If you've ever suffered from chronic pain in your back or neck, from recurring injuries or stiffness, you may have tried all sorts of massage, acupuncture, and physiotherapy - sometimes without much effect. But have you tried rolfing? This practice, developed in the 50s, is once again in the spotlight.
If you’ve ever suffered from chronic pain in your back or neck, from recurring injuries or stiffness, you may have tried all sorts of massage, acupuncture, and physiotherapy – sometimes without much effect. But have you tried rolfing? This practice, developed in the 50s, is once again in the spotlight.
What’s in a name?
First of all, why such a strange name? Rolfing was created by Ida Rolf, an American biochemist who was deeply interested in chiropractice, yoga, and homeopathy. She herself called it structural integration. Nowadays, there are over 2000 certified rolfing practitioners in the US and Europe (more on the method here ).
Ida Rolf believed that gravity is the main enemy of our bodies: it wrecks us, throws us off balance, limits our movement. In this philisophy, our connective tissues (or myofascia), instead of remaining supple, contract and stiffen due to incorrect posture and sedentary lifestyle. Fascia connects our muscles to both bones and skin, it separates internal organs from each other, and gives overall structure to our body. Thus, myofascial issues can result in stiffness and pain.
So is it like other forms of massage?
Yes and no. Traditional massage focuses on the muscle, aiming to release knots and spasms, providing temporary relief. Rolfing aims to work with connective tissue, stretching and realigning it; it strives to readjust the body to gravity and to correct posture. Thus, rolfing can be considered a form of deep-tissue massage, but with long-term objectives.
A standard rolfing treatment program includes ten sessions. The first three deal with surface tissue and progress from arms and chest to back, neck, and legs. In the sessions number four to seven, deeper tissues are involved, starting from the feet and finishing with the head. By the way, rolfing practitioners claim that it can solve lower jaw issues, such as popping and clicking (here is a study that seems to prove it ). Finally, in the last three sessions, the body is realigned and re-coordinated to integrate it into the surrounding realm of gravity in a new way.
Claims and proof
Among the many benefits promised by rolfing practitioners are a reduction in chronic back pain, arthritis, and stiffness, improved posture and athletic performance, and general stress relief. It is even supposed to help people suffering from asthma by allowing the chest cavity to expand more while breathing. However, in spite of numerous patients’ claims to have been significantly helped or ‘cured’, we must admit that actual studies on structural integration (and not just myofascial manipulation, for example) are so far very few. Those that have been conducted (like this one ) conclude that sample sizes are too small to draw firm conclusions. The widely-publicized study by the UCLA was actuallly conducted in 1977. And while the Stanford University is currently conducting research on the effect of rolfing in children with cerebral palsy, its results have not yet been published.
Considering that each rolfing session costs on average 100-200 USD, should you invest in it? If you suffer from chronic pain and stiffness and you can afford it, then you should certainly try. But should you expect miracles? Probably not.