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Manipulative and body-based methods - edit
NCCAM classifications
  1. Alternative Medical Systems
  2. Mind-Body Intervention
  3. Biologically Based Therapy
  4. Manipulative Methods
  5. Energy Therapy
See also

Rolfing is a form of alternative medicine devised by Ida P. Rolf (1896–1979).[1] It is delivered as a series of sometimes painful hands-on physical manipulation sessions rooted in Rolf's ideas about how the human body's "energy field" can benefit when the body is aligned with the earth's gravitation field.[2][3] Rolfing is the most publicly known brand of Structural Integration and is essentially identical to it.[1][4]

There is no good evidence that Rolfing is effective for the treatment of any health condition.[5] It is recognized as a pseudoscience,[6][7][8][9] and has been characterized as quackery.[10][11] Neither practitioners nor consumers of rolfing have any good evidence upon which to conclude that rolfing is either safe or cost-effective.[2][12]


Rolfing is based on the proposition that "a human is basically an energy field operating in the greater energy of the earth".[7] In practical terms, Rolfing is delivered as a type of hands-on physical manipulation attempting to align the body in the earth's gravity.[2][3] 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."[13][3]

Rolfing also incorporates a number of ideas from other areas including osteopathy,[14] (including cranial osteopathy),[15] yoga,[15][16] and Alfred Korzybski's general semantics.[14] The Rolfing Institute describes Rolfing as "a form of bodywork that reorganizes the connective tissues, called fascia, that permeate the entire body."[17]

The manipulation is sometimes referred to as a type of bodywork, or as a type of massage.[4][18][19][20] The massage tradition has drawn significantly from Rolfing, with some of Ida Rolf's students leaving to become prominent teachers of massage.[15][21]

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.[22][23][24] Rolfers claimed that the human body contains a layer of tissue that interconnects every organ.[17] Rolfers manipulate this supposed layer until they believe it is operating optimally.[25][26] The manipulation process can be painful.[27][28] In addition to physical manipulation of tissue, Rolfing uses a combination of active and passive movement retraining.[23]

Rolf claimed to have found an association between emotions and the soft tissue, writing that rolfing is an "approach to the personality through the myofascial collagen components of the physical body".[27][7][8] Rolf claimed that rolfing could balance the mental and emotional aspects of subjects, and that rolfees had shown "amazing psychological changes".[7] Rolfers say that their manipulations can cause the release of painful repressed memories.[29] Rolfers also hold that by manipulating the body they can bring about changes in personality so that, for example, teaching somebody to walk purposefully will make them a more purposeful person.[30] The connection between physical structure and psychology has not been proven by scientific studies.[3]

History and development[edit]

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 hers sons and by the 1950s she was teaching her work across the United States.[14] In the mid-1960s she began teaching at Esalen Institute, where she gathered a loyal following of students and practitioners.[15] Esalen was the epicenter of the Human Potential Movement, allowing Rolf to exchange ideas with many of their leaders, including Fritz Perls.[31][32] In 1971 she founded the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration.[33] The school has been based in Boulder, Colorado since 1972.

In addition to the Rolf Institute, whose graduates can use the term "Certified Rolfer", a number of other schools of Structural Integration certify "Practitioners of the Rolf Method of Structural Integration". A professional membership organization exists called the International Association of Structural Integration. These schools include the Guild for Structural Integration,[31] Hellerwork Structural Integration,[18][21][31] Aston Patterning,[21][31] SOMA,[21] KMI,[1] and over a dozen other Structural Integration schools.[1]

Effectiveness and reception[edit]

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.[2] The lack of available evidence means that both health providers and consumers are also unable to determine the "safety, quality and cost-effectiveness".[2]

Psychologist and attorney Christopher Barden has numbered rolfing among "dangerous and controversial" methods that pose a risk to the public.[12]

The American Cancer Society say that the deep soft tissue manipulations of Rolfing are a concern if practiced on people with cancer.[34]

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 contradicts mainstream medical opinion.[35] 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.[27]

In 2010 the New York Times reported that rolfing was enjoying a "resurgence" following an endorsement from Dr Oz on The Oprah Winfrey Show.[28] 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 that the vague health claims made by rolfers are characteristic of those made by "quacks".[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d 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. ^ a b c d e Baggoley C (2015). "Review of the Australian Government Rebate on Natural Therapies for Private Health Insurance" (PDF). Australian Government – Department of Health. Lay summaryGavura, S. Australian review finds no benefit to 17 natural therapies. Science-Based Medicine. (19 November 2015). 
  3. ^ a b c d e Carroll, Robert Todd (22 January 2014). "Rolfing". The Skeptic's Dictionary (Online ed.). ISBN 9780471272427. Retrieved 2014-03-03. 
  4. ^ a b Sherman, Karen J.; Dixon, Marian W.; Thompson, Diana; Cherkin, Daniel C. (2006). "Development of a taxonomy to describe massage treatments for musculoskeletal pain". BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 6: 24. doi:10.1186/1472-6882-6-24. PMC 1544351. PMID 16796753. 
  5. ^ Jones, Tracey A. (2004). "Rolfing". Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics of North America 15 (4): 799–809, vi. doi:10.1016/j.pmr.2004.03.008. PMID 15458753. 
  6. ^ 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."
  7. ^ a b c d 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. 
  8. ^ a b "Rolfing". The Penguin Dictionary of Psychology. Penguin. 2009. ISBN 9780141030241 – via Credo Reference. 
  9. ^ SO Lilienfeld; JM Lohr; D Morier (2001), "The Teaching of Courses in the Science and Pseudoscience of Psychology: Useful Resources", Teaching of Psychology 
  10. ^ a b 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. ^ a b 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. ^ a b 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. ^ Rolf, Ida P. (1990) [1978]. Rolfing and Physical Reality. Healing Arts Press. p. 86. ISBN 978-1-62055-338-1. 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. 
  14. ^ a b c Salvo, Susan G. (2012). Massage Therapy: Principles and Practice (4th ed.). Elsevier Saunders. p. 423. ISBN 1437719775. 
  15. ^ a b c d Stillerman, Elaine (2009). Modalities for Massage and Bodywork. Mosby. pp. 152, 157, 329–345. ISBN 032305255X. 
  16. ^ Stirling, Isabel (2006). Zen Pioneer: The Life & Works of Ruth Fuller Sasaki. Shoemaker & Hoard. p. 8. ISBN 9781593761103. 
  17. ^ a b "What is Rolfing® Structural Integration?". Rolf Institute of Structural Integration. Archived from the original on 2016-03-28. Retrieved 2016-07-13. 
  18. ^ a b Levine, Andrew (1998). The Bodywork and Massage Sourcebook. Lowell House. pp. 209–234. ISBN 9780737300987. 
  19. ^ Cassar, Mario-Paul (2004). Handbook of Clinical Massage: A Complete Guide for Students and Practitioners (2nd ed.). Churchill Livingstone. pp. 48–49. ISBN 9780443073496. 
  20. ^ Thackery, Ellyn; Harris, Madeline, eds. (2003). The Gale Encyclopedia Of Mental Disorders. Gale. p. 153–7. ISBN 9780787657697. 
  21. ^ a b c d 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. ^ 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. 
  23. ^ a b Schultz, Richard Louis; Feitis, Rosemary (1996). The Endless Web: Fascial Anatomy and Physical Reality. North Atlantic Books. p. 33. ISBN 1556432283. 
  24. ^ Baer, Hans (2004). Toward an Integrative Medicine: Merging Alternative Therapies with Biomedicine. Rowman Altamira. p. 164. ISBN 9780759103023. 
  25. ^ 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. 
  26. ^ Rolf, Ida. Reestablishing the Natural Alignment and Structural Integration of the Human Body for Vitality and Well-Being. p. 15. ISBN 0892813350. [non-primary source needed]
  27. ^ a b c Cordón, LA (January 2005). Rolfing. Popular Psychology: An Encyclopedia (Greenwood Publishing Group). pp. 217–218. ISBN 978-0-313-32457-4. 
  28. ^ a b Considine A (6 October 2010). "Rolfing, Excruciatingly Helpful". New York Times. 
  29. ^ Hammer O (2006). "Human Potential Movement". In Hanegraaff WJ. Dictionary of Gnosis and Western Esotericism. Brill Academic Publishers. p. 576. ISBN 9789004152311. The theory behind the method states that memories of physical as well as emotional traumas can be activated in the process. 
  30. ^ Roeckelein JE (2006). "Rolfing". Elsevier's Dictionary of Psychological Theories. Elsevier. p. 530. ISBN 978-0-08-046064-2. 
  31. ^ a b c d 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. 
  32. ^ Perls, Frederick (1969). In and Out of the Garbage Pail. Real People Press. 
  33. ^ "Business Search (search for 'Rolf Institute')". Secretary of State, CA. 
  34. ^ 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. 
  35. ^ Clow B (2001). Negotiating Disease: Power and Cancer Care, 1900-1950. McGill-Queen's University Press. p. 63. 

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