Monthly Archives: June 2013

Rolfing® – FAQ

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For clients who come into my Denver City Rolfing practice asking, so what exactly is Rolfing Structural Integration?

Rolfing is a hands-on method of rebalancing the body that has helped thousands of people find relief from pain, more efficient ways of moving, and more comfort in stillness. 

 

Rolfing Works – As the experience of a million people and numerous research studies have demonstrated, Rolfing produces profound and lasting results for people of all ages and at all levels of well-being. Overall, after receiving Rolfing, individuals report that physical and emotional stress becomes a far less threatening element in their lives.

Posture and Alignment

posture-perfectAs the connective tissues release and lengthen during a Rolfing session, you will sit and stand straighter and taller with less effort. You will breathe more easily and fully. You will look and feel lighter.

 

 

Aches and Pains
acheYou are likely to have less pain and tension in your body as it becomes more balanced and symmetrical. Rolfing allows bones and muscles to do their proper jobs. As the body opens and lifts with the support of gravity, chronic pain and tension fall away.

Flexibility
flexibilityYou will experience greater ease of movement and a wider range of motion in the joints, often to a remarkable degree. Older people appreciate the sense of youthfulness that results from Rolfing as earlier movement patterns are restored.

Performance
performanceYou may experience dramatic improvement in the effectiveness and efficiency of your movements. You will use less energy for any given movement and perform that movement with greater ease and power. A freer, more responsive, and more comfortable body will support you in every aspect of your life.

Stress and Emotional Health
StressYou may experience considerable psychological growth as hardened postures are released through Rolfing and the emotional history stored in your body is liberated. Rolfing clients find that as resiliency and responsiveness increase in the body, the personality becomes more dynamic as well. The trapped energy is freed up for more creative approaches to the challenges that life presents; emotional tightness and psychological rigidity transform along with the body.

For more information,click here to visit my Denver City Rolfing website.

 

The Surprising Health Benefits Of Going Barefoot

 

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Remember the guy in college who went barefoot everywhere? He may have seemed eccentric, but it turns out he was on to something. Walking barefoot, also known as “earthing,” has gone from being a kooky counter-culture trend, to a scientifically-researched practice with a number of remarkable health advantages, such as increasing antioxidants, reducing inflammation, and improving sleep.

Earthing means walking barefoot on soil, grass or sand (meaning: any natural surface). So we’ll have to get off the sidewalk. Early studies are showing that the health benefits come from the relationship between our bodies and the electrons in the earth. The planet has its own natural charge, and we seem to do better when we’re in direct contact with it.

I see many clients in my Denver City Rolfing practice who come in with sore achy feet, Plantar Fasciitis being a common complaint. The benefits of Rolfing to help reduce or eliminate this condition are amazing. Going barefoot, is one of the easiest ways to keep your feet flexible and your arches strong.

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Why should you walk barefoot? 
A review published in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health looked at a number of studies that highlight how drawing electrons from the earth improves health. In one, chronic pain patients using grounded carbon fiber mattresses slept better and experienced less pain.
Another study found that earthing changed the electrical activity in the brain, as measured by electroencephalograms. Still other research found that grounding benefited skin conductivity, moderated heart rate variability, improved glucose regulation, reduced stress and boosted immunity.
One particularly compelling investigation, published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, found that earthing increases the surface charge of red blood cells. As a result, the cells avoid clumping, which decreases blood viscosity. High viscosity is a significant factor in heart disease, which is why so many people take blood thinning aspirin each day to improve their heart health. Another study in the same journal found that earthing may help regulate both the endocrine and nervous systems.
OK, I’m sold. What’s next? 
Even if there were no proven benefits to walking barefoot, I’d still recommend taking frequent walks in nature. Regular walking, as little as half an hour a day, can reduce cancer risk, improve cardiovascular health, moderate weight and prevent diabetes. In addition, walking improves blood oxygenation, circulation, and immune response, removes toxins, and relieves stress.
True, we can get many of these exercise benefits by using an indoor treadmill at the local gym. But without being outdoors in a natural environment, we miss out on many of the mental health benefits that are proven to increase when we spend time in nature.
For one thing, even if we enjoy it, going to the gym tends to be a chore. It’s just something we have to cross off our list. On the other hand, walking in nature is about being in the moment, rather than trying to achieve something. Even more importantly, we are surrounded by fresh oxygen-rich air and beautiful scenery, rather than gym smell and flat-screen TVs. And there’s no membership fee.
Walking also creates physical and emotional rhythms. Unlike running, which is by definition rushed and high impact, walking is gentle, nourishing and gives us space. We have an opportunity to work through the day’s events. In addition, even a light stroll releases endorphin’s. Most importantly, we breathe deeply.

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As we walk, our breathing starts to synchronize with our motion. We experience a sense of expansion and freedom. Ultimately, walking becomes more than just exercise; it becomes a form of healing, removing our stress and replacing it with well-being on every level.
I think we would be hard-pressed to find a better win-win situation. By walking, we exercise our muscles and cardiovascular system, improve our mental health, reduce stress and support our overall wellness. Simply taking our shoes off seems to multiply those benefits by allowing us to synchronize with the earth’s natural electric charge. On an evolutionary level, this all makes complete sense. We evolved close to the earth, and it’s only relatively recently that we have been so keen to remove ourselves from nature.
Perhaps it’s time to take a step back, barefooted. For more information, click here to visit the Denver City Rolfing webpage.

Breathing for Pain Management

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Why Bother with Breath?
The Body of Energy….Energy….Energy

In order to apply proper breathing for pain management techniques, it is important to learn how to breathe. Many readers will be amazed at finding a page dedicated to breath and breathing. The study of breath has not received much attention in the Western world of medicine. One of the most important things I teach my Denver City Rolfing clients is breath.

Breathing is a vital process. If you don’t breathe, you don’t live. It’s quite that simple. Breathing for pain management is paramount for the immune system’s wellness. Using breath during a Rolfing Session deepens the work and allows the body to open and accept the changes Rolfing can begin.

In the Eastern traditions, there have long been those who have studied breathing for centuries. In fact there are monasteries where most of the focus centers around breathing, and are said that most of the so-called miracles performed by yogis are based primarily on the control of breath. However, why would so much emphasis be placed on an ordinary, everyday process like breathing?

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The Mind and Body Problem – Or Is It?

In the Western world, our perspective is based on the material phenomenon. We take solid things and analyze them physically and chemically. It’s based on the measurement and manipulation of matter. Our physicians are trained in anatomy and physiology. Our philosophy is basically materialistic.

Our approach to understanding the human being is primarily physical. However, in the Eastern world, meditation is a method that deals with those levels of human function operating beyond the mind that we call “higher consciousness.” Meditation is not the only aspect of yoga to be used. Yoga also includes physical postures (asanas), which teach the practitioner to regulate, control and be aware of his or her physical body. Then there are practices that have to do with the manipulation and regulation of purely mental functions….concentration for instance.

Fortunately in the East and in particular the practitioners of meditation, the relationship between body and mind has been thoroughly explored and found to constitute a link relating the body and mind. It has its own properties and its own topography. This level has to do with ENERGY.

We’ll discuss the Eastern concept. Their philosophy insists that each of the levels of being evolves out of the one above it. Out of consciousness comes mind; out of the mind comes the physical universe. Mind desires physical existence and so a body in which to manifest itself.

This is a vastly different way of looking at the world. It implies that the essence of our being lies beyond the physical and mental cosmos. It implies that we are all manifestations of an almost inconceivable form of consciousness which lies beyond the greater levels of our existence. It is from there we came and to where we will return. The entire universe flows out of that consciousness and ultimately flows back to its source, like a tide that flows in and out.

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We now come to the most important point of all. Breathing is the only physiological process that is either voluntary or involuntary. Individuals can breathe consciously, making the breath do whatever they wish, or they can ignore it, and the body simply breathes on its own. This is particularly relevant when breathing for pain management. The body can’t operate without breath, so if conscious control of the breath is abandoned, then some unconscious part of the mind reflexively begins to function and starts breathing for us. In this case, breathing falls back under the primitive control of the brain, an unconscious realm of the mind where emotions, thoughts and feelings, of which we may have little or no awareness, become involved and can cause havoc with the rhythms of our breath. The breath may become haphazard and irregular when we lose conscious control of it, which is particularly problematic when controlling our breathing for pain management purposes.

“Controlling the breath, is a prerequisite to controlling the mind and body.”- Swami Rama

For more information, click here to visit Denver City Rolfing website.

 

The Science of Stretch

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The study of connective tissue is shedding light on pain and providing new explanations for alternative medicine. As many of you know, Rolfing is the hands-on manipulation of the connective tissue called fascia. Clients who come into my Denver City Rolfing practice are seeking a method of re-balancing the body to eliminate pain, increase flexibility and regain a fuller range of motion in their joints and ligaments.

Please read this excellent article in “The Scientist” by Helene M. Langevin, visiting professor of medicine and Director of the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and a professor of neurological sciences at the University of Vermont.

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It joins your thigh to your calf; your hand to your arm; your breastbone to your clavicle. As you move, it allows your muscles to glide past one another. It acts like a net suspending your organs and a high-tech adhesive holding your cells in place while relaying messages between them. Connective tissue is one of the most integral components of the human machine. Indeed, one could draw a line between any two points of the body via a path of connective tissue. This network is so extensive and ubiquitous that if we were to lose every organ, muscle, bone, nerve, and blood vessel in our bodies, we would still maintain the same shape: our “connective-tissue body.”

Despite increasing evidence of its role in chronic pain and other diseases, connective tissue is not very well studied. I arrived at researching connective tissue by a circuitous route. Working as a clinical endocrinologist, I would see patients suffering from chronic pain, and quickly became frustrated with the treatment options I could offer—usually some combination of physical therapy and analgesics, which often were not very effective. Some of my patients would ask about trying acupuncture. But, having done research in neuroscience and being firmly rooted in the practice of Western medicine, I was skeptical. Eventually, I decided to learn more, if only to be able to respond to patient questions more intelligently.

In 1986, I took evening classes at the Tri-State Institute of Traditional Chinese Acupuncture in Stamford, Connecticut (now the Tri-State College of Acupuncture in New York City), which offers hands-on experience in acupuncture. The teacher described how to twirl the inserted acupuncture needles just enough to elicit a particular sensation in the patient, usually described as an ache in the area surrounding the needle, which can radiate some distance away from it. I was told that the acupuncturist is supposed to feel tightness or tugging on the needle, akin to when a fish gets caught on a hook. When I felt that tug myself, I became curious about the physical mechanism that was causing it. The teachers explained it as muscle contracting around the needle, but I could feel it in locations, such as the wrist, where there was no muscle at all. The needles had to be interacting with connective tissue.

A decade later, after I had moved to the then Department of Neurology at the University of Vermont (UVM) College of Medicine in Burlington, I had the opportunity to begin research on the acupuncture “needle grasp.” Here was a physiological phenomenon that one could feel with one’s fingers, but which had no obvious biological explanation. I started collaborating with Martin Krag, an orthopedic surgeon at UVM who had some experience testing alternative-medicine approaches using scientific methods. The logical first step was to quantify the tugging response to acupuncture needling. With the help of David Churchill, a biomedical engineer in the Orthopedic Department at UVM who designed a robotic acupuncture-needling instrument, we began measuring the force needed to pull out the needles in a reproducible manner from 16 different points on the body. We measured the “pullout force” in 60 human subjects and found that it did indeed increase after needle rotation, at times so dramatically that it exceeded the capacity of our 500 g load-measurement device.

We then tested the possible mechanisms that could cause this phenomenon, starting with simple experiments in which we inserted and rotated a needle in a piece of rat abdominal wall. What we saw under the microscope was quite striking: when acupuncture needles were rotated, the loose connective tissue under the skin became mechanically attached to the needle. Even a small amount of rotation caused the connective tissue to wrap around the needle, like spaghetti winding around a fork. This winding caused the surrounding connective tissue to become stretched as it was pulled by the needle’s motion. Using ultrasound, we confirmed that the same phenomenon occurs in live tissue.

In the years that followed, I became part of a small but growing community of scientists who were joining the ranks of molecular and physiological researchers dedicated to studying this neglected tissue. Connective tissue has been relegated to the role of passive viscoelastic material in traditional biomechanical models, but researchers are now beginning to demonstrate just how many systems of the body may be affected by mechanical changes in connective tissue, and some of these findings are beginning to inform clinical practice.

A growing field

Connective tissue is something of an orphan child in medicine: although it is an integral part of the musculoskeletal system, connective tissue is basically absent from orthopedic textbooks, which deal principally with bones, cartilage, and muscles. Orthopedic interest is almost exclusively restricted to the “specialized” connective tissues such as tendons and ligaments, which connect bone to muscles and to other bones, respectively. Nonspecialized connective tissues, which form what’s known as the fasciae and envelop all muscles, nerves, bones, and blood vessels, are typically allotted a short paragraph in current textbooks, if mentioned at all.

However, interest in the field has been growing. One area that has attracted many researchers at the cellular level is the study of mechanotransduction: how the integrin family of adhesion molecules forms a physical and informational link between the extracellular matrix and the interior of cells. Through these cell-matrix connections, cells sense forces and transform these mechanical signals into cellular responses such as the activation or deactivation of signaling molecules, translocation of transcription factors into the nucleus, and ultimately, changes in gene expression. In addition, substantial evidence supports the notion that mechanical signals can be transmitted directly through the cytoskeleton into the interior of the nucleus.

Some of the most well-established work in this field has involved the study of fibroblasts—the cells that are responsible for synthesizing all the proteins that make up the extracellular matrix. These cells reside within the matrix they create, responding to mechanical stimulation by regulating the amount of collagen and other matrix proteins produced, and by secreting matrix-degrading enzymes in response to chronic changes in tissue forces. Such changes can be induced by repetitive motion and are thought to be an important factor in work-related musculoskeletal injuries such as tendinitis of the shoulder or wrist.

Here was a physiological phenomenon that one could feel with one’s fingers, but which had no obvious biological explanation.

Fibroblasts also play a major role in the response to acute injury, particularly when they transform into myofibroblasts. Before the availability of surgery and surgical sutures, gaping wounds needed a powerful mechanism in order to pull shut and heal. Myofibroblasts serve this function by secreting large amounts of collagen and expressing α-smooth muscle actin protein, which make the cells contractile.

Then, by exerting tension on the collagen matrix, these cells pull the edges of the wound together. Myofibroblasts normally die once this job is done and a stable scar has formed. However, during chronic inflammation, myofibroblasts can drive an excessive deposition of collagen, and the increased tissue tension can result in the development of tissue contractures that restrict full range of motion. This response is also thought to play a role in the development of some types of tissue fibroses and cancer. Indeed, fibrotic, or scarred tissues, become stiffer, and cancer cells have been shown to spread more easily on fibrotic matrices.7

WHEN CONNECTIVE TISSUE STRETCHES
Although much of the work in this area to date has been performed in cell culture, rather than in whole tissue, some of this basic research is beginning to inform clinical research and practice, especially in the area of chronic musculoskeletal pain, including low-back pain. One of the reasons that low-back pain is so difficult to manage is that large numbers of patients have no detectable abnormalities of the spine and associated tissues, and the source of their pain is unknown. Some groups have begun to investigate the possibility that the pain is arising from the nonspecialized connective tissues on either side of the spine.

Indeed, researchers at the University of Heidelberg found in 2008 that connective tissues contain sensory nerve endings that can transmit pain when these tissues are stretched in the presence of inflammation. Until then, it had not been clear whether connective tissue had its own sensory nerve supply capable of generating sensations. Subsequently, ultrasound studies in my laboratory demonstrated that the connective tissues that surround the muscles of the back are, on average, thicker in people with chronic low back pain.9 Normally, these connective tissues are composed of alternating layers of tightly woven dense fibers that can bear substantial loads, and loose areolar tissue, which contains large quantities of water and allows the adjacent dense layers to glide past one another. In addition to having thicker connective tissue overall, people with low-back pain show a decreased gliding motion of dense layers, suggesting that a fibrotic process could cause the decreased mobility.

Connecting the dots

TISSUE TENTING: A twisted acupuncture needle creates a localized stretch by gripping the underlying connective tissue. This effect can be observed as a “tenting” of the skin as the needle is pulled out.© ZILLI/ISTOCKPHOTO.COMDespite these recent advances, the overwhelming majority of research on connective tissue still involves cells grown in culture dishes. And recent studies suggest that, especially for fibroblasts, the mechanical behavior of cells may be quite different when cells are grown on 2-D surfaces compared to cell behavior in a 3-D environment that is more similar to that of whole tissue, such as a thick collagen gel. For example, it is becoming apparent that the ubiquitous intracellular “stress fibers” characteristic of fibroblasts grown on 2-D surfaces are not present in fibroblasts grown in 3-D-culture environments or in whole tissue, and that these fibers may in fact be an artifact of cell culture, rather than a phenomenon that has physiological meaning. The fact that the study of fibroblasts in whole tissue is lagging far behind that of fibroblasts in vitro, combined with the general lack of attention to nonspecialized connective tissue at the whole-body level, has limited the understanding of natural connective-tissue function.

I began my research into connective tissue on the whole-animal level, but quickly began to investigate the cellular components involved in the winding response to acupuncture needles. After dissecting some of the tissue we had manipulated, we saw that the fibroblasts residing in the connective tissue as far as several centimeters away from the needle began to reorganize their internal cytoskeleton and change shape, becoming large and flat. We also found that the same reorganization response could be elicited by simply stretching a piece of connective tissue between two grips and holding the tissue in the stretched position for about 30 minutes, or even stretching an anesthetized mouse by bending its body to one side.10 Interestingly, 30 minutes is typically the amount of time that needles are left in place during an acupuncture treatment. Furthermore, if one lets go of the needle after rotating it, the needle does not unwind right away. Thus, the “whorl” of connective tissue remains intact as long as the needle remains under the skin, causing the tissue to be stretched for a prolonged period.

Ongoing studies in my lab are addressing why the fibroblasts change shape in response to sustained stretching. So far we have found that the changes are associated with a large-scale relaxation of the connective tissue. We also saw that the fibroblasts initiated a specific Rho-dependent cytoskeletal reorganization that was required for the tissue to fully relax. Rho is an intracellular signaling molecule known to play a role in cell motility and the remodeling of cell-surface proteins that connect the fibroblast to its surrounding matrix. The molecule’s involvement in fibroblast shape change suggested that the cells are able to reduce the tissue tension by adjusting how strongly and where they are gripping the surrounding connective tissue or muscle.

 

In addition, we found that the shape change is also associated with a sustained release of ATP from the fibroblast. Within the cell, ATP acts as fuel, but outside of the membrane, ATP can function as a signaling molecule. Extracellular ATP can be converted to other purines such as adenosine, which can act as a local analgesic, thus providing a possible cellular and physiological mechanism to explain the pain relief experienced by some acupuncture patients.

Acupuncture-needle manipu­lation results in sustained stretching, and therefore constitutes a useful tool that can be used to study this biomechanical function.

The possibility that connective tissue dynamically regulates its level of tension is intriguing, as it could dampen fluctuations in tissue tension. Connective tissue surrounds nerves, blood vessels, and lymphatics, and reducing changes in tissue tension could affect how these structures function. Importantly, fibroblast cytoskeletal reorganization is a rather slow process, taking several minutes, and therefore would occur in response to sustained changes in tissue length such as changes in posture and body positions. Remarkably little is known about the effects of static tissue stretching, though repetitive, cyclical stretching has been extensively studied because of its relevance to breathing, walking, and cardiovascular pulsations. Acupuncture-needle manipulation results in sustained stretching, and therefore constitutes a useful tool that can be used to study this biomechanical function.

In contrast to the general neglect of connective tissue in the conventional medical and scientific fields, “alternative-medicine”  researchers, and especially clinical practitioners, have for many years recognized the potential importance of connective tissue in health and disease. In conventional physical therapy, stretching of surgical scars and joint tissue that has contracted and stiffened after prolonged immobilization is widely believed to cause remodeling of connective tissue. Alternative therapies such as myofascial release and Rolfing focus on stretching as a treatment modality for musculoskeletal pain, even in the absence of an obvious past injury or scarring. Indeed, a variety of alternative manual and movement-based therapies work under the collective assumption that connective-tissue pathology lies at the source of musculoskeletal pain, and that this can be ameliorated with manual treatments.

Connection to acupuncture meridians

The mysterious “acupuncture meridians,” defined as lines or tracks connecting acupuncture points, also may be related to connective tissue, as they seem to be preferentially located along connective-tissue planes between muscles, or between muscle and bone. We have found that more than 80 percent of acupuncture points in the arm are located along connective-tissue planes.13 This makes sense, since loose connective tissue houses blood vessels and nerves, suggesting that mechanical stimulation of connective tissue generated by needle manipulation could transmit a mechanical signal to sensory nerves, as well as intrinsic sensory afferents directly innervating connective tissue.

Clearly, connective tissue needs more attention. A simple PubMed search illustrates this problem, as specific subject headings for “nonspecialized connective tissue” do not exist. By default, alternative medicine has become a motivating force in connective-tissue research and clinical practice. This is an example of an area in which the combination of conventional and alternative medicine, typically referred to as “integrative medicine,” should be understood in a broader sense as integration within medicine itself, inspired by alternative-medicine concepts. The growth and maturation of the field of connective-tissue research will no doubt benefit from exciting new developments resulting from this integration. 

For more information, visit the Denver City Rolfing website.