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The Science of Stretch


The study of connective tissue is shedding light on pain and providing new explanations for alternative medicine.


By Helene M. Langevin | May 1, 2013


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. more.....

The Silent “Sixth” Sense


Proprioception is the body’s mysterious ability to locate our limbs, even in darkness. We’re just beginning to understand it.

Sana, a petite 31-year-old French woman with curly brown hair, is strapped to a chair at the Clinical Center at the National Institutes of Health. In front of her, a desk. Surrounding her, 12 infrared cameras tracking her every move. The test is about to begin. 

On the desk, a black cylinder stands upright. It’s topped with a silvery plastic ball. Here’s the challenge: She’s asked to touch her nose and then touch the ball in front of her. Easy. She touches her nose. She touches the ball. 

Now comes the hard part. more....

US News & World Report

Rolfing: No Longer a Fringe Therapy

By Rett Fisher

After eight years with the Philadelphia Orchestra, C.J. Chang, the principal viola, says he "couldn't really play more than 10 minutes without severe pain." Doctors diagnosed an overgrown muscle in his right hand, but neither massage nor ultrasound provided relief. A colleague recommended that Chang try an alternative therapy known as Rolfing. After the fifth or sixth treatment, Chang says, he felt his "whole hand just freeing" and was able to resume his career.

Rolfing Structural Integration was developed in the 1930s by Ida P. Rolf, a biochemist from New York, after she was diagnosed with spinal arthritis. Rolf focused on the role of the fascia, a form of connective tissue that envelops different muscle groups, allowing them to move freely in relation to each other and often across several joints. When an injury occurs, she theorized, the fascia tightens around that injury, somewhat like a cast or band-aid. Even after the injury heals, the fascia stays in that rigid position, often causing chronic pain and discomfort. Structural Integration is a form of deep tissue massage that stretches and opens the fascia, correcting misalignment and restoring balance throughout the whole body. Actor Christopher Reeve was treated around his lungs to allow him to breathe without his ventilator. Figure skater Michelle Kwan has used the therapy to gain a competitive edge, help with her balance, and recover from injuries more quickly.    more....

New York Times:

Rolfing, Excruciatingly Helpful



A FORMER dancer of 14 years, Anna Zahn is in touch with her body. To gain more flexibility, and to counteract some of the strain from dancing, she has tried a number of remedies: Reiki, acupuncture, yoga.

But she still felt tight, her body tense. So she started getting Rolfed — a kind of deep-tissue bodywork that can be so intense that some jokingly liken it to masochism.

“It’s not going to massage and lighting aromatherapy candles,” said Ms. Zahn, a 20-year-old student at New York University, who gets a Rolfing treatment every week or so. “It’s tough to go to these sessions. It’s painful, very painful, emotionally and physically. But you feel such a relief when you leave that it’s just the most amazing feeling.”  more....

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