Adaptive Patterns vs Compensatory Patterns of Movement

Rolfing, or Structural Integration, is based on the work of Dr. Ida Rolf who believed that there is a natural alignment of the body and its systems based on gravity. She believed that, over time, people adapt their movements to compensate for injury, illness, disability and that these adaptive patterns continue long after the original cause has been resolved. These compensations cause stress on various parts of the body and result in stiffness, pain, fatigue, and loss of energy. Her work in developing Rolfing techniques was to identify the adaptive patterns which underlie symptoms and sabotage the vitality of life and restore the natural harmony and function of the body.

Dr. Rolf believed that the human body has an innate order, and a balance among the systems that comprise it. These systems are surrounded by myofascial tissue which is the focus of the disorders which plague many. It is easy to see that the majority of people start out in a healthy capacity, but life experiences can take a general toll on our bodies. Modern life sabotages the healthy, living, and functioning with stress, inactivity, injuries of all sorts large and small. Dr. Rolf saw these conditions as manifestations of adaptive patterns. While generally, “adaptive” is seen as a positive change made to accommodate a challenge, in this instance a short-term adaptation becomes a long-term negative force on the quality of life.

The term “compensatory patterns” of movement was coined by J. Gordon Zink, DO. He used the term to describe commonly found patterns of dysfunction in the body, and is considered to be “”the first to provide a written, understandable, and clinically useful explanation for treatment, with a method of diagnosing and manipulative methods of treating the fascial patterns of the body.” Dr. Zink found that there are common disorders that can be linked to specific misalignments of fascia in specific parts of the body. He found that realigning fascia to a more natural state created a sense of freedom and ease of movement. Through cranial-sacral, myofascial manipulation, and structural integration techniques – now commonly referred to as Rolfing.

His work with “compensatory patterns” offers a unified theory of the development of misalignments traceable to genetic factors, prenatal development, birth experience, and postnatal development. He found patterns of development at each state that mapped to subsequent body issues. A good example of compensatory patterns is the work of F Matthias Alexander, in his Alexander Technique. Alexander was an actor who was disabled by frequently losing his voice. Watching himself in the mirror he observed that he was making strange movements of his neck and head as he spoke. He believed that ‘how people sit, stand and move, affects their bodies sometimes with adverse effects.’ If the function of the body is modified, the negative effects of misuse can be mitigated or overcome completely.

The adaptive patterns as described by Dr. Rolf, and the Compensatory Patterns described by Dr. Zink, share a common belief that the experience of life as lived creates disharmony in the alignment of fascia tissues and that by restoring the natural alignment of the body with gravity there is possible a return to a healthier self, free of pain, stiffness, and lack of vitality.

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