Structural Integration (SI) is a manual therapy technique I draw from in my movement rehabilitation sessions. I compliment the treatment with functional movement training to help my clients access a strong, stable and complete range of motion. I also use movement tools influenced by contemporary research in pain science to effectively rehabilitate the client’s movement. I have found that by combining movement, SI, and other manual therapy techniques clients are more likely to keep the results they experience after a treatment.
This article is intended to help you better understand what Structural Integration is as well as why and how I use it in my practice.
Structural Integration (SI) is a manual therapy that works with the body’s connective tissue and nervous system. The goal of SI is to bring the body into optimal alignment and balance the myofascial system. In practice, that means assessing what tensional lines are short and lengthening them, then finding which lines are long and engaging them. By doing this the mechanical structure of the body is more supported and movement of any kind becomes easier. This treatment is traditionally performed and taught in a 10-session series commonly referred to as the ‘recipe’.
The work was pioneered and developed by Ida Rolf throughout the mid 20th century and is commonly known as Rolfing. Rolf had a doctorate in biochemistry and training in yoga. She was a contemporary of Moshe Feldenkrais and was influenced by osteopathic manual therapy and the Alexander technique. Although the original take on Rolfing is a bit dated she introduced some critical ideas that advanced the understanding of the human body.
“If tissue is restrained, and balanced movement demanded at a nearby joint, tissue and joint will relocate in a more appropriate equilibrium.”. – Ida Rolf 1
Another important idea at the core of SI is tensegrity.2 The SI practitioner views the myofascia as a tensegrity structure. Daily activities adjust the balance of tension in this whole system. Day in and day out of any activity can lead to noticeable imbalances that usually lead to discomfort and pain. The sessions in the ‘recipe’ follow a non-symptom specific formula to balance myofascia around the bones. During each treatment, the goal is to adjust the tensional members of the structure to distribute the effect of gravity more evenly.
Since the development of this work in the 20th-century, research has come out that affects our view of what is actually happening during treatment. Although the initial belief was that practitioners were targeting the connective tissue, we now know that it takes at least 3-9 months on average for fascia structure to remodel and adapt. There may be some immediate changes in the tissue due to increased hydration from manual therapy or the use of mobility tools like a foam roller or lacrosse ball. 3 It seems that overall the vast majority of the immediate benefits of the work are coming from how it is affecting the nervous system. 4 This realization has led to an adjustment of the techniques used and makes receiving the work more comfortable and more effective than in the 1900s.
SI has been very helpful for my personal connection to movement. Experiencing this work during my training had a dramatic effect on my own movement quality and comfort. Providing this profound treatment to my community is a meaningful part of my career that I look forward to offering for years to come.
“Tensegrity is a structural principle based on the use of isolated components in compression inside a net of continuous tension, in such a way that the compressed members (usually bars or struts) do not touch each other and the prestressed tensioned members (usually cables or tendons) delineate the system spatially.”
- Rolf, Ida (1977). Rolfing: Reestablishing the Natural Alignment and Structural Integration of the Human Body for Vitality and Well-Being pg. 11. Healing Arts Press
- “Tensegrity is a structural principle based on the use of isolated components in compression inside a net of continuous tension, in such a way that the compressed members (usually bars or struts) do not touch each other and the prestressed tensioned members (usually cables or tendons) delineate the system spatially.” Gómez-Jáuregui, V. (2010). “Tensegrity Structures and their Application to Architecture.” Pg iv http://www.tensegridad.es
- Schleip et al (2012). Strain hardening of fascia: static stretching of dense fibrous connective tissues can induce a temporary stiffness increase accompanied by enhanced matrix hydration. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22196433
- Schleip, Robert (2002). Fascial Plasticity – a new neurobiological explanation: Part 1. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies Jan;7(1):11–19.https://functionalfascia.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Schleip-Fascial_Plasticity.pdf