This unusual massage treatment cured my lower back pain for good
If you’ve ever had severe lower back pain, you need to read this. For me, it started about two years ago. I was putting on a pair of sneakers, about ready to go work out, and then – boom. I felt a sharp pain shoot up my back, and the next thing I knew, I was on the floor crying.
After a few days of nothing but Netflix and lying on the couch, I went to urgent care, and they called in an MRI and gave me some meds to help with the pain. The MRI revealed that I had some “minor” disc bulging on my L4 and L5 vertebrae, which was likely pushing into my sacroiliac joint and causing the sharp pains running from my buttocks all the way into my mid-back.
I know, I know, unless you’re VERY familiar with back pain you have no idea what I’m talking about.
But trust me, even though it sounds horrendous, I was just as confused when the spine doctor told me that my issue was “very minor” and, as he put it, “entry-level back problems.”
“Entry-level?!?” I replied. I mean, if the totally debilitating pain I was feeling was the beginning, I knew then and there I absolutely couldn’t let it progress.
After urgent care, I saw a physical therapist who gave me some stretches to do at home. They helped a little, but I was still in severe pain and had trouble walking. After that, I tried a chiropractor, which did absolutely nothing. Then I was on to an actual spine M.D. who reviewed my MRI and told me the same thing I’d heard from the urgent care doctor.
I found some solace in sports therapy massage combined with acupuncture, so I continued with that once or twice per week, depending on my level of pain.
About six months in, a friend told me her stepfather tried this thing I had never heard of called Rolfing. Rolfing? Say what? I know — worst name ever.
But apparently her stepdad was having really awful back problems, and after he did the Rolfing “Ten Series” (more on that later), he was totally cured.
It sounded kind of nuts to me, but at that point I was honestly willing to try just about anything. The “dull pain,” as I called it, was there pretty much 24/7. I was gaining weight and losing muscle from the lack of movement and, worst of all, I was just really uncomfortable ALL the time and living in constant fear that bending down to pick up a dropped pen was going to send me straight back to urgent care.
So what’s the deal with Rolfing and the “Ten Series”?
Rolfing, named after its founder, Dr. Ida P. Rolf, an American biochemist, is a form of bodywork that reorganizes our connective tissue, aka fascia. On her website, longtime Rolfing practitioner Bethany M. Ward explains how Rolfing is different from massage:
"Through soft tissue manipulation and movement education, Rolfers affect body posture and structure over the long-term. Unlike massage, which often focuses on relaxation and relief of muscle discomfort, Rolfing is aimed at improving body alignment and functioning. Rolfing is different from deep-tissue massage, in that practitioners are trained to create overall ease and balance throughout the entire structure, rather than focusing on areas presenting with tension. As a structure becomes more organized, chronic strain patterns are alleviated, and pain and stress decreases."
I completed Rolfing’s “Ten Series,” the standardized recipe for structural integration in the practice. Essentially, each session “focuses on freeing restrictions or holdings trapped in a particular region of the body. A practitioner also maintains a holistic view of the client’s entire system during each session, thus ensuring the transformational process evolves in a comfortable and harmonious way,” according to Rolf.org.
Let me tell you, after just ONE SESSION of Rolfing that “dull pain” I’d had for almost a year was totally gone and, aside from basically curing my back pain, my posture had never been better.
According to Dr. Andrew Weil, “Studies have shown that those with neurological impairments, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, piriformis syndrome, and pronator syndrome, can benefit from this structural realignment.”
He continued, "Rolfing may be able to relax tissues contributing to jaw pain in a condition known as temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMJD. Asthmatics may also consider Rolfing as a means to break up restrictive patterns in nerves and muscles in the chest that limit full chest expansion."
He explained that Rolfing can also improve structural problems that contribute to lower back pain, and also resolve or help with posture problems and curved spines.
Sounds too good to be true. What’s the catch?
Okay, being totally upfront here, sometimes Rolfing is pretty painful. Yes, it’s a “massage” of sorts, but it’s SUPER deep-tissue, and if your muscles are tight, it can be not-so-pleasant. That said, I live by the “no pain, no gain” motto, and I’ve never regretted any session I’ve done, even when I’ve had to ask my Rolfer to stop for a minute because it hurt so much.
“Soreness may be a side effect, as well as mild pain during treatment,” explains Weil. “Pain is usually minor, and heat, ice and over-the-counter analgesics may be of short-term benefit. Hydration, before and after treatment, is recommended. It is also of extreme importance to let the practitioner know of any medical conditions you may have. Consult your physician first if you have a connective tissue disorder, are pregnant, or have a psychological disorder. Rolfing may not be recommended in these circumstances.”
One thing Rolfing has really taught me is how important simply moving your body is, especially as you get into your late twenties and thirties. As someone who is self-employed and works from home, it’s really easy for me to get caught up in emails and the next thing I know it’s 6 p.m. and I haven’t walked more than to and from the kitchen all day. That’s not so great for your body (hides face), and I noticed a big difference in the amount of pain I feel during Rolfing (it’s less) when I simply take a short walk in the evening or in between calls.
Rolfing is also not cheap. I can only speak to my own experience here in L.A., but I would find it hard to believe that any health insurance plan will cover Rolfing; I shell out $160 a session for this, but for me, it’s worth every damn penny since I no longer have terrible lower back pain. If you’ve ever experienced anything similar, I know you’ll likely agree with me!
If you’re interested in trying out Rolfing, go to Rolf.org to find a practitioner near you. And if you’re in the L.A. area, I can’t recommend my Rolfer enough — his name is Al Fielder, and I was sold on him after reading his Yelp reviews.