“How important is it to address articular restrictions in the context of a basic Rolfing° series? What special training or care is needed when working this layer? Are the answers different depending on the location of the restrictions? ”
Dr. Rolf developed the basic Ten Series of Rolfing to organize the body at the musculo-tendinous level, working all the associated fascial connections. While musculo-tendinous structures and their fascial web obviously influence bony position and hence articular relationships, Dr. Rolf did not intend the basic series to work specifically with ligaments or articular surfaces. She knew that there was a dramatic increase in complexity when working directly with ligaments and articular surfaces, and that working at this level required detailed anatomical knowledge and a high level of manipulative skill to negotiate the decompensating process.
The reason she was so careful is that deep ligamentous structures are often held in dynamic tensional chains or interrelationships, such that changing one aspect of the relationship can precipitate decompensating changes throughout the chain. Often, conditions in the body do not support a level of continuity that allows distant parts of the chain to adapt successfully to changes made somewhere else. We are all familiar with the complex relationships within the spine. For example, changing lumbar structures often provokes compensatory strains in the cervical spine. Repositioning the sacrum can create strain at the cranial base if conditions do not support easy adaptation. When working with the ligamentous bed and articular surfaces, it is important that the practitioner have the ability to resolve unexpected strains that surface when other articular restrictions are released.
Let me make an important distinction concerning “articular restrictions”. When a joint is “stuck”, the joint surfaces are not able to move in a normal fashion relative to each other and movement of the joint will not follow the normal axis of motion. This will interfere with the balance of the soft tissue around the joint, making normal patterning of the myofascial tissues unlikely. A joint can be “stuck” as a result of local, recent strain or it can be “stuck” as a result of chronic, established and well-compensated strain. In the former case, releasing the joint will likely not involve distant, complex compensations. Chronically restricted joints however, when released, will usually trigger a reaction in the next restriction in the chain or in a joint that is reciprocally compensated, e.g., sacrum/ cranial base. Releasing a recent restriction (a stuck vertebral joint, for example), will simply allow the structure to return to a more neutral position within its existing pattern. Releasing a chronically “stuck” and imbalanced joint requires rebalancing the ligaments that control both the motion and the resting position of the joint and will always involve a shift in the existing pattern, within which the joint finds its neutral position. Releasing a joint always involves restoring its neutral position.
So, I would say on the one hand that releasing articular restrictions in the context of a basic Rolfing series is not high on the list of objectives to be accomplished. If diligent, careful and appropriate work is done to pattern the myofascial web, many local, recent articular restrictions will be corrected by virtue of more normal action on the part of the muscles influencing the joint. The joints will open in the course of releasing the myofascial restrictions.
On the other hand, there will be joints that are held in asymmetrical neutral positions and have restricted and asymmetrical motion due to chronic ligamentous strain, thickening, and shortening. Achieving the most profound results possible with Rolfing entails releasing and rebalancing these joints by working within the ligamentous bed, the deepest layer of the fascial network. It is not possible, however, to master all the subtleties of touch and the myofascial release techniques required to effectively apply the basic Ten Series and learn to work effectively in the ligamentous bed within the time frame of the Basic Training. That is why the training of Rolfers is staged as it is and work with the deep ligamentous bed and chronic articular restrictions is presented in the Advanced Training.
In summary then, I have found that in releasing articular restrictions, the most important distinction is not where the restriction is (although it is a consideration), but whether it is recent and acute or whether it is longstanding, well-compensated, and involves chronically thickened and imbalanced ligaments. It is more likely that releasing the former in the context of a basic Ten Series will proceed without complication than releasing the more chronic restrictions. The other issue crucial to effective articular release is the quality of continuity evoked in the joint. Is the joint able to move easily in every axis of its normal motion, along the planes of motion established by the anatomical shape of its articular surfaces? In other words, does it rest in an easy neutral position? Only a joint resting easily in its neutral position is likely to remain unrestricted.