One of the common questions I get about my work is “What is the difference between massage and Structural Integration?” The primary difference is intention and the systems we are working with: massage therapy is great for stress reduction and getting the blood and lymphatic systems moving, Structural Integration is aiming more for engaging long-term patterns in the connective tissue of the body. This connective tissue system is something we call fascia.
For a long time fascia was just the stuff the anatomists cut through to get to what they were studying, but over the past decade or two there has been more interest in the material itself. Several years ago I attended the very first Fascia Research Congress at Harvard University, where researchers and clinicians gathered for the first time to share their findings with one another. The fourth Fascia Research Congress was held just last month. I’m not a research wonk, but I did find the scientific process fascinating– ask a question, create a test, isolate the variables, collect the data, present your conclusions.
Last time I checked in with the wonks, there was no consensus on the exact mechanism of change for fascia– i.e., why does it respond to Structural Integration, what is the physiology, what is the best way to get a response? The answer I got was that they only knew it was not strictly applied pressure. To create connective tissue change with pressure you have to load one spot with a tremendous amount of it, a force so great even the most heavy-handed Rolfers are not capable of doing it.
The search continues, of course, and my curiosity lies with what they might find out about the nerve fibers and contractile tissue in the fascial matrix. There seems to be a place in connective tissue where the person (or the nervous system) is engaged, sometimes over-engaged, and if they can be met there and convinced that the grasp on that tissue can be loosened without dire consequences… well, it’s probably another post entirely to go into that, but let’s just say I’m interested to hear what the researchers find out.
Here is a lovely, graphically detailed and illustrated description of fascia with Robert Schleip, a Rolfer® and researcher in Germany (subtitled in English):