I love working with scoliosis because it involves the whole body. The following information will provide an overview of how Rolfing looks at human structure. (Doctors will often label scoliosis as “idiopathic”, which is medical talk for “I don’t know the cause”.)
Let’s start with the foundation – the legs. I have a leg which is one centimeter shorter than the other. The result is mild scoliosis in my spine. Some legs are FUNCTIONALLY SHORT rather than ANATOMICALLY SHORT. An anatomical shortness is in the bone, and functional shortness is due to tight muscles contracting the leg up towards the hip. A functionally short leg will usually result in a FUNCTIONAL SCOLIOSIS. These functional issues can usually be resolved in one Rolfing session, but it may take a few sessions to stabilize the alignment.
In between the legs and torso is the pelvic girdle. On the LOW BACK PAGE of this site, I’ve discussed common alignment issues of the pelvis and sacrum. Realigning and mobilizing those bones is job one in resolving a short leg and scoliosis. This could be compared to leveling the sagging foundation of a house – suddenly everything looks a lot straighter!
The sacrum is a key structure which transmits movement of the hips and legs into the spine and torso. In static standing, it functions like the keystone in a Roman arch. Even people who have an aligned pelvis often have a sacrum which is side bent and rotated, and a sacroiliac joint which is jammed on one side. There are bio-mechanical linkages which transmit the side bend and rotation from the sacrum upwards to the rest of the spine, thereby creating a scoliosis.
Some physiology now. When we get out of alignment due to over-stressing our body. the first thing that happens is surrounding muscles contract to splint the weak area. They are trying to provide stability which the ligaments have failed to do, and much of the pain you feel comes from those contacted muscles. Once alignment is restored and joints released, the muscles can relax.
When the dysfunction is not resolved for a period of weeks or months (which is common when the pain isn’t acute), connective tissue surrounding the dysfunction thickens in order to do its job as the organ of support. At this point, Rolfing is required to release the connective tissue buildup. If the problem persists for years, then bones of the spine and rib cage become distorted due to rotational forces within the torso. What may have started out as an easily remedied functional scoliosis has become anatomical. Even if side bends within the spine are lessened or eliminated, these bone distortions will remain, although they may lessen with the passage of time.
In anatomical scoliosis, all the layers of myofascia are affected. A full series of Rolfing treatments is advised, along with occasional maintenance sessions. A Rolfer named Tom Myers wrote a book called Anatomy Trains in which he mapped out what he calls MYOFASCIAL MERIDIANS. These are pathways which show common patterns of chronic shortness in muscles which affect our posture. The main meridians go along the front, back and sides of the body, both superficially in the sleeve muscles, and deeper into the core. The meridian which relates to scoliosis is like a corkscrew or spiral which wraps around the body, affecting both sides, front, back, upper and lower segments. This “map” is one of the tools that I use in working with scoliosis.
SCOLIOSIS IN CHILDREN
I wish that medical doctors were trained to screen children for potential development of scoliosis. When I was seven years old and in hospital to have my tonsils removed (ah the good old days), a nurse pointed out to me that my rib cage was rotated. Since this was in the Paleolithic era, nothing was done about it, and my scoliosis continued to develop. Much scoliosis is avoidable if caught early, especially if treated before adolescent growth spurts. I invite parents to come in to my office for assessment of their child’s posture, at no charge. The ideal time is after they’ve been walking for a year or more. Nipping this in the bud is the element of my work about which I’m most passionate. Even if scoliosis has begun to develop, young peoples’ bodies respond quickly to Rolfing because tissue hasn’t turned into “beef jerky” yet.
The Rolfing logo is based on a four year old child who was brought to Ida Rolf for treatment in the 1950’s. He grew up to be a California surfer dude. I rest my case.