Shadow Pain: Repatterning and Remapping to Heal Old Aches

How Rolfing Can Help

Photo: Martino Pietropoli

Photo: Martino Pietropoli

The typical recommended waiting time to receive Rolfing after a surgery or injury is 6 weeks. It may be more or less depending on the nature of the procedure or injury. After 6 weeks, the body has typically completed its healing process, and then the very important work of repatterning and remapping needs to be done. Let me explain:

Remapping: one of the reasons why acute pain turns into chronic pain is because the brain has deemed a certain part of the body “in danger” and as such, we are highly sensitive to any stimulus from the outside world. We may even register harmless input (like a person’s light touch or a gentle bump against an object) as very painful. After the 6 week healing has completed itself (and ALL tissues complete their healing cycle), people may continue to feel pain or restriction in that area. This hyper-sensitivity may not be because of damage to the tissue but because you are subconsciously protecting the area. The table below illustrates this concept:


Effective remapping removes this subconscious over-protection. It occurs due to positive input, which can be from many sources; Therapeutic touch, pleasant movement, laughter, social engagement, and even affirmative language can reinstall pain-free confidence in a previously injured area. The languaging piece is incredibly potent. Look for bodyworkers, movement instructors, and medical professionals who speak about your body’s potential and strengths rather than what is wrong, or what will never be right. One example of this is the debunked myth of the chronic low back pain due to a bulging/herniated, or "slipped disk" (see above table taken from the US National Library of Medicine). It is a proven fact that most of us have some sort of disc issue, especially as we age, but without any reports of pain whatsoever. Therefore, there is much more to pain than damaged tissues. With this in mind, notice how you perceive and talk about your own body in your words and thoughts. 

Repatterning is about how we use our bodies to navigate our lives and the world. It is a big picture that includes how we feel about ourselves, our jobs, our friends, family and partners. In a Rolf Movement session I focus particularly on physical sensation: how does it feel to be in your body, how do the various parts speak to you, how do they relate as a whole? Does your pattern serve a seamless recovery post-injury or post-surgery, or can you resource your movements in a more efficient and stress-free way? 

In my experience, people are generally quick to be able to remap (likely due to neuroplasticity) but repatterning can take time, effort and patience. This is probably because our dominant patterns operate below the level of the conscious mind. Most of our patterns set in as soon as we attempted to stand for the first time as babies, and they were also subconsciously influenced by environmental factors like how your parents behaved. Our movement and postural patterns are intricately tied in with our self-identity.

We may think that by doing certain physical activities, like yoga or running or CrossFit, that we are learning new movement and postural patterns and it is enough. This belief is bolstered by obvious physical changes like weight loss and muscle gain. The truth is that we usually resource complex movements in the same ways we resource normal everyday activities, in other words, our original pattern is the foundation upon which we do all that we do. An example of this is if you overarch your back to stand up from a chair, you might also stress your low back to do squats or yoga poses.

Injuries and surgeries often add more disorderly noise to the mix, while what we want in a balanced body is a melody of poise and harmony in movement. Rolfing can help to instill a sense of effortless alignment, length, freedom and ease which is the basis of mind-body health. We need this solid, stable, balanced yet adaptable foundation in order to truly excel at any physical endeavor, including finding comfort and alignment in everyday movements like sitting, standing, walking and breathing. 

Rolfing During and After Pregnancy

By relieving pain and tension and bringing the body into optimal balance, Rolfing® can be extremely useful in helping expecting mothers and new parents adapt to the physical demands of pregnancy and parenthood. Great news for Moms and Dads!


With the proper precautions, Rolfing can help support expecting mothers as they experience profound changes in their bodies. Possible benefits include smoother birth; relief of discomfort in the feet, ankles, legs, hips, back, spine, and pelvis; and the well-deserved satisfaction that comes from self-care and coming back into healthy relationship with the body. 

Some questions to take into account for expecting women are: the general health and activity level; pregnancy/birth history; and familiarity with Rolfing or other bodywork. 
The Rolfer will also take care to use positional strategies (e.g. client laying on her back, side, seated) that are appropriate for that trimester and the client's comfort level.

After giving birth, the body continues to incorporate and adapt to rapid changes. This is an ideal time to consider a Ten Series, ten sessions which holistically treat and effectively reset the entire body. Each session addresses different regions and relationships, such as that between pelvic balance and back health, and evokes order in how those relationships function. For those who had already done a Series, they may choose to repeat it, or to do a series of 3-5 Post-Ten sessions.

The general recommendation is for women to wait 6 weeks and after they've stopped bleeding, before receiving any Rolfing. Breastfeeding hormones create increased mobility and looseness in the ligaments and tendons, so it may be practical for the Rolfer to use less pressure and/or focus on stabilizing rather than opening the joints.

Rolfing can also help parents maintain safe body alignment as they meet the demands of early childhood care. Activities such as lifting, carrying, rocking and feeding can place heavy demands on the body. Rolfing can help to unwind pain, tension and restriction while evoking better economy of movement through client education. That means less tired, happier parents!

For questions and booking, please contact Chelsey