Structural Integration

Structural Integration as a method of integrated body work  therapy

Structural Integration sometimes referred to as SI is not so much a series of treatment techniques but instead a comprehensive treatment approach to assessing, identifying and correcting dysfunction. It encompasses an entire professional field and lends itself to the approach we use at Spinal Synergy Physiotherapy due to its holistic, integrated approach that considers the human body in its entirety. SI recognises the interdependent function of separate areas of the body.

Historically this body of work was developed by Ida Rolf in the mid-1950’s which looks at how the human body relates to its environment and rather than simply working on symptoms instead focuses on the relationship of parts to the whole. According to Rolf our structural and functional patterns, postural imbalances and body dysfunctions are all intertwined and a realisation of a key role of the myofascial system in maintaining this structural integrity.

She developed a series and sequence of manipulations which developed into a form of treatment that she called “structural integration”. The therapy came to be called Rolfing but more recently this approach forms the basis for what is more commonly known as Myofascial Release.

A key feature of Structural Integration is that structure creates function.

Over the last few decades it has been recognised by a variety of manual therapists that the body can improve with fascial manipulation. Structural Integration recognises the relationships between structure to function, and connective tissue to health and well-being. This approach provides an appropriately trained therapist greater options to perception of body movement and what interventions are needed to optimize function.

SI provides the insight that connective tissue holds the body in space and that bones act as spacers leading to new ideas about how to achieve and maintain structural integrity when this applies to the structure and function of the human body.

Balance, ease, and stability are hallmarks of the axial skeleton, organizing around the central vertical axis.

Gravity plays an essential role on structural patterns and how we compensate body structure from the macro to the cellular level however humans also have the potential to evolve in a vertical intention. We receive support by organizing around the central vertical axis of the spine and importantly achieving a balanced pelvis.

Key features of Structural Integration with respect to the structure and function of the body:

  • The segmented nature of the human body and its joint system renders us vulnerable to falling out of balance
  • Imbalance in the base, strains the segments above and below, requiring fibrous knitting to splint, hold, and stabilize unstable segments
  • Tilting or tipping of joint surfaces accompanies rotation at the joint and counter-rotation in the joint above and below
  • Rotation and strain are reflected throughout the joint system
  • Holding transmits up and around the spine, transferring into the ribs and myofascia, stabilizing the pattern through the thorax up into the cervical spine and cranium.

The Role of Fascia

Myofascial continuity does not begin or end with insertions, origins, or bones. Fascia envelopes each cell and fibril, organizing into larger functional structures, including blood, bone, organs, muscle, tendons, and tensional layers or planes. Fascia organizes in directional layers following tension, compression, and has structural implications on both functional and compensational patterns often observed when assessing human movement and structural integrity.

  • Fascia is the soft tissue component of the connective tissue system that permeates the human body
  • It forms a whole-body continuous three-dimensional matrix of structural support
  • Fascia interpenetrates and surrounds all organs, muscles, bones and nerve fibres, creating a unique environment for body systems functioning

Soft tissues stabilize and move the skeletal framework in space. We rely on the continuity and communication inherent in soft tissue dynamics to affect structure and function simultaneously. Fascia adaptations in length and flexibility support resilient movement or compensation, whereas deviations from vertical integrity require splinting and energy for support. Adhesion or gluing in the myofascial layers limit motion, function, mobility, and motility. Structure and function are affected by trauma, compensation and time.

Structural Integration through the application of Myofascial Release looks to identify these imbalances in postural alignment and structural integrity and apply the methods which include soft-tissue manipulations and specific exercises to target the connective tissue structures to re-optimise function and restore structural integrity. SI involves a sequence of myofascial manipulations, moving from superficial to deep layers, exposing underlying compensatory holding and tension.

Structural Integration creates new postural awareness and alignment and a more optimal organisation emerges around the vertical axis of the spine. Structural Integration addresses balancing the pelvis while improving the base of support for the rest of the body.