. All our bodies prefer pleasure to pain. When we are so used to pain, it can take a while for our bodies to trust that our backs can be as they were when we were younger.
Part of returning this vibrancy to our tissue comes from changing simple behaviors. The first is learning not to protect your back. The natural behavior of holding to avoid or reduce your back pain over time only makes your back tighter. I have seen people where their pain is long gone, the back is loose, but the person still protects out of habit. Noticing how subtlety we hold is huge. A lot of little holding all the time adds up to be significant. A lot of subtle letting go adds up also.
Rolfing is certainly not the only means to releasing chronic tension; it just may be quickest, though. Teaching the entire body to deeply and consistently relax can do a lot. As mentioned in the previous article, learning to breath and dealing with stress can significantly improve chronic pain.
It’s inevitable. Like death and taxes. Back pain.
Second to colds, the most likely reason you’ll visit a healthcare provider will be back pain. Fifty percent of Americans report back pain each year.
Are you in pain right now? Is your movement limited? Are you reducing your activities because of the pain or the fear of the pain? Let’s look at why.
A lot of back pain comes from overexertion. If that’s you, you’re lucky. Your pain will go away once your body recovers from being pushed. And there’s a good chance it won’t return—unless you overdo it again. In time, you’ll be fine.
For pain due to overexertion, traditional remedies work well. Cold compresses can reduce swelling. Warm, moist heat helps muscles that feel tight. Alternating the two can be beneficial. And of course, massage and gentle stretching relax the tightness, and the movement prevents further stiffness. Rest always supports the body in healing, and topical ointments will give you warmth and local pain relief.
Chronic Back Pain
Chronic back pain is a different animal. Pain often occurs without physical exertion; it just shows up. As the frequency and intensity of episodes increase, each incident leaves a tension residue that sets up the next attack of pain. Pain pills and muscles relaxers can help, but many people don’t like their side effects. One thing is clear: just treating the symptom is not enough—particularly when the problem is likely to return.
Prevention and Treatment
The best way to treat chronic back pain is to prevent it. Learn to lift using your legs. Sit on your sits bones. Stop slouching! It will all reduce back strain. Use ergonomic furniture that adjusts to your unique body, instead of forcing your body to adapt to the furniture. Moving helps, too – get up and walk around, take breaks.
And the most critical behavior—the one we never think—about is breathing. I know, you are breathing. The question is how well.
When I taught Mindfulness Stress Reduction courses in Scottsdale, AZ, the principal reason people came to us was back pain. At the time, we were the largest company offering these courses in the country. Most of our students for the 8-week course were referrals from hospital networks or corporate clients.
We taught the students to breath. As easy as it might sound, the first few weeks were tough. Doing very simple relaxation exercises would actually create stress. The students’ old habits prevented them from relaxing and breathing fully. Once they realized how tense they were, they saw and how much they were limiting their breath—even when they believed they were relaxed. With daily homework and coming to the weekly class, their awareness and breathing increased as their stress and pain declined.
What does this mean for you? If these very tense people can dramatically change their stress and pain in 8-weeks, so can you. The first step is to become aware of how you hold your body and your breath. If you are holding one, you are holding the other. As your breath becomes fuller, slower and more relaxed you begin to train your body not to hold stress, but to release it.
In keeping with letting go, I suggest to my clients that they do not do “back strengthening” exercises. I have not seen a back that was muscularly weak; I see many that are structurally weak. Our bigger back muscles are not meant to be posture muscles, they are designed to move us, not hold us. The constant holding makes them tighter. Rather than getting stronger form sit-ups or back extensions, practice breathing and stretching.
My next article will build on this one and begin to explore how Rolfing turns around chronic back pain.
The word is getting out on Rolfing being a beauty treatment as well as a therapy. A post on The Beauty Site explains the beauty benefits of Rolfing. More people are realizing that improving your health and your structure does make you more attractive. Being healthy always looks good.