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Reading a Scientific Article

Pages: 20-21
Year: 1989

The Rolf Institute’s Research Committee has begun a project to survey the scientific literature that relates to Rolfing. Our plan is to provide Institute members with reviews of particularly interesting studies. Some of you have offered to help by serving as reviewers, but first we need to decide what we are trying to do. This article, written by a Rolfer and by a scientist, begins to answer that question.

Science not an enemy

As a scientist with an interest in Rolfing, Jim Oschman would like Institute members to be more comfortable with the scientific way of looking at the human body. Rolfers observe remarkable changes in their clients and often wonder how these changes may be taking place. While some Rolfers dig into the scientific literature to answer their questions, others do not know where to begin. Some have judgements about science that make it, the enemy: “It is too reduction is and does not apply to me, because I work with whole systems! Reading scientific articles makes my body contract!” Never the less, science is definitely a part of the context in which Rolfing is done. The parts of an organism are what makes up the whole system. A study of the whole that skips the parts is just as incomplete as is a study of a part that does not include its relations to the whole.

Other Rolfers are in awe of scientists and physicians and feel somewhat in-secure when talking to them because of a concern that there may be some technical reason to reject what the Rolfer has come to understand to be the truth about the body.

The goal in my writing and teaching is to help you see science as a friend to your work, as a source of insight into your questions or puzzlements. An-other goal is for biomedical science to wake up to the deep significance of structure and movement in relation to human functioning.

Reading Suggestions

Siana has made some suggestions about how to read a scientific article:

First, DON’T READ FOR INFORMATION OR UNDERSTANDING! The articles are to provoke you to think, not to add data to your storehouse. The data are always being challenged and changed. By the time you read a fact and comprehend a concept, both may have been disproved.

Here are some questions you might ask yourself before, during, and after reading an article:

1. Who cares about this subject, and why do they care?
2. What is happening now in my life or practice that relates to this?
3. Do I already know anything aboutthis?
4. What do I think will be said in the article?

As you read, or afterwards, consider these questions:

1. How does my body react to this reading?
2. Does this change how I speak to myself for to other people about Rolfing?
3. Have I learned anything new about the body?
4. What new questions have emerged from my reading?
5. What else do I want to find out?

Siana relates that when she reads this way, she remembers more. May be not exact facts, but the shape of what has been read. The significance is sharper instead of vague.

Be creative in the order that you read the article. You can read the abstract or summary to get the gist of what the article is about. The conclusion of discussion at the end of the paper may give you something very interesting, while the “methods” and “results” sections may produce sleep! The introduction can be fascinating as it places the study in context. Look for the jewels; skim over the details unless they absorb you.

Keep a dictionary handy. When what you are reading stops making sense, stop, go back, check and see if there is a word or phrase that is throwing you. A pocket sized medical dictionary is not expensive and can develop your vocabulary.

If you understand all the words and are still confused, then something new is happening. This is a good sign. You may want to take a break, take your confusion for a walk, or give it to a night’s sleep.

If the article seems particularly juicy, read it again. Jim has even gone so far as to completely re write an entire article to sort out all the goodies in it.

Here is an example of an article reviewed this way. We would love to hear your comments about its usefulness.

“The Biomechanics of the Thoracolumbar Fascia” by Janet E. Macintosh, Nikolai Bogduk, and Serge Gracovetsky, Dept. of Anatomy, University of Queensland, St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia, and Dept. of Electrical Engineering, Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Clinical Biomechanics 2: 78-83, 1987.

Jim’s comment

Muscle contraction is a subject that has been so widely studied that you may think we know all about it. Nothing could be further from the truth! We do not know where the energy comes from for muscle contraction, and this articles hows that the simple process of bending over and lifting an object is not at all understood.

Siana’s review

This investigation examines what factors contribute to the extensor muscles of the back being able to extend while lifting. The question is of the balance of “moments”, in biomechanical terms. By the measures calculated, the force generated by the muscles alone is insufficient to lift under a load, and other factors which enable the body to lift are explored. Prior to this paper, a theory was proposed that intra abdominal pressures caused by contraction of abdominal muscles would balance the flexion of the spine caused by the weight to be lifted. This theory is disproved in the article. This raises a question for me: is this theory part of the approach that has people doing sit-ups for back problems?

The authors review some other theories about how the lumbar spine is able to overcome flexion when lifting, particularly a theory that the thoracolumbar fascia, through its attachment to the spinous processes, prevents their spreading and provides the anti flexion moment necessary for lifting, when the fascial fibers are under tension from contraction of the abdominal musculature. The rest of the article is devoted to exploring this.

The authors give a detailed anatomy of the fascia; and of particular interest tome was a description of fascial fibers lying in triangular arrangements, extending not only across vertebrae, but superficially to deeper, and the resultant vectors of force affecting the movement of the spine.

In the authors’ analysis, the fibers of the transversus abdominus were the only muscles directly attached to this fascia. They determined that through the triangular arrangement of fascial fibers, the lateral contraction of the transversus abdominus could have an effect of extending the spine, but did not find, after a calculation of the mechanics involved, that the transversus abdominus could actually provide this anti flexion moment.

The authors do not conclude from this that the thora columbar fascia has no role in lifting, only that contraction of abdominal muscles, despite communicating fascia, does not significantly contribute to it. They suggest that another mechanism, expansion of the back muscles as they con-tract, could stretch the posterior layer of fascia and provide the anti-flexion stabilization of the spine required for lifting.

I have two thoughts from reading this paper:

1. Defining the fascia in terms of its at-tachments is in a language here of separation; the effect of a single factor is beingseparated from the whole movement. Iwonder what different models could beevolved in a language of wholeness.

2. The proposal that the lateral expansion of the muscles might stabilize the lumbar spinous processes in flexion echoes Varela and Frenk’s proposal in the
“The Organ of Formal”1 that fascia determines movement by exerting force that widens the muscle.

I also gained from this article a new perspective on what scientific research may reveal. The substance of this article, which arises from an attempt to prove the workability of a theory, shows me that science is an on-going process of questioning. Furthermore, it points up for me that we Rolfers may be on the frontier of understanding the body.

Siana Goodwin is an Adv. Rolfer in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Jim Oschman of Dover, New Hampshire serves as Chairman of the Rolf Institute’s Research Committee.

1 “The Organ of Forma” is an article written by Francisco J. Varela and Rolfer Samy Frenk (Barcelona, Spain) in the Journal of Social and Biological Structures 10:73-83, 1987. The article was reprinted in the July-August 1988 issue of Rolf Lines, Vol.XVI, No. 3, pg 32-42.Reading a Scientific Article

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