What is Equine Structural Integration?

Equine Structural Integration is a process of reorganizing the soft tissue of the body, restoring full range of motion to the entire system. This is accomplished through a series of treatments designed to break down scar tissue within the connective tissue structure of the body and release compression in the joint systems.

What is Connective Tissue?

connective_tissueConnective tissue is the support system for the entire body. Just beneath the skin layer you will find a thin white film covering the muscle. This film is connective tissue (otherwise known as fascia). If you were to do a cross section of a muscle you would be able to see each tiny muscle fiber. Each muscle fiber has its own connective tissue sheath surrounding it as well. These sheaths are lubricated and allow the muscle fibers as well as the muscle groups to slide across one another enabling full range of motion. In addition to its key role in supporting muscle stability and functionality, connective tissue also encases and suspends the entire organ and skeletal systems. This is the largest and most complex system in the entire body. As mentioned, it begins just beneath the layer of the skin and like a three dimensional web, spreads through the entire body to it’s core.

Connective Tissue’s Effect on Performance

As mentioned above, connective tissue acts like a lubricated sheath allowing muscle fibers and muscle groups to move freely back and forth over one another in full range of motion. When a horse becomes injured, dehydrated, mal-nourished or simply over worked, these lubricated sheaths dry out and adhere to one another. This is the beginning of the formation of scar tissue and is what is responsible for the restricted range of motion that leads to improper movement that eventually leads to system breakdown and injury. This is because once scar tissue has begun to form it continually impacts the surrounding healthy tissue. The effect is similar to tossing a wool sweater into a dryer. Scar tissue begins to form as a result of the connective tissue sheaths “drying out”. The drying out process is also a shrinking process. This shrinking process leads to restriction of blood flow that reduces oxygen and nutrient supply to the cells and that impacts the health of the surrounding tissue. As a result, the surrounding tissue begins to “dry out” as well. This leads to an obvious conclusion; the scar tissue becomes more and more matted until such a time when movement restrictions become obvious. If we don’t have personal experience with this, we know someone who has. Slowly, over the years, they’ve gotten more and more restricted in movement as a result of a years old injury. There may be different diagnosis by medical professionals but these problems always originate in the connective tissue structure of the body. If this is where the problems originate then it makes sense that if we want long term results to the problems that have arisen we should look to this same structure when considering a treatment program. This is what Dr. Ida P. Rolf determined in her lifetime of study to discover a treatment that would not only prevent but also reverse degenerative disease.

How Does Structural Integration Work?

037Structural Integration is hands-on soft tissue manipulation. This very specific system of therapeutic work locates and releases compression (scar tissue) within the connective tissue structure of the body. Then, through a variety of techniques, the scar tissue is broken down and elasticity is restored to the connective tissue. This process allows blood flow to return to full capacity, bringing valuable nutrients and oxygen back into the affected area. This is the beginning of the recovery process. Because of the complex nature of the connective tissue structure, the treatment program requires a series of sessions. Each session builds upon the last allowing the practitioner to access deeper and deeper layers of compression until finally the body’s core compression is released. At that point, the body is free to re-align itself.

How Long Do the Effects of Structural Integration Last?

Because this work restores integrity to the soft tissue structure of the body, the results in most cases are very long lasting. These results vary of course, as each horse is different and so are their disciplines and training programs. Once the initial series of opening sessions has been completed, a horse with a quiet disposition and malleable tissue in a discipline that does not place high physical demands on them will often times go six months or longer before needing a maintenance session. Nervous horses typically have tighter, denser tissue and tend to pull compression back into their bodies more quickly. If a horse like this is in a discipline that does not put high physical demands on them, they will often times go four to six months before needing a maintenance session. But typically, horses of this nature are sought out for discipline’s that demand more from a horse because they are more alert and attentive, and have a more captivating presence. In cases such as this where they are under a heavy workload, once the horse has completed the initial series they will typically require maintenance work every six to eight weeks.

Even in horses with the most dense tissue and heaviest workloads, Structural Integration’s lasting affects are typically far beyond other available therapies. The key is to maintain a proper maintenance schedule to keep the horse moving towards its full potential.

What is the Initial “Opening” Series?

The initial “Opening” series of sessions is necessary to get through all layers of compression in the soft tissue, ultimately releasing the deep holding patterns within the horse’s structure. Over time, we have determined that completing the first three sessions of this series within the window of a three to eight week period is very beneficial in achieving optimal results. More active horses with denser tissue structure will benefit more by having their sessions closer together.

041Applying the first three sessions within this time frame allows the practitioner to get to deeper layers of compression before the exertion of continued training in their given discipline reestablishes the holding patterns in the soft tissue. The benefit of this is that once the first few layers of compression are removed from the soft-tissue structure, it creates a drawing affect within that structure that encourages the deeper untouched layers of compression to open on their own.

An example to help you understand this dynamic would be to take a basic kitchen sponge that is moist and squeeze it tightly in your hand. Then drop the sponge onto the counter top and watch it return to its regular shape. The sponge knows what its regular, or “ideal” shape is and will always return to that shape when you are not squeezing it.

The body’s tissues have the same awareness; they know what their ideal state is and strive to return to that state as the layers of compression responsible for the holding patterns in the body are released. The more layers that are released simultaneously, the more momentum the body will have to continue releasing on its own.

We have also discovered that when the first three sessions have been completed in this manner, the horses structure will continue to open on its own for as much as six to eight weeks. Because of this and the fact that we want the horse to do as much healing as possible on its own, the fourth and subsequent sessions are typically performed six to eight weeks apart. At this point the much deeper layers of compression in the body become accessible. In some cases where horses are dealing with excessive holding patterns resulting from a serious injury or illness, successive sessions may be recommended sooner than the normal six to eight weeks.

With the density of horses tissue and their training disciplines varying as much as they do, it is impossible to state the number of sessions that a specific horse will require to reach it’s optimal state of “Openness”, however, it has been noticed over time that in most cases something very impressive happens for the horse after the third session. Horses with dense tissue will most often require more than three sessions to get their core to release but they will typically be notably improved after three, even so.

Once the core compression has been released, the improvement in the horse’s athletic abilities will be obvious and from that point on, only maintenance sessions will be required to maintain this state, and the frequency of those sessions will be dictated by the workload placed on the horse and as already mentioned, the density of that horse’s tissue.

Is Structural Integration Rehabilitative?

004Yes, Structural Integration is an amazing rehabilitative body of work. There are numerous reasons for this. One reason is that when you restore elasticity to the connective tissue, blood flow is increased to the affected area, which brings a greater supply of oxygen and nutrients to damaged tissues. Another reason is that by releasing the compression in the area, structural misalignments have a much greater chance of correcting themselves. Thirdly, this is a full body therapy. Even if an injury is in a specific location the entire body is affected because of the interconnectedness of the connective tissue structure. By working the entire body you are going to catch compensatory problems before they have a chance to take hold. So the work is not only rehabilitative, it’s also preventative! In addition to the physical benefits of this work, there is a positive influence on the energy body as well. Acupuncture meridians flow through the fascial (connective tissue) planes of the body. When compression settles into the tissue, this also restricts energy flow along the meridian pathways, which can interfere with normal organ function. By releasing the compression along the meridian pathways this work can also have a dramatic affect on organ function.

What About “Healthy” Horses?

Even if a horse isn’t lame, they may quite likely (especially if they are a performance horse) have moderate levels of compression in their tissue that could be leading towards a structural compromise. It is much better to avoid an injury than it is to treat one. If a horse goes through a series before they are injured, several things will happen; first, they are going to move better because full range of motion will be restored throughout their structure. Obviously, this will take less time and money than a rehabilitation program. Second, the horse will be happier because those little pains will be gone that may be causing some of their “attitude problems” while in training and they will be much easier to get along with. Third, they will be much less likely to hurt themselves because they are going to have full range of motion and greater awareness of their entire body which will give them the mobility (flexibility) and coordination to get around potentially dangerous situations while staying secure on their feet. Fourth, if their bodies are open there is less reason for them to have back or leg problems, which could greatly reduce the need for costly injections or other medical assessments and treatments. Fifth, with all of the above being true, you and your valuable investment should enjoy an extended career life together.

(NoteOne thing that Structural Integration cannot overcome is problems that arise from poor foot care. It can relieve tension and the pain that this condition puts in the body but will not correct the problem. If the feet are not properly supporting the horse’s structure, the joint systems will be taxed to the point of eventual breakdown. Techniques for establishing the correct foundation for your horse are taught in allan’s entry-level training program.)

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