Rolfing® Structural Integration

March 22, 2017


Rolfing® Structural Integration

Natural Standard Bottom Line Monograph, Copyright © 2013 (www.naturalstandard.com). Commercial distribution prohibited. This monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. You should consult with a qualified healthcare provider before making decisions about therapies and/or health conditions.

While some complementary and alternative techniques have been studied scientifically, high-quality data regarding safety, effectiveness, and mechanism of action are limited or controversial for most therapies. Whenever possible, it is recommended that practitioners be licensed by a recognized professional organization that adheres to clearly published standards. In addition, before starting a new technique or engaging a practitioner, it is recommended that patients speak with their primary healthcare provider(s). Potential benefits, risks (including financial costs), and alternatives should be carefully considered. The below monograph is designed to provide historical background and an overview of clinically-oriented research, and neither advocates for or against the use of a particular therapy.

Related Terms

  • Bodywork, manipulative therapy, postural release, somatic ontology, Structural Integration.


  • Rolfing® Structural Integration involves deep tissue massage aimed at relieving stress and improving mobility, posture, balance, muscle function and efficiency, energy, and overall well being. Practitioners apply slow-moving pressure with their knuckles, thumbs, fingers, elbows, and knees to the muscles, tissue around the muscles, and other soft tissues. Rolfing® Structural Integration, also called somatic ontology, concentrates on opposing muscle groups, such as the biceps and triceps in the upper arms.

  • The methods used in Rolfing® were developed in the 1950s by Dr. Ida P. Rolf, based on the belief that imbalances in body structure can be corrected by manipulating the soft tissue networks of muscle, fascia, tendons, and ligaments. In 1971, Rolf founded The Rolf Institute of Structure Integration in Boulder, CO, which currently owns rights to the registered mark Rolfing®. However though the term rolfing is also used for various therapies based on the teachings of Rolf.


  • Rolfing® Structural Integration is based on the belief that the tissues surrounding muscles become stiff and thickened with age, leading to musculoskeletal dysfunction and misalignment of the body. By working the muscles and muscle tissue, practitioners aim to improve these problems.

  • Practitioners assert that people who undergo this therapy will experience improved alignment, increased comfort with movement, and increased body awareness in space. The Rolfing® technique focuses on harmonizing balance and support in the gravitational field.

Scientific Evidence


These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.



Structural Integration may help treat anxiety, although early research is unclear. Further research is needed.


Cerebral palsy

Rolfing® Structural Integration may improve movement slightly in cerebral palsy patients. More studies are needed to confirm these possible benefits.


Chronic fatigue syndrome

Rolfing® Structural Integration may benefit cardiovascular endurance in people with chronic fatigue syndrome. Patients showed improvement in overall well being. However, larger well-designed studies are needed to confirm these results.


Chronic lower back pain

Rolfing® might improve pelvic tilt in healthy patients, suggesting that other low back disorders may benefit from Rolfing®. More studies are needed to show that Rolfing® Structural Integration can effectively treat back pain and other back disorders.


Musculoskeletal disorders

Early study suggests that Rolfing® may benefit stress-induced musculoskeletal disorders.


*Key to grades:A: Strong scientific evidence for this use; B: Good scientific evidence for this use; C: Unclear scientific evidence for this use; D: Fair scientific evidence against this use (it may not work); F: Strong scientific evidence against this use (it likely does not work).


The below uses are based on tradition or scientific theories. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious and should be evaluated by a qualified health care professional.

  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), athletic performance enhancement, balance and posture, cancer (B-cell cancers), carpal tunnel syndrome, connective tissue disorders, cosmetic uses, energy booster, insulin potentiation (enhanced absorption of insulin injections), headache, hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), improving mobility, muscle strains/pain (internal), muscular pain (in craniocervicomandibular syndrome), neck pain, osteoarthritis, Parkinson's disease, soft tissue injuries, spine problems (lumbar lordosis), stress, tumors (meningioma), whiplash.


Many complementary techniques are practiced by healthcare professionals with formal training, in accordance with the standards of national organizations. However, this is not universally the case, and adverse effects are possible. Due to limited research, in some cases only limited safety information is available.

  • Rolfing® Structural Integration is generally believed to be safe in most people. However, Rolfing® should not be used as the sole therapeutic approach to disease, and it should not delay the time it takes to speak with a health care provider about a potentially severe condition.

  • Because Rolfing® involves deep manipulation of tissues, some people should avoid this technique, including those with broken bones, severe osteoporosis, disease of the spine or vertebral disks, skin damage or wounds, tooth abscesses, bleeding disorders, stenoses, strictures, varicose veins, phlebitis, or blood clots in areas being manipulated.

  • People taking blood thinners such as warfarin (Coumadin®) should also avoid Rolfing® Structural Integration. People with joint diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis or aortic aneurisms should speak with their health care provider if considering Rolfing®.

  • People who have had procedures or diseases affecting the abdomen, kidneys, liver, or intestines should speak with their health care provider before starting Rolfing®. Patients with infectious conditions, including candidal infections, should also use caution with Rolfing®. There is a report that deep tissue massage moved a ureteral stent out of its proper position. Patients who have just received cortisone shots or who are on chronic cortisone therapy should avoid Rolfing®.

  • Patients with connective tissue disorders such as osteomyleitiis, lupus, or scleroderma should use Rolfing® cautiously.

  • Patients with certain diseases (such as Hodgkin's disease, leukemia, or any form of cancer), high blood pressure, or diabetes should seek medical advice before undergoing Rolfing®.

  • Some certified Rolfing® practitioners discourage structural integration services in people with psychosis or bipolar disorder, and suggest that therapy may cause the release of suppressed memories of severe emotional anguish.

  • Pregnant women should avoid Rolfing®, particularly during the first three months of pregnancy. It has also been suggested that Rolfing® be used cautiously in women who are menstruating.

Author Information

  • This information is based on a systematic review of scientific literature edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (www.naturalstandard.com).


Natural Standard developed the above evidence-based information based on a thorough systematic review of the available scientific articles. For comprehensive information about alternative and complementary therapies on the professional level, go to www.naturalstandard.com. Selected references are listed below.

  1. Bernau-Eigen M. Rolfing: a somatic approach to the integration of human structures. Nurse Pract Forum 1998;9(4):235-242. View Abstract

  2. Cottingham JT, Maitland J. A three-paradigm treatment model using soft tissue mobilization and guided movement-awareness techniques for a patient with chronic low back pain: a case study. J Orthoped Sports Phys Ther 1997;26(3):155-167. View Abstract

  3. Cottingham JT, Porges SW, Lyon T. Effects of soft tissue mobilization (Rolfing pelvic lift) on parasympathetic tone in two age groups. Phys Ther 1988;68(3):352-356. View Abstract

  4. Cottingham JT, Porges SW, Richmond K. Shifts in pelvic inclination angle and parasympathetic tone produced by Rolfing soft tissue manipulation. Phys Ther 1988;68(9):1364-1370. View Abstract

  5. Deutsch JE, Derr LL, Judd P, et al. Treatment of chronic pain through the use of structural integration (rolfing). Orthopaedic Phys Ther Clin North America 2000;9(3):411-425.

  6. Franco R, Camacho FI, Fernandez-Vazquez A, et al. IgV(H) and bc16 somatic mutation analysis reveals the heterogenicity of cutaneous B-cell lymphoma, and indicates the presence of undisclosed local antigens. Mod Pathol 2004;17(6):623-630. View Abstract

  7. Goffard JC, Jin L, Mircescu H, et al. Gene expression profile in thyroid of transgenic mice overexpressing the adenosine receptor 2a. Mol Endocrinol 2004;18(1):194-213. View Abstract

  8. Jones TA. Rolfing. Phys Med Rehabil Clin N Am 2004;15(4):799-809. View Abstract

  9. Kerr HD. Ureteral stent displacement associated with deep massage. WMJ 1997;96(12):57-58. View Abstract

  10. Perry J, Jones MH, Thomas L. Functional evaluation of Rolfing in cerebral palsy. Dev Med Child Neurol 1981;23(6):717-729. View Abstract

  11. Rolf IP. Structural Integration. J Institute Compar Study History Philos Sciences 1963;1(1):3-19.

  12. Rolf IP. Structural integration: a contribution to the understanding of stress. Confin Psychiatr 1973;16(2):69-79. View Abstract

  13. Santoro F, Maiorana C, Geirola R. Neuromascular relaxation and CCMDP. Rolfing and applied kinesiology. Dent Cadmos 1989; 57(17):76-80. View Abstract

  14. Talty CM, DeMasi I, Deutsch JE. Structural integration applied to patients with chronic fatigue syndrome: a retrospective chart review. J Orthopaedic Sports Phys Ther 1998;27(1):83.

  15. Weinberg RS, Hunt VV. Effects of structural integration on state-trait anxiety. J Clin Psychol 1979;35(2):319-322. View Abstract

Copyright © 2013 Natural Standard (www.naturalstandard.com)

The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.


March 22, 2017