What is Structural Integration?
Structural Integration is a body based therapy which aims to unwind soft tissue (fascia) strain within the body. The goal is to improve the alignment of the body in order to ease movement, reduce pain and improve the function. It is based on an understanding that the fascia network distributes mechanical tension throughout the body to optimise the functioning of muscles during movement. Structural Integration was originally developed by Dr Ida Rolf, which was further developed by Thomas Myers who identified a number of common patterns of tension throughout the body which he labelled ‘anatomy trains’. These ‘trains’ are used to identify areas of tightness, and reduced mobility in order to unravel the source of your pain and movement difficulties.
How do we develop strain patterns in the body and how does Structural Integration help?
In order to function in an optimal way, we need a flexible yet strong base of support in order to produce a wide variety of movement patterns for day to day tasks. Surrounding your boney skeleton is a soft tissue skeleton called the fascia network which provides this structural support. Sometimes the fascia tissue can become dry, thick, sticky contracted or stiff affecting its ability to provide the best support. When the fascia network loses mobility, flexibility or strength your ability to adapt the body to functional tasks is compromised. This results in compensatory movements and strained postures which can lead to long term pain. Structural integration can help release the tight or stuck fascia restoring the adaptability of the body and create long term changes to posture and movement to reduce chronic pain.
Fascia can become dry and sticky when we don’t move enough, reducing the muscles ability to contract and relax. Sitting at a desk, in front of the TV or in cars for long periods, reduces the body’s ability to move. Studies have shown that exercise alone cannot reverse the effects of reduced mobility caused by sitting extensively. Fascia needs to slide, glide and move to get the fluids (and nutrients) it needs to function preventing them from drying out and sticking to itself. Fascia is like a sponge – when you contract a muscle water is squished out of the tissue. When the muscle is released, the sponge sucks up more fluid than before in order to re-hydrate it. Once the fascia sticks to itself or to the surrounding structures the mechanical-electrical signals that are thought to flow through the fascia can be less effective which may reduce the brain’s ability to keep track of what is happening in the body. Structural Integration provides a manual therapy which can help pull fluids back into the dried out fascia.
Injury damages tissues, reducing the strength of a body part which alters the balance and tension in the fascia network. These changes in tension helps to instigate the repair process, stimulating cells to produce new tissue. However excessive tension can result in too much new tissue being produced resulting in thickened and stiff scars. Reducing the tension on healing tissues with KMI structural integration can help to reduce the production of excess scar tissue. KMI can also help release well established tight scar tissue tension.
Repetitive movements can cause repetitive tension in the tissues. The fascial network responds to this tension by increasing the density and rigidity of the fascia in order to withstand the repetitive load. This reduces the ability of that tissue and body part to move. It can also cause compression on the blood vessels and nerves resulting in various presentations of pain. Repetitive movements can include those performed as part of work duties, or repetitive sporting actions. KMI incorporates movement with manual techniques which can help to retrain the sequencing of muscle contraction and relaxation, whilst at the same time releasing some of the tightly held tissue tension.
Stress, everyday stress and traumatic events produce an automatic muscle tension in order to prepare the body to ‘fight’ or ‘fly’ away from the stressor or threat. If you are under a lot of psychological stress the result is a lot of muscular tension – if you think of your tense shoulders after a stressful day at work. If the muscle tension is held for long periods of time and not released, the brain can ‘forget’ how to switch off and let go of the muscle tension. Structural Integration provides a sensory input targeting specific nerves cells in fascia which reminds the brain to switch off the muscle tension. The combination of these manual techniques with movement, as well as using some cognitive techniques retrains the brain’s neurological sequences for a more appropriate level of muscle tension.
Structural Integration systematically works through each anatomy-train line, to release the tensions, tightness and adhesions. The order in which each anatomy-train line is released has been developed over years of clinical practice and has provided many people with a freedom of movement they forgot they had. In order to release each of the the anatomy-train lines, 12 sessions are recommended, usually taken on a weekly or fortnightly basis. Each session focuses on a different anatomy-train. Some people find immediate gains from session 1, others may feel the most notable changes after a number of sessions. It all depends on where your strain patterns are held within the lines. If your tensions/ restrictions have been held for many years, the changes may feel unusual or strange to begin with, however the brain will adjust and integrate the new sensory information from the changes you’ve made in your fascial network.