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What is Rolfing Therapy, Know its Benefits & Risks

What is Rolfing Therapy?

Rolfing therapy is a type of therapy that involves deep tissue manipulation, relieves tension, and helps in treating medical conditions. It is named after the inventor Dr. Rolf. The idea behind Rolfing is that the body works best when all of its parts are in alignment.(1) If any of the parts are out of alignment or unbalanced, it can lead to discomfort and pain. Dr. Rolf believed that disharmony in the body results in the body working against gravity, depriving the person of energy.

Rolfing loosens and manipulates the fascia or the connective tissue surrounding the bones, organs, nerves, and muscles. Working on the tissue helps a practitioner recognize the body parts that are out of alignment and resolves the medical condition.

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Rolfing Therapy Versus Massage Therapy

Rolfing therapy and massage therapy are quite similar to each other in regard to tissue manipulation to provide health benefits. But the technique used is different in both cases.

Massage provides relaxation, eases muscle tension, or even reduces certain types of medical symptoms such as pain in the back. It is never used alone for any medical condition but is used combined with other medical interventions.

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Rolfing therapy on the other hand is used in the treatment of the medical condition and does more than just tissue manipulation. The other elements involved in Rolfing therapy include:

  • Palpation: Palpation involves touching the skin and looking for the imbalance in the tissue texture, quality, and temperature.
  • Discrimination: The layers of fascia that get dislodged from the correct position or are stuck to the muscle are separated.
  • Integration: During integration, the practitioner aims to improve the relationship between the body parts in accordance with Dr. Rolf’s theories of movement and gravity. It also involves movement education and manipulation.

People going ahead with it find Rolfing therapy quite relaxing.

Benefits of Rolfing Therapy

According to the Dr. Rolf’s Institute, Rolfing therapy helps in:

  • Increasing energy
  • Resolving chronic pain
  • Releasing tension from the connective tissue
  • Creating emotional harmony
  • Reducing negative effects of stress
  • Improving flexibility
  • Altering and improving posture
  • Enhancing neurological function
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A study was done in 2014, that involved 40 participants, amongst which 20 were given Rolfing therapy. The ones not given Rolfing therapy found no improvement in pain scores, while those receiving the therapy had significant improvement.(2)

Another study was performed in 2015, in which 46 people with lower back pain were given Rolfing therapy. The therapy was found to give substantial relief from pain.(3)

From the above 2 studies, it can be concluded that Rolfing therapy can be effective with myofascial pain but not with other conditions. Both the studies were done on small scale, therefore, no strict conclusion could be made.

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Many people find Rolfing therapy beneficial, but there is no strong evidence of it being able to cure any medical condition.

Risks of Rolfing Therapy

Rolfing therapy is similar to massage therapy which is generally safe. But, relying just on it for musculoskeletal pain might pose risk to health. Sometimes the causes of musculoskeletal pain are progressive and might worsen with time and others might need medical treatment to avoid complications.

Rolfing Technique

The Rolfing technique involves a set of ten sessions.(4) The focus of these sessions is on different areas of the body. The different steps include:

Session one: The focus of this session is loosening and rebalancing the uppermost layers in the connective tissue of the neck, diaphragm, rib cage, spine, upper legs, and hamstrings.

Session two: This session works on the arms, rib cage, diaphragm, upper legs, hamstrings, spine, and neck. The main focus of this Rolfing therapy session is providing stability through balancing the foot and lower leg muscles.

Session three: In this session of Rolfing therapy the physician analyses how a person’s head, shoulder girdle, and hip line up while he is standing.

Session four: This session focuses on the area between the inside arch of the foot and the bottom of the pelvis.

Session five: In this session, the aim is to balance the surface and deep abdomen muscles and the curve of the back.

Session six: In this session, the focus is on the movement of the legs for building support for the pelvis and lower back.

Session seven: In this session of Rolfing therapy, the focus is on a person’s head and neck.

Sessions eight and nine: The focus of this area goes on the integration of movement in various areas of the body to enhance coordination.

Session ten: This is the last session of Rolfing therapy that focuses on integration, order, and balance throughout the body.

A person receiving Rolfing therapy might feel a bit of discomfort as the technique aims at relieving tension in the deep tendon within the connective tissue.(5)

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