Rolfing for Structural Integration and Wellness
Volume 3, Number 1
Anthony Thompson, MA
Anthony Thompson is a certified
Rolfing practitioner, received his BS in Biochemistry from Indiana
University, and has worked in the pharmaceutical industry as a
Rolfing Structural Integration is a form of bodywork that aims to
align the body in the gravitational field by manual manipulation of
the body’s neuro-myofascial system. As a graduate of the Rolf
Institute of Structural Integration, I am promoting RolfingŪ to
medical wellness professionals to bring a better understanding of
Structural Integration to the medical community.
Rolfing was developed by Ida P. Rolf, PhD, a biochemist who
developed the 10-series of Structural Integration over 50 years ago.
The series aims to get the major segments of the body aligned and
coordinated so ease and comfort can be experienced in a client’s
body. Rolfing can create a more effective use of muscles, thereby
conserving energy during movement due to more refined, economical
The founder of Structural Integration, Dr. Ida Rolf
(1) received her PhD in biochemistry from
the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, and
worked at the Rockefeller Institute as an organic chemist. Dr. Rolf
intrigued by alternative therapies began experimenting with body
manipulations. She started asking fundamental questions pertaining
to the conditions of the human body that promote health and optimal
physiological functioning. These questions led to the development of
the Rolfing series of Structural Integration and founded the Rolf
Institute of Structural Integration located in Boulder, Colorado.
Rolfing is a series of manual manipulations of the soft tissue, or
neuro-myofascial system of the body
focused on improving the alignment and the level of freedom or
spaciousness in the body. The Rolfing community refers to structural
fixations in a body as lesions, which is addressed in this physical
manipulation phase of the Rolfing process. One could envision the
structural manipulation to be a cross between deep tissue massage
and chiropractic work, where one tries to lengthen, hydrate, and
relax muscles while aligning the body and redistributing the body
‘load’ in a more optimal way. The practitioner uses long, slow
strokes using fingers, fists, or elbows in an attempt to free and
release fascial holdings. The Rolf movement, similar to physical
therapy, works to educate individuals of movement patterns and
preferences, while giving the client additional options to explore.
It is the Rolfer’s goal to weave both the structural/lesion and
movement/inhibition work into an individualized process that
encourages integration, motility, and coherence of the body.
The myofascial system of connective tissue, is intertwined with
muscles, ligaments, tendons and even bone tissue. Therefore, working
on and releasing fascial adhesions that are built up over a lifetime
from stress, injury or specific movement patterns can effect on the
entire body structure. These effects are demonstrated through
studies at UCLA, where Rolfing was shown to reduce stress more than
those subjects whom only exercised and stretched
(2). Additionally, Rolfing is
credited, at Starkey Laboratories, to have decreased on the job
repetitive stress injuries (carpal tunnel syndrome) dramatically(3),
while simultaneously decreasing workers compensation costs by a
staggering 92% in 7 yrs (4).
Furthermore, research conducted at the Nation Center of Medical
Rehabilitation in Maryland demonstrated that Rolfing can decreases
sway back or extreme lodosis (5),
and additional research further demonstrates how the Rolfing process
can enhance neurological functioning (6,7).
Recently, Robert Schleip, PhD, has shown in laboratory experiments
that the fascia not only wraps all the human bodies musculature, but
also may have the ability to contract like muscle tissue
(8). This groundbreaking research
is intriguing to the Rolfing community because it re-emphasizes the
importance and utility of fascia in our bodily processes.
Furthermore, Dr. Schleip has influenced the Rolfing community by
demonstrating the importance and interconnectedness of the nervous
system with the myofascial system of the body (9).
Dr. Schleip made an interesting discovery when he participated in 3
arthroscopic knee operations where patients were given general
anesthesia. Dr. Schleip performed passive range of motion
tests before and during the anesthesia, and to Dr. Schlep's
surprise, the range of motion tests showed an increase when the
patients were anesthetized. This work clearly points to the
importance and interconnectedness of both the myofascial system and
the nervous system and how both influence structure and flexibility
in a client’s body, and therefore must be considered during the
To summarize, Rolfing promotes the structural integration of the
myofascial system and works to bring the body into alignment.
Additionally, Rolf movement education emphasizes the importance of
addressing holdings patterns at a neurological level, particularly
pattern recognition, similar to physical therapy. The goal of Rolf
movement work is to provide clients with additional movement options
to help one achieve and maintain newly found freedom in the body.
Research results demonstrate Rolfing can reduce stress and chronic
pain and increase range of motion.
For more information visit
The Rolf Institute of Structural
1) Rolf, Ida P., Rolfing Reestablishing
the Natural Alignment and Structural Integration of the Human Body
for Vitality and Well-Being, Healing Arts
Press: Rochester, 1977.
2) Hunt, V., Wagner, R., Effects
of Structural Integration on Strait-Trait Anxiety, Journal of
Clinical Psychology, 35 (2), 1979.
3) Goodwin, S., Rolfing for Work-Related
Repetitive Motion Injuries, independent publication submitted to the
4) Rolf Institute web site.
5) Cottingham, J. T., Effects
of Soft Tissue Mobilization On Pelvic Inclination Angle, Lumbar
Lordosis, and Parasympathetic Tone: Implications for Treatment of
Disabilities Associated with Lumbar Degenerative Joint Disease, Rolf
Lines 20 (2), 1992, p. 42-45 and public testimony to the National
Center of Medical Rehabilitation.
6) Cottingham, J. T., Porges, S. W., Lyon,
T., Effects of Soft Tissue Mobilization on
Parasympathetic Tone in Two Age Groups, J. American Physical Therapy
Assn., 68 (3), 1988, p.352-356.
Cottingham, J. T., Porges, S. W., Lyon, T., Shifts in Pelvic
Inclination Angle and Parasympathetic Tone Produced by Rolfing
Tissue Manipulation, J. American Physical Therapy Assn., 68 (9),
8) R. Schleip, W. Klingler, F.
Lehmann-Horn, Active Fascial Contractility: Fascia May Be Able To
Contract In A Smooth Muscle-Like Manner And Thereby Influence
Musculoskeletal Dynamics, Medical Hypotheses, 65 (2), 2005,
R. Schleip, Explorations of the Neuromyofascial Net, Rolf Lines,