Health Guide

structural integration

What is it?

ROLFING® structural integration is a deep muscle massage that loosens tight muscles and improves posture.

ROLFING® structural integration was developed by Dr. Ida Rolf, a biochemist, who became interested in massage and manipulation after receiving osteopathic treatment for a displaced rib. She developed ROLFING® structural integration in the 1950's, focusing on aligning the soft tissues instead of the bones. Dr. Rolf believed that the body is often thrown out of balance due to injury, poor posture, and emotional distress. ROLFING® structural integration is a system of body education and soft tissue work that is designed to restore the natural and healthy body alignment.

All of the muscles in the body are surrounded and separated by thin elastic tissue called fascia. Rolfing ® practitioners claim that physical or emotional stress causes the fascia to lose its flexibility. The stiffened fascia gradually limits the free movement of the related muscles and joints. People respond to this process by adapting to these limitations. They change their breathing patterns, posture, and body movements to adjust to these changes. Breathing becomes shallower, posture becomes slumped, and body movements become limited. Eventually, these changes stress the nerves, the blood vessels, and the digestive organs and limit their function.

The goal of ROLFING® structural integration is to align the entire body so it is positioned correctly to deal with the effects of gravity. Dr. Rolf developed the practice from combining yoga, osteopathy, and Alexander technique.

A ROLFING® structural integration session attempts to loosen the fascia. After the fascia has been released, the muscles, tendons, and ligaments can freely move the joints. This occurs because the body is now properly balanced and aligned and is working with, instead of against, gravity. Normal joint motion will improve a person's posture, breathing, and reduce stress.

A complete ROLFING® structural integration treatment plan consists of ten sessions of one-hour treatments. Each session focuses on specific body parts. The first session focuses on the spine and exterior muscles. Middle and later sessions focus on the deeper tissues in the pelvis and legs. The final session is geared to reset the muscles and fine-tune a person's posture. Self-help exercises are taught to help maintain the benefits from the treatments.

The Rolfing ® practitioners will photograph the client before and after each treatment to highlight the changes in the posture. The treatment involves slow, very firm pressure using the Rolfing ® practitioner's fingers, thumbs, knuckles, elbows, and knees. ROLFING® structural integration treatments are not usually relaxing and pleasurable, like a massage. Some clients experience pain during the treatments. In addition to helping the physical body, many Rolfing ® practitioners report their clients also receive psychological benefit when emotions are released with the fascia.

ROLFING® structural integration is thought to be helpful for many conditions. These include poor posture, sports injuries, chronic neck, shoulder and back pain, respiratory problems, and preventing postural or stress-related problems.

Rolfing ® practitioners attend a 7-month program and are certified by the Rolf Institute for Structural Integration. There are hundreds of trained Rolfing ® practitioners in the United States and their services should be available in larger cities.

Two other techniques were developed by students of Dr. Rolf. Aston-Patterning and Hellerwork were both derived from ROLFING® structural integration and share the basic philosophy and techniques. Aston-Patterning teaches that each person has a unique body alignment that is best for them while ROLFING® structural integration promotes only one body alignment for everyone. Hellerwork is different from ROLFING® structural integration because it places a larger focus on the emotional aspect of the therapy and more strongly emphasizes exercises to retain the postural improvements.

ROLFING® structural integration is considered a complementary therapy and should not be used as the only treatment in a serious illness. ROLFING® structural integration does not have any lasting side effects but the treatments are sometimes painful. People with cancer or rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory conditions should use caution when considering ROLFING® structural integration treatments.


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2. Inglis B & West Ruth: The Alternative Health Guide. Alfred A. Knopf, NY, NY; 1983: 120-132.

3. Sifton DW: The PDR Family Guide to Natural Medicines and Healing Therapies. Three Rivers Press, NY, NY; 1999.

4. Woodham A & Peters D: Encyclopedia of Healing Therapies, 1st ed. Dorling Kindersley, NY, NY; 1997:90-94.

Last Updated: 6/4/2018
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