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Medical Wellness Archives

Rolfing for Structural Integration and Wellness

2006: 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 medicinal/organic chemist.

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 patterns.

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 Rolfing process.

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 Integration.

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 Rolf Institute.
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.

7) 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), 1988, p.1364-1370.
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, p.273-277.

9) R. Schleip, Explorations of the Neuromyofascial Net, Rolf Lines, April/May, 1991.


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