Scoliosis and Rolfing
This piece of research on scoliosis was published recently. While you have to feel for the zebra fish a little, it is a massive leap forward in understanding. People with Scoliosis often seek out the help of a Rolfer, so here I’m going to discuss my thoughts around this and how this new info might affect my approach. Read the research first then come back to this.
So the research says that when the cilia don’t move the cerebrospinal fluid correctly then the S shaped curve of the scoliotic spine develops. My hypothesis on this is that if the movement of cerebrospinal fluid is uneven then growth of the spine is limited in the areas where fluid flow is limited. Conversely where cerebrospinal fluid flow is freer then the spine can grow more. It’s somewhat like the way bends in a river form & grow, the fast flow/higher energy of the outside of the meander causes the bend to grow bigger, while the slower flow on the inside causes little erosion. I’d go on to speculate that the slow and steady growth pre puberty can be supported by the sub optimal cerebrospinal fluid movement but the growth spurt at adolescence is too rapid to be supported and growth becomes uneven.
How do I as a Rolfer look at scoliosis?
I think one of the first things to consider is that scoliosis can be very stable pattern once growth has stopped - it doesn’t necessarily get stronger or more pronounced. What can happen though is that stability can lead to stillness and a lack of adaptability. So one of my first approaches is to soften the tight areas of the spine. If the muscles on the inside of the spine can be encouraged to relax then more length and adaptability can be found. That S curve is a springy shape and releasing the inside of the two curves can give you more springiness, more adaptability, more movement.
The second important area is often the legs. Obviously legs must support the spine and need to be adaptable to do that. One of the things I often see with scoliosis is that one leg tends towards O legs while the other goes the other way towards X legs. Generally people tend to be either O legs (Charlie Chaplin) or X legs (knees coming in towards each other). As a Rolfer I’d work to soften/reduce the X or O leg pattern shifting the client away from the extreme of their pattern and towards the middle ground, giving them more adaptability. With a scoliotic pattern one leg is often X and the other O but my approach is the same: to shift the X leg less X and the O leg less O towards the middle ground giving more adaptability.
The third area to work on that I find fruitful is the shoulders. Shoulders are often held up off the ribs, perhaps in a subconscious effort to reduce the weight the spine and ribs must carry. Reducing tension in the muscles and fascia above the shoulders can allow them to rest on to the ribs. This can leave the client with a more comfortable neck. This resting can also have quite an aesthetic effect, as the high shoulders can exaggerate and make the scoliosis appear more pronounced. With rested shoulders clients have often felt less self-conscious. Resting shoulders is a habit that needs to be learnt to replace the old habit, and the educative side of Rolfing is important here to learn and work with better habits.
Another approach to the spine is to look at reducing rotations. On the long side of the curves the vertebra have often rotated backwards. This means that the muscles and tissue on that side are pushed towards the back of the body. There’s often a pronounced build up of tissue on the long side of the curve. So I work to spread this tissue out from the spine towards the side of the body helping the spines rotation to reduce and give the client more adaptability.
How does this research change my approach?
I’ll add more work where I listen to the movement of the cerebrospinal fluid via the craniosacral rhythm. I’ll use more of the subtle work that I learned with the Barral Institute, feeling for restrictions within the spinal cord and the meninges that enclose the brain spinal cord and cerebrospinal fluid. I have only had the opportunity to work with scoliosis in adults, but I suspect these subtle interventions could have most effect during that rapid growth spurt.
If you have scoliosis what can you do?
In short: move, twist, bend forwards, backwards, left and right. Any movement/stretching class is likely to help. Drop any notion that your curves are not strong or that you need to protect your spine. Those curves are a strong and resilient adaptation that needs to be kept moving. Oh and you could go see a Rolfer.
My approach to scoliosis is always to increase adaptability and ease for the client. To be very clear scoliosis isn’t something that I or Rolfing can fix. What Rolfing can do is help you to manage your scoliosis, it can give you more movement, more adaptability, more ease and more awareness. If you’re in pain then more movement and adaptability can help you have less pain.