Rolfing is a trademarked system of body tissue manipulation therapy. Also known as Structural Integration, this therapy is said to “organize the whole body in gravity.”
Led by the work of Ida Pauline Rolf who developed the approach in the 1930s in New York, the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration (RISI, founded 1971) is the originator of the therapy. RISI owns the service marks “Rolfer” and “Rolfing,” and only RISI certified practitioners can use these terms as part of their practice.
Ida Rolf felt that all emotional and physical discomfort may originate in the body’s connective tissue and its relation to the earth’s gravity. Just as a chiropractor corrects the alignment of vertebrae, a Rolfer corrects the alignment of soft tissue. One of the key objectives of Rolfing is the prevention of discomfort.
Rolfers manipulate the muscle fasciae (a type of connective tissue) in each client to correct what are called “soft tissue fixations” or “dystonia”, which is a neurological movement disorder where chronic muscle contractions can make the body twist, twitch or maintain irregular postures. The technique’s system of deep-tissue massage offers of number of therapeutic benefits, including (for some) increased height, standing straighter and moving more efficiently.
Muscles that connect to bone typically work in pairs so that movement can be made in opposing directions. For example, consider how your leg can bend and straighten at the knee. The “agonist” and “antagonist” muscles make up the parts of this pair. While one contracts, the other rests. Rolf hypothesized that “bound up” connective tissue frequently hampers how well these muscle pairs work together. Her goal was to split up the connective tissues by hand to make them looser and to allow the muscles more efficient movement.
Typically, each Rolfing Structural Integration session has the client perform a specific movement. During the session, the Rolfer massages the fascia to improve the client’s movement until it is “normal.” It usually takes a course of ten sessions, each session consisting of 60–90 minutes of Rolfing, with a set goal during each session. The course has its own targeted outcome which is a combination of all the session goals.
Though Rolfing Structural Integration has been found to be safe, mainstream science does not yet have enough information from clinical trials and peer reviewed assessments to determine the efficacy of this system of therapy.
Rolfing is compatible with other therapies, like chiropractic, because it is an entirely drug-free approach to health maintenance. As with other complementary and alternative health methods, RISI recommends using Rolfing as an integrated part of any preventative modern healthcare plan.