In Rolfing® Structural Integration, the feet play a central role in harmonising the structure and function of the body. By treating the feet, mobilising their structures, and restoring their natural arch support, Rolfers lay the foundation for improved stability, enhanced movement and a more resilient and better aligned body. As Dr. Ida Rolf aptly put it, the feet also point to imbalances higher up in the body:
Feet are tattletales. Every imbalance at higher levels shows unmistakably in feet and ankles."
The human foot has an intricate and complex structure, consisting of a dynamic interplay of small bones, joints, ligaments, muscles, and tendons. This complexity allows the feet to easily adapt to imbalances emanating from both the body above and the ground below. The "principle of support" emphasised by Rolfing Structural Integration states that a stable foundation must be established before the body can reach higher levels of order. The feet provide a gateway to achieving this foundation, which is why they receive special focus in Rolfing sessions.
The importance of stability and support through the feet cannot be overstated. When standing and walking, the feet are the channel through which the connection to the ground is established. Improved stability not only promotes physical well-being, but also emotional balance. Just as a well-rooted tree withstands the elements, stability of the feet enables individuals to face life's challenges with serenity and resilience.
As part of the regular Rolfing 10-series, the second Rolfing session focuses attention on the feet and lower legs. The aim is to mobilise and optimise the various components of the foot, including the bones, plantar fascia, ankle, and Achilles tendon. By addressing these structures, Rolfers® seek to rebalance the arches of the foot. This process increases flexibility, adds a springy quality to movements, improves ground contact and provides necessary support to the pelvis and upper body.
Plantar Fascia in BODY WORLDS Museum Berlin
A prominent feature of the feet is the plantar fascia, a tendon that stretches in a fan shape from the front edge of the heel to the toes. In cooperation with other structures, the plantar fascia maintains the longitudinal arch of the foot, much like a taut bowstring. This arch support is central to effectively transferring body weight to the ground and facilitating the impulse of walking throughout the body.
The picture shows the partial plastinate of a foot in the BODY WORLDS Museum Berlin, where the plantar fascia in the toe area has been cut and folded down to reveal the underlying structures.
Plantar Fascitiis in Rolfing
A common foot condition that causes pain in the sole of the foot near the heel is plantar fasciitis. This condition is often attributed to excessive muscle contraction and tension in the plantar fascia. Symptoms often worsen after periods of rest but improve with exercise. While medical experts debate whether the cause is inflammation or micro tears in the plantar fascia, the pain and limitations it causes are undeniable.
Traditional treatments focus on local approaches such as ice, rest, and anti-inflammatory medications. However, Rolfing Structural Integration offers a holistic approach that aims to get to the root causes of the pain by treating the entire myofascial system.
The myofascial system is a complex network of muscles and connective tissue (fascia) that work together to support movement and maintain posture against gravity. Rolfing understands this system as a dynamic, interconnected structure and recognises that stress in one area can affect the whole body. To relieve plantar fasciitis, Rolfing goes beyond symptom management and aims to restore the structural integrity and balance of the myofascial system.
Holistic and Sustainable Pain Relief
An important aspect of the Rolfing approach to plantar fasciitis is to identify the causes. Actions such as wearing tight-fitting shoes, repetitive sporting activities, regular driving or prolonged standing on tiptoes can contribute to the development of this condition. Rolfers work with their clients to identify these factors and suggest lifestyle changes to prevent recurrence.
Rolfing recognises that plantar fasciitis is not limited to the site of pain; it is connected to larger muscle groups and fascial units. According to Certified Advanced Rolfer Alan Richardson, Rolfing addresses these key areas:
- Gastrocnemius and Soleus: The calf muscles can feed tension into the plantar fascia. Rolfing targets these muscles and the Achilles tendon to relieve pain in the heel and tendon area.
- Fibularii/Peroneals: The muscles on the side of the calf can contribute to Plantar Fasciitis. Rolfing directly addresses these muscles and their associated retinacula to relieve tension.
- Tibialis Anterior and Posterior: Imbalances in the foot arches can play a role. If the arch of the foot is high, the tibialis muscles may be affected, which can be treated with Rolfing to restore balance.
- Hamstrings: The hamstrings are connected to the feet by myofascial chains. Rolfing examines and treats imbalances in these muscles, both on the inside and outside of the leg.
- Plantar Fascia: Direct treatment of the plantar fascia itself is an important component. Careful, calibrated touch near the heel can relieve tension and pain, provided sensitivity and feedback guide the process.
Alan Richardson recommends calf stretches to complement Rolfing sessions and reduce discomfort. The 'phone book stretch', which involves leaning against the edge of a book, helps to release tension in the calf muscles. The aim is to stretch slowly, finding the point where the stretch is strenuous but not painful.
Feet are the crucial link between humans and the ground. They play an important role in the optimal stability and functionality of the entire body. Rolfing Structural Integration can optimise the interaction of the different body components, laying the foundation for improved mobility, resilience, and alignment.
Rolfing's holistic approach can also help with plantar fasciitis, a common painful condition. Rather than just treating the symptoms, Rolfers carefully examine the root causes. By addressing the intricate myofascial system, targeting the interplay of calf muscles, Achilles tendons, peroneal muscles, tibialis muscles and plantar fascia, and showing clients self-help measures such as calf stretches, they offer substantial help with this painful condition.
Read full article on Plantar Fascitiis by Certified Advanced Rolfer® Alan Richardson.
Visit Alan Richardson’s website.
Find more articles on Rolfing® & feet in March 2018 Issue of Structural Integration Journal.
Read article on feet development by Konrad Obermeier in March 2020 Issue of Structure, Function, Integration Journal.
Visit the BODY WORLDS Museum at Berlin Alexanderplatz.
Did you already know?
The Dr. Ida Rolf Institute® Europe is offering a Meet ROLFING introductory course in Berlin in English from 21 to 22 October 2023, preceded by a joint visit to the BODY WORLDS Museum with a guided tour by the Rolfing instructor on Friday, 20 October 2023.