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Rolfing (/ˈrɔːlfɪŋ, ˈrɒl-/)[1] is a form of alternative medicine originally developed by Ida Rolf (1896–1979) as Structural Integration.[2][3] It is typically delivered as a series of ten hands-on physical manipulation sessions sometimes called "the recipe". It is based on Rolf's ideas about how the human body's "energy field" can benefit when aligned with the Earth's gravitational field.[4][5] Practitioners combine superficial and deep manual therapy with movement prompts.[6] The process is sometimes painful.[7] It is not known whether Rolfing is safe.[8]

The principles of Rolfing contradict established medical knowledge,[9] and there is no good evidence Rolfing is effective for the treatment of any health condition.[8] It is recognized as a pseudoscience[10] and has been characterized as quackery.[11]

Conceptual basis[edit]

Rolf said "I don't know why it works, I only known that it works. I invent all of these explanatory rationalizations later on."[4] She described the body as organized around an axis perpendicular to the earth, parallel to the pull of gravity, and she believed the function of the body was optimal when it was aligned with that pull. She saw the body as continuously 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.[12] Rolfers aim to lengthen the fascia in order to restore the body's arrangement around its axis and facilitate improved movement.[12] 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.[13][5]

The manipulation is sometimes referred to as a type of bodywork, or as a type of massage.[3][14][15][16] Some osteopaths were influenced by Rolf,[17] and some of her students became teachers of massage, including one of the founders of myofascial release.[18]:188,208

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".[19] 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".[19] Rolfers suggest their manipulations can cause the release of painful repressed memories.[20] Rolfers also hold that by manipulating the body they can bring about changes in personality; for example, teaching somebody to walk with confidence will make them a more confident person.[21] The connection between physical structure and psychology has not been proven by scientific studies.[5]


Rolfers posit that they manipulate the body's fascial layers.[22][23] Rolfing also uses a combination of active and passive movement retraining.[24]

Rolfing is typically performed in a progression of 10 sessions, sometimes called "the recipe".[2] 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.[6][12][14]

A session typically lasts between 60 and 90 minutes. The recipient wears undergarments.[20] Positions for the work include lying on a table, sitting, and standing.[17]:370

Rolfing treatments are sometimes painful.[7] For adults, there may be moments of intense sensation during a treatment or soreness afterward.[18] However, the technique can be done gently enough for children and the elderly.[25] Rolf believed fascia tightens as a protective mechanism, and therefore thought an aggressive approach could be counter-productive.[26]

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.[8] Accordingly, in 2017, the Australian government named Rolfing as a practice that would not qualify for insurance subsidy, saying this step would "ensure taxpayer funds are expended appropriately and not directed to therapies lacking evidence".[27]

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.[7]

Proponents of Rolfing claim it can be used to alleviate pain.[28] However, Rolfing's focus on appropriate "alignment" of structures of the body does not reflect modern science about pain.[29][30]

In 2010 The New York Times reported that Rolfing was enjoying a "resurgence" following an endorsement from Mehmet Oz on The Oprah Winfrey Show.[31]

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, and its practice has been characterized as quackery.[10][11]

Writing for Science-Based Medicine, lawyer Jann Bellamy writes that in the United States of America the public are inadequately protected from bodywork practices such as Rolfing because of the lack of independent oversight; instead regulation is carried out within a "closed loop" system by such bodies as the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork.[32]


Ida Rolf began working on clients in New York City 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.[26] In the mid-1960s she began teaching at Esalen Institute, where she gathered a loyal following of students and practitioners.[33] Esalen was the epicenter of the Human Potential Movement, allowing Rolf to exchange ideas with many of their leaders, including Fritz Perls.[25][34] Rolf incorporated a number of ideas from other areas including osteopathic manipulation, cranial osteopathy, hatha yoga, and the general semantics of Alfred Korzybski.[35] In 1971 she founded the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration.[36] The school has been based in Boulder, Colorado, since 1972, and as of 2010 included five institutes worldwide.[37]

Since Rolf's death, the field of Structural Integration has fragmented into various schools.[2][35] Of these schools, the Rolf Institute is the only one with the use of the trademarked terms "Rolfing" and "Certified Rolfer".[2] Other schools of Structural Integration certify "Practitioners of the Rolf Method of Structural Integration" including the Guild for Structural Integration,[25] Hellerwork Structural Integration,[14][18][25] Aston Patterning,[18][25] SOMA,[18] KMI,[2] and a dozen other Structural Integration schools.[2] A professional membership organization exists called the International Association of Structural Integration, which has certified practitioners by exam since 2007.[35]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Rolfing". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Myers TW (2004). "Structural integration—developments in Ida Rolf's 'Recipe'—I". Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies. 8 (2): 131–142. doi:10.1016/S1360-8592(03)00088-3. ISSN 1360-8592.
  3. ^ a b 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 1544351. PMID 16796753. Some massage styles with different names may be essentially the same (e.g., Structural Integration and Rolfing)
  4. ^ a b Ida P. Rolf, Ph.D. (1 November 1990) [1978]. Rolfing and Physical Reality. Inner Traditions / Bear & Co. p. 27,31. 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.
  5. ^ a b c Carroll, Robert Todd (22 January 2014). "Rolfing". The Skeptic's Dictionary (Online ed.). ISBN 9780471272427. Retrieved 2014-03-03.
  6. ^ a b Deutsch, Judith E. (2008). "The Ida Rolf Method of Structural Integration". In Deutsch, Judith E. (ed.). Complementary Therapies for Physical Therapy: A Clinical Decision-Making Approach. Saunders. pp. 266–7. ISBN 978-0721601113.
  7. ^ a b c 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.
  8. ^ a b c 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 summaryGavura, S. Australian review finds no benefit to 17 natural therapies. Science-Based Medicine. (19 November 2015).
  9. ^ Clow B (2001). Negotiating Disease: Power and Cancer Care, 1900-1950. McGill-Queen's University Press. p. 63. ISBN 9780773522107. 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.
  10. ^ a b 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."
  11. ^ a b for "quackery" see
  12. ^ a b c 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. Rolf's philosophy and techniques focus on improving the body's posture so all functions including breathing, flexibility, strength, and coordination are optimally efficient.
  13. ^ Rolf, Ida P. (1990) [1978]. Rolfing and Physical Reality. Healing Arts Press. p. 86. ISBN 978-1-62055-338-1.
  14. ^ a b c Levine, Andrew (1998). The Bodywork and Massage Sourcebook. Lowell House. pp. 209–234. ISBN 9780737300987.
  15. ^ Cassar, Mario-Paul (2004). Handbook of Clinical Massage: A Complete Guide for Students and Practitioners (2nd ed.). Churchill Livingstone. pp. 48–49. ISBN 9780443073496.
  16. ^ Thackery, Ellyn; Harris, Madeline, eds. (2003). The Gale Encyclopedia Of Mental Disorders. Gale. p. 153–7. ISBN 9780787657697. Archived from the original on 8 August 2014.
  17. ^ a b Riggs A (2016). "Myofascial Release". In Stillerman E (ed.). Modalities for Massage and Bodywork (2nd ed.). Elsevier. p. 152. ISBN 978-0323239318.
  18. ^ a b c d e Knaster, Mirka (1996). Discovering the Body's Wisdom: A Comprehensive Guide to More Than Fifty Mind-Body Practices. Bantam. pp. 195–208. ISBN 9780307575500.
  19. ^ a b 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.
  20. ^ a b 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.
  21. ^ Roeckelein JE (2006). "Rolfing". Elsevier's Dictionary of Psychological Theories. Elsevier. p. 530. ISBN 978-0-08-046064-2.
  22. ^ "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.
  23. ^ Daniels, Rick; Nicoll, Leslie, eds. (2011). "Ch. 14: Complementary and Alternative Therapies". Contemporary Medical-Surgical Nursing. 1 (2nd ed.). Cengage Learning. p. 306. ISBN 978-1439058664.
  24. ^ Schultz, Richard Louis; Feitis, Rosemary (1996). The Endless Web: Fascial Anatomy and Physical Reality. North Atlantic Books. p. 33. ISBN 978-1556432286.
  25. ^ a b c d e 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.
  26. ^ a b Salvo, Susan G. (2012). Massage Therapy: Principles and Practice (4th ed.). Elsevier Saunders. p. 423. ISBN 978-1437719772.
  27. ^ Paola S (17 October 2017). "Homeopathy, naturopathy struck off private insurance list". Australian Journal of Pharmacy.
  28. ^ Rosemary Thompson (27 August 2015). Counseling Techniques: Improving Relationships with Others, Ourselves, Our Families, and Our Environment. Routledge. pp. 67–. ISBN 978-1-134-61441-7.
  29. ^ Ernst, Edzard; Pittler, Max; Wider, Barbara (2007). Complementary Therapies for Pain Management: An Evidence-Based Approach. Moseby: Elsevier. p. 150. ISBN 978-0-7234-3400-9. Retrieved 18 January 2018.
  30. ^ Moseley, G. Lorimer (2013). "Reconceptualising pain according to modern pain science". Physical Therapy Reviews. 12 (3): 169–178. doi:10.1179/108331907X223010. ISSN 1083-3196. S2CID 4248150.
  31. ^ Considine A (6 October 2010). "Rolfing, Excruciatingly Helpful". New York Times.
  32. ^ Jann Bellamy (17 September 2015). "Massage Therapy rubs me the wrong way". Science-Based Medicine. Note in the US the Rolf Institute is approved by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork as a continuing education provider, see "Legal Information". Dr. Ida Rolf Institute. Retrieved 4 June 2020.
  33. ^ Riggs, Art (18 December 2014). "9". In Elaine Stillerman (ed.). Modalities for Massage and Bodywork (2nd ed.). Mosby. p. 153. ISBN 978-0-323-26079-4.
  34. ^ Perls, Frederick (1969). In and Out of the Garbage Pail. Real People Press. ISBN 9780911226041.
  35. ^ a b c d 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 3162380. PMID 21875349.
  36. ^ "Business Search (search for 'Rolf Institute')". Secretary of State, CA. Archived from the original on 2015-03-15.
  37. ^ 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[edit]

External links[edit]