This specialized program of physical training and massage is designed to relieve muscle tension and pain, speed recovery from injuries, and aid in general relaxation and stress-reduction.

It’s particularly well-suited for such problems as back and neck pain, headache, and repetitive stress injuries like tennis elbow.

Like most forms of bodywork and movement training, Aston-Patterning does not lend itself to controlled clinical trials, and its effectiveness has therefore not been scientifically verified.


Remember, too, that it requires a significant commitment on your part; it is much more than a program of passive massage.

How the Treatments Are Done

Aston-Patterning sessions are conducted one-on-one with a trained practitioner. They include massage, movement training, fitness exercises, and advice on changes in the home and work environments.

When you begin the program, the practitioner will conduct an extensive evaluation of your general fitness, including your history, physical measurements, and movement habits.

Movements tested range from simple acts of sitting and standing to “arcing,” an Aston-Patterning flexion/extension movement of the whole body

The massage segment of the treatment employs a special “spiraling” technique that relaxes tense muscles and loosens stiff joints without causing pain. The goal is to release tightness and tension, thus permitting the body to revert to a healthier posture.

Movement training during the sessions is designed to reinforce the results of massage, bringing your routine habits of motion into harmony with the unique configuration of your body.

This may require intensive drilling in certain movements that the practitioner selects to correct your posture and the way you bear your weight.

These repetitive drills are likely to continue until relaxed, efficient movement becomes second nature to you.

Employed as an adjunct to movement training, the fitness exercises typically encountered in Aston-Patterning concentrate on improving muscle tone, joint resiliency, and lightness of movement.

These exercises are backed up by counseling on ways to achieve healthier movement and posture in your daily routine.

Recommended environmental adjustments can range from simply changing the height of a chair to employing a variety of cushions, knee supports, and side body supports to keep the spine and other areas of the body in proper alignment and prevent postural compression. (A patented line of Aston devices is available.)

Treatment Time: Sessions generally last 1 to 2 hours.

Treatment Frequency: Governed by the severity of the problem.

What Treatment Hopes to Accomplish

Aston-Patterning practitioners, along with the advocates of many other types of bodywork, believe that relaxed, efficient movement and a balanced, effortless posture can relieve unconscious stress, thus improving emotional and physical well-being.

The Aston-Patterning techniques were developed by dancer Judith Aston during her recovery from a pair of automobile accidents. It is an extension of Rolfing, a form of deep massage therapy aimed at improving the body’s alignment (see the profile on Rolfing).

After her successful rehabilitation through Rolfing, Aston devised a program of movement training and exercise aimed at maintaining the benefits of massage.

Who Should Avoid This Therapy?

The Aston-Patterning drills and exercises can be extremely demanding.

If you have a heart condition or respiratory problems, check with your doctor before undertaking this form of therapy, and if you proceed, make sure the practitioner is aware of your disorder.

The program can be adjusted to meet the needs of older adults, those in poor health, and patients with special rehabilitation requirements.

The deep massage employed in Aston-Patterning could prove dangerous if you have brittle bone disease (osteoporosis) or a tendency to bruise easily.

Also avoid this therapy if you have a bleeding disorder, take anticoagulant drugs, or are undergoing long-term steroid therapy, which can make the tissues fragile.

If you have circulation problems such as those resulting from diabetes or varicose veins, be wary of massage in the legs and feet.

Remember, too, that excessive pressure can aggravate carpal tunnel syndrome, which is itself a result of pressure on a nerve that passes through the wrist.

What Side Effects May Occur?

For people in good physical condition, most complications are the result of overly intensive training. Exhaustion and pain are the principal dangers. Be sure to give the practitioner plenty of feedback during the sessions.

An experienced practitioner will know how hard to push and when it’s best to stop.

How to Choose a Therapist

Although Aston-Patterning incorporates elements of both massage and movement training, it is not available from standard bodywork practitioners or physical therapists.

For authentic treatment, you’ll need to see a certified graduate of the Aston Training Center in Nevada.

These practitioners–who are typically physical or occupational therapists or nurse practitioners– must complete several 2-week training sessions over a 3-year period in order to qualify. You can contact the Aston Training Center for referrals.

Because you’ll be working closely with the practitioner for an extended period of time, it’s important to interview the prospects before making a commitment. If you feel that you cannot place complete trust in the individual, seek another therapist.

When Should Treatment Stop?

At the outset, set specific goals with your therapist. When you’ve achieved them, treatment can stop. In cases of severe injury or rigid emotional resistance, this could take years. Usually, however, only a few weeks or months are required.

See a Conventional Doctor If…

If the Aston-Patterning techniques don’t relieve your pain (or make it worse) see your doctor for further diagnostic work.

Pain sometimes signals a serious disorder in a seemingly unrelated part of the body. It’s important to establish its cause–especially if healing therapies such as Aston-Patterning fail to make a difference.