Rolfing: The Therapy
Rolfing is a bodywork therapy that works on the fascia to improve the posture and overall body structure. It works to integrate the different parts of the body to work efficiently as a unit. Rolfing was created by Dr. Ida P. Rolf, a biochemist at the Rockefeller Institute, to improve her health.
After exploring various alternative healing therapies, Dr. Rolf realized that they shared some commonalities: proper alignment, body systems, and anatomy. She added to this theory her observations that gravity also plays a role in the health of the body. She began to investigate in what way the body’s structure could be aligned to function optimally within the laws of gravity.
Her research led to her developing the system known as Rolfing where the manipulation of soft tissue (fascia) along with proper body movement realigns, balances, and release the fascia to bring stability to the body to reduce pain and improve function.
How Rolfing Works
The therapist physically manipulates the fascia like a deep tissue massage. However, it is different from regular massages. According to the Rolfing Institute of Structural Integration a massage releases and relaxes tight muscles which reduces stress, detoxes the body, and gives a sense of well-being.
Rolfing therapists look specifically for imbalances by palpating tissue looking for differences in tissue quality and temperature. They determine what fascia layers are adhering to muscles or were pulled away because of strain or injury.
Also, a trained Rolfer assesses the body’s structure and alignment to determine where the body is not integrated. “For example, the legs are aligned to the hips, shoulders to rib cage, the body is positioned over the feet, and then all of these joints and related tissue are integrated to one another.”[i] In other words, restructuring the body through realignment breaks habitual body habits that interfere with daily life.
What to Expect at a Rolfing Session
At the beginning of the first appointment, the therapist will discuss with the client what are the issues they want to address and their expectations. Also, the practitioner will ask about health conditions. It’s important to let them know of all medications and health issues. The practitioner will also access the client’s posture and other structural issues.
There are typically ten sessions with specific body areas being worked on systematically in each session. Clients usually see the therapist weekly, but this may be adapted if necessary. Also, at the end of each session, the therapist will give suggestions to support the bodywork at home.
Session One – The first session begins on the front of the body starting with the arms then moving to the chest and abdomen. The practitioner pays special attention to the diaphragm. The Rolfer will also work on the neck, back, upper legs and buttocks.
Sessions Two and Three – Body work continues on the legs. Also, the therapist will focus on the body (head, shoulders, and hips) alignment.
Sessions Four ThroughSeven – These are the “core” sessions. The areas of concentration are from the head to the pelvis. Also, the fascia of the legs is massaged and manipulated.
Sessions Eight Through Ten – The goal in the last three appointments is to integrate balance, movement, and coordination within the body.
Like a massage, there may be some soreness after a session. Also, because of deep tissue manipulation, some experience soreness during the treatment that is short-term. It can be relieved with ice or over-the-counter pain medicine. It’s also recommended to drink water before and after the treatment which is also common with other types of bodywork.
Rolfing Is Beneficial for These Conditions
Chronic pain, stress, inflexibility, and to improve structural function are some of the reasons people visit a Rolfing practitioner. Studies have shown that structural realignment can help with carpal tunnel syndrome, piriformis syndrome, and pronator syndrome.[ii] Andrew Weil, M.D, a pioneer in Integrative Medicine suggests Rolfing may also help these conditions:
- Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJD) – Relaxing tissues associated with TMJ may reduce jaw pain
- Asthma – Because it can breakup constrictive nerve and muscle patterns in the chest.
- Low Back Pain – Rolfing can address structural issues that can cause back pain.
- Poor Posture – It is beneficial for poor posture. Studies showed it helped treat curvature of the spine.
Rolfing Training and Certification
Rolfers receive 600 to 700 hours of training. Although, the number of hours can vary depending on the education and certifications of the applicant. Certification in the U.S is governed by the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration in Boulder, Colorado. Internationally, there are five additional certifying bodies. Practitioners receive a designation of Certified Rolfer (CR). Additional training can lead to the Certified Advanced Rolfer (CAR).
Pregnant women and people with connective tissue disorders like lupus and scleroderma should avoid Rolfing. Because Rolfing involves deep tissue work, Dr. Weil recommends that cancer patients and anyone with blood clots avoid Rolfing. People with any health condition or taking medications need to discuss with their healthcare provider before considering Rolfing. Always speak with your doctor before considering any new therapy.
Amy Iadarola, Certified Advanced Rolfer sums up best the philosophy behind Rolfing: “The body functions best when its bony segments are in proper alignment…. The hands-on work of Rolfing begins this process of organizing your skeleton by manipulating the fascia that holds the bones in position.”[iii]
This information is for educational purposes only. It’s not intended to diagnose, treat, or recommend any specific therapy. Always, check with your doctor before considering any new therapy.
Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved from https://www.rolf.org/rolfing_faq.php.
Iadarola, Amy, Certified Advanced Rolfer. Movement Integration. Retrieved from https://rolfingandmovement.com/rolf-movement/.
Weils, Andrew, M.D. Rolfing. Retrieved from https://www.drweil.com/health-wellness/balanced-living/wellness-therapies/rolfing/.
[i] Rolfing Institute, Frequently Asked Questions. Web.
[ii] Weils, Andrew, M.D., Rolfing. Web.
[iii] Iadarola, Amy, Certified Advanced Rolfer, Movement Integration. Web.