Rolfing is a form of alternative medicine originally developed by Ida P. Rolf (1896–1979) under the label of Structural Integration.[1][2] It is typically delivered as a series of ten hands-on physical manipulation sessions sometimes called "the recipe", originally based on Rolf's ideas about how the human body's "energy field" can benefit when aligned with the Earth's gravitation field.[3][4] Practitioners combine superficial to deep manual therapy, with movement prompts.[5] The process is sometimes painful.[6]

There is no good evidence Rolfing is effective for the treatment of any health condition.[7] It is recognized as a pseudoscience,[8][9] and has been characterized as quackery.[10][11] It is not known whether Rolfing is either safe or cost-effective.[7][12]

Conceptual basis

Rolfing is based on Ida Rolf's proposition that "a human is basically an energy field operating in the greater energy of the earth".[13] Rolf described the body as organized around an axis perpendicular to the earth, parallel to the pull of gravity, and believed the function of the body was optimal when it was organized in that way. She saw the body as continually in a struggle with gravity; in her view, gravity tends to shorten fascia, leading to disorder of the body's arrangement around its axis and creating imbalance, inefficiency in movement, and pain.[14] Rolfers aim to lengthen the fascia in order to restore the body's arrangement around its axis and facilitate improved movement.[14] Rolf also discussed this in terms of "energy" and said:

"Rolfers make a life study of relating bodies and their fields to the earth and its gravity field, and we so organize the body that the gravity field can reinforce the body's energy field. This is our primary concept."[15][4]

On its website as of August 2016, the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration described Rolfing as "a form of bodywork that reorganizes the connective tissues, called fascia, that permeate the entire body."[16]

The manipulation is sometimes referred to as a type of bodywork, or as a type of massage.[2][17][18][19] The massage tradition has drawn significantly from Rolfing, with some of Ida Rolf's students leaving to become prominent teachers of massage.[20][21]

Rolf claimed to have found an association between emotions and the soft tissue, writing "although rolfing is not primarily a psychotherapeutic approach to the problems of humans", it does constitute an "approach to the personality through the myofascial collagen components of the physical body".[13] She claimed Rolfing could balance the mental and emotional aspects of subjects, and that "the amazing psychological changes that appeared in Rolfed individuals were completely unexpected".[13] Rolfers suggest their manipulations can cause the release of painful repressed memories.[22] Rolfers also hold that by manipulating the body they can bring about changes in personality so, for example, teaching somebody to walk with confidence will make them a more confident person.[23] The connection between physical structure and psychology has not been proven by scientific studies.[4]


Rolfers posit that they manipulate the body's fascial layers.[16][24][25] Rolfing also uses a combination of active and passive movement retraining.[26]

Rolfing is typically performed in a progression of 10 sessions, sometimes called "the recipe".[5][26][27] The first three sessions of the protocol focus on superficial tissues, the next four focus on deeper tissues and specifically the pelvis, and the final sessions address the whole body.[5][14][17]

A session typically lasts between 60 and 90 minutes. The recipient wears undergarments.[22] Positions for the work include laying on a table, sitting, and standing.[20]

Rolfing treatments are sometimes painful.[6] For adults, there may be moments of intense sensation during a treatment or soreness afterward.[21] However, the technique can be done gently enough for children and the elderly.[28] Rolf believed fascia tightens as a protective mechanism, and therefore thought an aggressive approach could be counter-productive.[29]

Effectiveness and reception

In 2015 the Australian Government's Department of Health published a review of 17 alternative therapies including Rolfing which concluded no clear evidence of effectiveness was found.[7] The American Cancer Society says the deep soft tissue manipulations such as those used in Rolfing are a concern if practiced on people with cancer near tumor sites.[6] Because of its dependence on vitalistic concepts and its unevidenced propositions about the connection between physical manipulation and psychology, Rolfing is classified as a pseudoscience.[8]

In 2010 the New York Times reported that Rolfing was enjoying a "resurgence" following an endorsement from Dr Oz on The Oprah Winfrey Show.[30] Medical historian Barbara Clow writes that, in common with many other types of alternative medicine, Rolfing takes a view of illness and of therapy which conflicts with mainstream medicine.[31] Psychologist and attorney Christopher Barden has numbered Rolfing among "dangerous and controversial" methods that pose a risk to the public.[12] Biologist Dan Agin has identified Rolfing as a popular kind of "quack medicine" in the "raucous bazaar" of the United States's alternative medicine scene,[10] Health journalist Rose Shapiro lists Rolfing among the many popular "quack treatments" that rally today under the banner of integrative medicine,[11] and skeptic Robert Todd Carroll has said the vague health claims made by rolfers are characteristic of those made by "quacks".[4]


Further information: Ida Pauline Rolf

Ida Pauline Rolf began working on clients in New York in the 1940s with the premise that the human structure could be organized "in relation to gravity". She developed structural integration with one of her sons and by the 1950s she was teaching her work across the United States.[29] In the mid-1960s she began teaching at Esalen Institute, where she gathered a loyal following of students and practitioners.[32] Esalen was the epicenter of the Human Potential Movement, allowing Rolf to exchange ideas with many of their leaders, including Fritz Perls.[28][33] Rolf incorporated a number of ideas from other areas including osteopathic manipulation, cranial osteopathy, hatha yoga, and the general semantics of Alfred Korzybski.[34] In 1971 she founded the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration.[35] The school has been based in Boulder, Colorado since 1972, and as of 2010 included five institutes worldwide.[36]

In addition to the Rolf Institute, whose graduates can use the trademarked terms "Rolfing" and "Certified Rolfer", a number of other schools of Structural Integration certify "Practitioners of the Rolf Method of Structural Integration". These schools include the Guild for Structural Integration,[28] Hellerwork Structural Integration,[17][21][28] Aston Patterning,[21][28] SOMA,[21] KMI,[1] and over a dozen other Structural Integration schools.[1] A professional membership organization exists called the International Association of Structural Integration, which has certified practitioners by exam since 2007.[34]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 Myers, Thomas W. (2004). "Structural integration -- Developments in Ida Rolf's 'Recipe'-- I". Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies. 8 (2): 131–42. doi:10.1016/S1360-8592(03)00088-3.
  2. 1 2 Sherman KJ, Dixon MW, Thompson D, Cherkin DC (2006). "Development of a taxonomy to describe massage treatments for musculoskeletal pain". BMC Complement Altern Med (Review). 6: 24. doi:10.1186/1472-6882-6-24. PMC 1544351Freely accessible. PMID 16796753. Some massage styles with different names may be essentially the same (e.g., Structural Integration and Rolfing®)
  3. Ida P. Rolf, Ph.D. (1 November 1990) [1978]. Rolfing and Physical Reality. Inner Traditions / Bear & Co. p. 31. ISBN 978-1-62055-338-1. This is the gospel of Rolfing: When the body gets working appropriately, the force of gravity can flow through. Then, spontaneously, the body heals itself.
  4. 1 2 3 4 Carroll, Robert Todd (22 January 2014). "Rolfing". The Skeptic's Dictionary (Online ed.). ISBN 9780471272427. Retrieved 2014-03-03.
  5. 1 2 3 Deutsch, Judith E. (2008). "The Ida Rolf Method of Structural Integration". In Deutsch, Judith E. Complementary Therapies for Physical Therapy: A Clinical Decision-Making Approach. Saunders. pp. 266–7. ISBN 0721601111.
  6. 1 2 3 Russell J, Rovere A, eds. (2009). "Bodywork". American Cancer Society Complete Guide to Complementary and Alternative Cancer Therapies (2nd ed.). American Cancer Society. p. 170. ISBN 9780944235713.
  7. 1 2 3 Baggoley C (2015). "Review of the Australian Government Rebate on Natural Therapies for Private Health Insurance" (PDF). Australian Government Department of Health. pp. 16, 19, 125–8. Lay summary Gavura, S. Australian review finds no benefit to 17 natural therapies. Science-Based Medicine. (19 November 2015).
  8. 1 2 Cordón, LA (January 2005), "Rolfing", Popular Psychology: An Encyclopedia, Greenwood Publishing Group, pp. 217–218, ISBN 978-0-313-32457-4: "The idea of vital energy... does not correspond to known facts of how the human body operates. Similarly, there is absolutely no support in psychological literature for the idea of traumatic experiences being repressed in the form of muscle memory, and so the basic ideas of Rolfing certainly fall into the category of pseudoscience."
  9. "Rolfing". The Penguin Dictionary of Psychology. Penguin. 2009. ISBN 9780141030241 via Credo Reference.
  10. 1 2 Dan Agin, Ph.D. (27 November 2007). Junk Science: How Politicians, Corporations, and Other Hucksters Betray Us. St. Martin's Press. p. 114. ISBN 978-1-4668-3853-6.
  11. 1 2 Rose Shapiro (30 September 2010). Suckers: How Alternative Medicine Makes Fools of Us All. Random House. p. 2. ISBN 978-1-4090-5916-5.
  12. 1 2 Barden RC (2013). "Chapter 9: Protecting the Integrity of the Family Law System: Multidisciplinary Processes and Family Law Reform". In Lorandos D, Bernet W, Sauber SR. Parental Alienation: The Handbook for Mental Health and Legal Professionals. Charles C Thomas. p. 279. ISBN 978-0-398-08750-0.
  13. 1 2 3 Ida Rolf quoted in Rosemary Feitis, ed. (1990). "Introduction". Rolfing and Physical Reality. Inner Traditions / Bear & Co. pp. 26–27. ISBN 978-0-89281-380-3.
  14. 1 2 3 Houglum, Peggy (2016). Therapeutic Exercise for Musculoskeletal Injuries (4th ed.). Human Kinetics. pp. 432–4. ISBN 9780736075954. Dr. Rolf based her techniques on the realization that fascia surrounded all tissue and body structures, so it also influenced those tissues and structures when it is modified. She observed that the body centers on a vertical line of pull created by gravity. It was her theory that the body is most efficient and healthy when it can function in an aligned and balanced arrangement. With gravity's continuing pull, stresses and injuries occur to pull the body out of its normal alignment; imbalance occurs and causes the body to become painful, malaligned, and inefficient. Dr. Rolf's philosophy and techniques focus on improving the body's posture so all functions including breathing, flexibility, strength, and coordination are optimally efficient.
  15. Rolf, Ida P. (1990) [1978]. Rolfing and Physical Reality. Healing Arts Press. p. 86. ISBN 978-1-62055-338-1.
  16. 1 2 "What is Rolfing® Structural Integration?". Rolf Institute of Structural Integration. Archived from the original on 2016-03-28. Retrieved 2016-07-13. Named after its founder, Dr. Ida P. Rolf, Rolfing Structural Integration is a form of bodywork that reorganizes the connective tissues, called fascia, that permeate the entire body.
  17. 1 2 3 Levine, Andrew (1998). The Bodywork and Massage Sourcebook. Lowell House. pp. 209–234. ISBN 9780737300987.
  18. Cassar, Mario-Paul (2004). Handbook of Clinical Massage: A Complete Guide for Students and Practitioners (2nd ed.). Churchill Livingstone. pp. 48–49. ISBN 9780443073496.
  19. Thackery, Ellyn; Harris, Madeline, eds. (2003). The Gale Encyclopedia Of Mental Disorders. Gale. p. 153–7. ISBN 9780787657697.
  20. 1 2 Grant KE, Riggs A (Dec 1, 2008). "Myofascial Release". In Stillerman E. Modalities for Massage and Bodywork. Mosby. pp. 152, 157, 329–345. ISBN 032305255X.
  21. 1 2 3 4 5 Knaster, Mirka (1996). Discovering the Body's Wisdom: A Comprehensive Guide to More Than Fifty Mind-Body Practices. Bantam. pp. 195–208. ISBN 9780307575500.
  22. 1 2 Goldstein MC, Goldstein MA (2001). Controversies in the Practice of Medicine. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 202. ISBN 978-0-313-31131-4. Practitioners suggest pent-up mental anguish tied to initial traumatic event or subsequent chronic pain is released as the fascias become more pliable.
  23. Roeckelein JE (2006). "Rolfing". Elsevier's Dictionary of Psychological Theories. Elsevier. p. 530. ISBN 978-0-08-046064-2.
  24. Daniels, Rick; Nicoll, Leslie, eds. (2011). "Ch. 14: Complementary and Alternative Therapies". Contemporary Medical-Surgical Nursing. 1 (2nd ed.). Cengage Learning. p. 306. ISBN 1439058660.
  25. Rolf, Ida. Reestablishing the Natural Alignment and Structural Integration of the Human Body for Vitality and Well-Being. p. 15. ISBN 0892813350.
  26. 1 2 Schultz, Richard Louis; Feitis, Rosemary (1996). The Endless Web: Fascial Anatomy and Physical Reality. North Atlantic Books. p. 33. ISBN 1556432283.
  27. Baer, Hans (2004). Toward an Integrative Medicine: Merging Alternative Therapies with Biomedicine. Rowman Altamira. p. 164. ISBN 9780759103023.
  28. 1 2 3 4 5 Claire, Thomas (1995). Bodywork: What Type of Massage to Get and How to Make the Most of It. William Morrow and Co. pp. 40–56. ISBN 9781591202325.
  29. 1 2 Salvo, Susan G. (2012). Massage Therapy: Principles and Practice (4th ed.). Elsevier Saunders. p. 423. ISBN 1437719775.
  30. Considine A (6 October 2010). "Rolfing, Excruciatingly Helpful". New York Times.
  31. Clow B (2001). Negotiating Disease: Power and Cancer Care, 1900-1950. McGill-Queen's University Press. p. 63. Before we explore medical reactions to therapeutic innovations in this era, we must stop to consider the meaning of 'alternative medicine' in this context. Often scholars use the term to denote systems of healing that are philosophically as well as therapeutically distinct from regular medicine: homeopathy, reflexology, rolfing, macrobiotics, and spiritual healing, to name a few, embody interpretations of health, illness, and healing that are not only different from, but also at odds with conventional medical opinion.
  32. Riggs, Art (18 December 2014). "9". In Elaine Stillerman. Modalities for Massage and Bodywork (2nd ed.). Mosby;. p. 153. ISBN 978-0-323-26079-4.
  33. Perls, Frederick (1969). In and Out of the Garbage Pail. Real People Press.
  34. 1 2 3 Jacobson E (2011). "Structural integration: origins and development". J Altern Complement Med (Historical article). 17 (9): 775–80. doi:10.1089/acm.2011.0001. PMC 3162380Freely accessible. PMID 21875349.
  35. "Business Search (search for 'Rolf Institute')". Secretary of State, CA.
  36. Houglum, Peggy (2010). Therapeutic Exercise for Musculoskeletal Injuries (3rd ed.). Human Kinetics. pp. 174–175. ISBN 9780736075954. She eventually opened a school in Boulder, Colorado, The Rolf Institute; there are now five institutes around the world teaching what is now known as Rolfing.

Further reading

External links

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