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Rolfing is a form of alternative medicine originally developed by Ida P. Rolf (1896–1979) under the label of Structural Integration. 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. Practitioners combine superficial to deep manual therapy, with movement prompts. The process is sometimes painful.
There is no good evidence that Rolfing is effective for the treatment of any health condition. It is recognized as a pseudoscience, and has been characterized as quackery. It is not known whether Rolfing is either safe or cost-effective.
Rolfing is based on Ida Rolf's proposition that "a human is basically an energy field operating in the greater energy of the earth". Rolfers attempt to align the body in relationship to gravity, and facilitate improved movement. Rolf said that
"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."
Today, the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration describes Rolfing as "a form of bodywork that reorganizes the connective tissues, called fascia, that permeate the entire body."
The manipulation is sometimes referred to as a type of bodywork, or as a type of massage. The massage tradition has drawn significantly from Rolfing, with some of Ida Rolf's students leaving to become prominent teachers of massage.
Rolf claimed to have found an association between emotions and the soft tissue, writing that "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". Rolf claimed that Rolfing could balance the mental and emotional aspects of subjects, and that "the amazing psychological changes that appeared in Rolfed individuals were completely unexpected". Rolfers suggest that their manipulations can cause the release of painful repressed memories. Rolfers also hold that by manipulating the body they can bring about changes in personality so that, for example, teaching somebody to walk with confidence will make them a more confident person. The connection between physical structure and psychology has not been proven by scientific studies.
Rolfing is typically performed in a progression of 10 sessions, sometimes called "the recipe", which is claimed to provide a systematic approach to achieving body alignment. Rolfers posit that they manipulate the body's fascial layers  until they are more aligned and balanced. Rolfing also uses a combination of active and passive movement retraining.
Rolfing treatments are sometimes painful. For adults, there may be moments of intense sensation during a treatment or soreness afterward. However, the technique can be done gently enough for children and the elderly. Rolf believed that fascia tightens as a protective mechanism, and therefore thought an aggressive approach could be counter-productive.
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. The American Cancer Society says that the deep soft tissue manipulations such as those used in Rolfing are a concern if practiced on people with cancer near tumor sites. 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.
In 2010 the New York Times reported that Rolfing was enjoying a "resurgence" following an endorsement from Dr Oz on The Oprah Winfrey Show. 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. Psychologist and attorney Christopher Barden has numbered Rolfing among "dangerous and controversial" methods that pose a risk to the public. 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, Health journalist Rose Shapiro lists Rolfing among the many popular "quack treatments" that rally today under the banner of integrative medicine, and skeptic Robert Todd Carroll has said that the vague health claims made by rolfers are characteristic of those made by "quacks".
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. In the mid-1960s she began teaching at Esalen Institute, where she gathered a loyal following of students and practitioners. Esalen was the epicenter of the Human Potential Movement, allowing Rolf to exchange ideas with many of their leaders, including Fritz Perls. Rolf incorporated a number of ideas from other areas including osteopathic manipulation, cranial osteopathy, hatha yoga, and the general semantics of Alfred Korzybski. In 1971 she founded the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration. The school has been based in Boulder, Colorado since 1972.
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, Hellerwork Structural Integration, Aston Patterning, SOMA, KMI, and over a dozen other Structural Integration schools. A professional membership organization exists called the International Association of Structural Integration, which has certified practitioners by exam since 2007.
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- 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 . PMID 16796753.
Some massage styles with different names may be essentially the same (e.g., Structural Integration and Rolfing®)
- Ida P. Rolf, Ph.D. (1 November 1990) . 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.
- Carroll, Robert Todd (22 January 2014). "Rolfing". The Skeptic's Dictionary (Online ed.). ISBN 9780471272427. Retrieved 2014-03-03.
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- 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).
- 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."
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- 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.
- Rose Shapiro (30 September 2010). Suckers: How Alternative Medicine Makes Fools of Us All. Random House. p. 2. ISBN 978-1-4090-5916-5.
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- 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.
- Rolf, Ida P. (1990) . Rolfing and Physical Reality. Healing Arts Press. p. 86. ISBN 978-1-62055-338-1.
- "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.
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Practitioners suggest that pent-up mental anguish tied to initial traumatic event or subsequent chronic pain is released as the fascias become more pliable.
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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.
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