How can Rolfing affect you emotionally?

Photo courtesy of wikicommons user CollardPeople often wonder how structural integrators can claim to elicit emotional change. Structural integrators claim that a sense of well-being can result, that sometimes our work is more effective at getting through emotional blocks than talk-therapy, etc. etc. We make pretty bold claims for some people to believe, so let’s look at the science behind such claims, shall we?

While structural integration does not have pain reduction as a stated goal, pain reduction is often a very welcome “side effect” for many, many clients. A large number of people seek out RolfersĀ® for pain relief.

If we limit the discussion to simply pain relief, then guess what? There is no theoretical question of whether there can be an “emotional” effect of structural integration. Current brain research is showing that pain, depression, and anxiety are very tightly linked in the programming of (at least) mammals. Ergo, you get rolfed, you get less pain, you get less depression.

In March 2008, a team of brain researchers at Harvard medical school published a paper investigating the relationship between pain and depression. The researchers observed that patients with pain often show signs of depression. They designed their experiment to investigate the mechanisms by which pain and depression might interact. After fiddling with some mice and some melatonin they came to a conclusion:

“These results suggest that there exists a reciprocal relationship between mechanical allodynia (Matt’s note: you can think of this as hypersensitivity to touch) and depression-like behavior and the melatoninergic system in the anterior cingular cortex might play an important role in the interaction between pain and depression.”

In plain English, that means that some chemical and a part of the brain are involved in the simultaneous presentation of depression and pain. They are strongly related at a very basic level.

Another team of researchers at the University of Toyama in Japan published research in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology on the relationship between anxiety and pain and stated:

“Clinically, it is well known that chronic pain induces depression, anxiety, and a reduced quality of life. There have been many reports on the relationship between pain and emotion. We previously reported that chronic pain induced anxiety with changes in opioidergic function in the central nervous system.”

They then went on to test the effect of antidepressants on the anxiety reactions of injured mice as well as their measurable hypersensitivity to touch and heat (pain). They found that the antidepressants they used

“…are effective for treating anxiety associated with chronic neuropathic pain and may be useful for treating neuropathic pain with emotional dysfunction such as anxiety. Furthermore, SSRIs (the class of antidepressants they used) show anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing) and antinociceptive (anti-pain- signaling) effects by acting on different brain regions.”

I’m not a proponent of drugging everyone because they have anxiety (FAR FROM IT!), but the research that this team did shows a clear relationship between pain and anxiety.

So if pain is directly related to anxiety and depression, and we know that structural integration can be great at relieving pain, then we also know that structural integration can have a direct impact on one’s levels of anxiety and depression

Post by Matt Hsu, Certified RolferTM – San Francisco


About the Author

Matt Hsu is a trainer and orthopedic massage therapist. He fought a long battle with chronic pain all over his body and won. He blends the principles he learned in his journey, empirical observations with clients, and relevant research to help others get their lives back.