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Rolfing Can Improve Posture, Reduce Stress And Relieve Chronic Pain

Rolfing is considered beneficial for all body types irrespective of the age. Rolfing is also known as structural integration. It denotes a holistic system of bodywork that manipulates the body's soft tissues deeply and also realigns and balances the body's myofascial structure with the field of gravity.[1]

The Rolfing practice dates back to the mid-20th century. Rolfing has been gaining ample popularity in recent years and it is believed to increase mobility, ease breathing, boost energy, relieve stress and also improves a person's overall well-being.

Read on to know more about how Rolfing can relieve pain and improve spine health.

What Is Rolfing?

When people begin to lose a fight with gravity, they experience it as a sharp pain in their back. In a few other cases, people may also perceive this as constant fatigue, unrelentingly threatening environments or as the unflattering contour of their body.[2] Usually, people over the age of forty, blame such pain on old age. However, the real fact that they are off balance is being ignored. This is where Rolfing lays its fundamental concepts. Rolfing aims at making the body work appropriately by making the force of gravity flow through such that the body can begin to heal itself.[3]

Rolfing is a holistic process of structural change that not just improves the physical well-being but even emotional wellness. It is used to improve posture, reduce stress and relieve chronic pain. Rolfing lays its focus on the fascia[4] (sheet of connective tissues in the body that forms beneath the skin to attach, stabilize, enclose and separate muscles and other organs).

Health Benefits Of Rolfing

The following are some of the impressive health benefits of rolfing:

1. Reduces chronic back pain

Chronic stress leads to tension in the back, neck and shoulders. These patterns of the body holding stress can get quite difficult to break, but rolfing is believed to be able to effectively correct these painful forms of tension. Rolfing has the ability to loosen the fascia. It thus frees up muscle movement and breaks bad patterns of muscle misuse and strain.

This release enables the back to properly align itself and hence back pain should recede [5] . Studies reveal that about one-third of acute low back pain cases turn chronic. Research believes that adding structural integration (rolfing) to outpatient rehabilitation can enhance reductions in low back pain-related disabilities. It also results in an increase in patient satisfaction.

2. Improves athletic ability

Rolfing has been identified to be quite beneficial for athletes. It changes their limiting physical behaviour. Rolfing teaches athletes how to use gravity in their favour[6] . Athletes who indulge in rolfing can see an improved physical ability through the improvement of posture.

Rolfing also works on lengthening constricted muscle fibres, improving ease of motion and relaxing areas of tension[7] . When muscles are enabled to operate more efficiently, rolfing increases the body's ability to conserve energy facilitating the development of refined patterns of movement for athletic activities (including everyday activities).

3. Relief for Temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ)

TMJ results in the inflammation and tightness of the joint that connects the jaw to the skull. Most people identify it as popping, locking, clicking and pain of the jaw. People suffering from TMJ can benefit from rolfing.

Relief is provided by releasing the joint from its painful and restricted state [8] . This way the jaw can be aligned properly again hence making it move smoothly without any discomfort.

4. Improves posture and spine health

People with posture problems can benefit a lot from rolfing. Studies have shown that rolfing is effective in treating lumbar lordosis (curvature of the spine)[9] . It is proven by research that the holistic soft tissue approach of rolfing improves overall musco-skeletal balance and alignment.

Rolfing also demonstrated improvements in the parasympathetic nervous system and this has been correlated with enhanced neurological function, including improved attention span and decreased levels of autonomic stress.

5. Improves asthma and breathing

People who suffer from asthma can utilize rolfing as an asthma natural remedy. There is evidence to prove that rolfing can improve breathing for people with asthma. This is made possible because rolfing breaks up restrictive patterns in the fascia, nerves and muscles in the chest thus preventing the limitation of full chest expansion for asthma sufferers[10] .

Incorrect or restricted breathing can also result in misalignments in the body that make breathing even harder. This can also be treated through the posture improvements that result from rolfing. Improving breathing results in a general improvement in the feelings of well-being, improvement in energy levels, reduction of stress, etc.

What To Expect During A Rolfing Session

Always wear comfortable clothing when heading for a rolfing session as this would allow easy physical movement. The session can take about 1 to 2 hours. Each session is carried out with the aim of freeing restrictions that are stuck in a certain area of the body.

The rolfers (rolf practitioners) begin the initial session by informing the patient about their current perceptual and movement responses (the cause behind the pain) followed by helping the client to explore the feeling of more fluid movements while walking, bending, lifting, breathing, etc.

The Rolf Institute of Structural Integration formulates the sessions as the Rolfing Ten-Series [11] . This series of rolfing treatments is further divided into three distinct units.

• Sessions 1 to 3

These sessions strive to loosen and balance surface layers of connective tissues. These are also called the 'sleeve' sessions.

The first session is usually devoted to enhancing the quality of breath with work on the rib cage, diaphragm and arms. An opening is also started along the upper leg, hamstrings, neck and spine [12] .

The second session gives the body a stable foundation. This is done by balancing the foot and the muscles of the lower leg.

The third session gives a side view for understanding how the head, shoulder girdle and hips are positionally related to one another while standing under the effect of gravity [13] . Thereon the body is addressed with the context of this new vision.

• Sessions 4 to 7

These are intended to be the core sessions[14] . These sessions work towards examining the terrain found between the bottom of the pelvis and top of the head. It also explores the deep tissue of the legs for its role in providing support.

Session four includes the inside arch of the foot and up the leg to the bottom of the pelvis.

Session five deals with balancing surface and deep abdominal muscles to the curve of the back.

Session six attains more support and movement from the legs, lower back and pelvis.
Session seven turns its attention to the head and neck.

• Sessions 8 to 10

These sessions allow the practitioner to blend the previously established advancements (and also the ones yet to be made) into the body. This is done in a way that encourages smooth movement and natural coordination.

Session 8 and 9 involve the practitioner determining how best to achieve the integration (it differs from person to person). Session 10 is the final session that serves to inspire a sense of order and balance[15] .

Possible Side Effects And Risk Factors

Before heading for a rolfing session, it is important to ensure that any form of chronic pain or discomfort is not caused by an underlying health issue. So, it is necessary that you undergo a general health examination prior to beginning a rolfing program. A person who wishes to attend a rolfing session but suffers an illness, injury or infection would first need to get a clearance from a doctor.

Rolfing may not be recommended for the following [16] :

• People with a psychological disorder
• Pregnant women
• Nursing mothers
• People with any connective tissue disorder
• Anyone with cancer or an illness that can spread with increased circulation
• People with a blood-clotting issue
• Anyone taking blood thinners

Few people might find rolfing to be painful, especially during the early sessions (before the tissue releases). The level of discomfort that one experiences during a rolfing session is dependent on several criteria, some of them are [17] :

• The degree of trauma to the system
• Duration of the trauma or pain in a particular part of the body
• How emotionally linked the pain is for the individual

Rolfing practitioners usually vary their intensity as needed depending on each client's need. Usually, deeply held pain require greater intensity, which can cause longer discomfort. However, as the body releases and relaxes with each session, the discomfort slowly turns into a pleasant sensation.

Hydration before and after a rolfing session is highly recommended [18] . Soreness experienced after a rolfing session is mild in nature and responsive to basic heat and ice treatment.

View Article References
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  2. [2] Hansen, A. B., Price, K. S., Loi, E. C., Buysse, C. A., Jaramillo, T. M., Pico, E. L., & Feldman, H. M. (2014). Gait changes following myofascial structural integration (Rolfing) observed in 2 children with cerebral palsy.Journal of evidence-based complementary & alternative medicine,19(4), 297-300.
  3. [3] Jacobson E. (2011). Structural integration: origins and development.Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.),17(9), 775–780.
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  5. [5] Jacobson, E. E., Meleger, A. L., Bonato, P., Wayne, P. M., Langevin, H. M., Kaptchuk, T. J., & Davis, R. B. (2015). Structural integration as an adjunct to outpatient rehabilitation for chronic nonspecific low back pain: a randomized pilot clinical trial.Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM,2015, 813418.
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  14. [14] Vickers, A., Zollman, C., & Reinish, J. T. (2001). Massage therapies.Western Journal of Medicine,175(3), 202–204.
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  16. [16] Glick, J. L., Andrinopoulos, K. M., Theall, K. P., & Kendall, C. (2018). "Tiptoeing Around the System": Alternative Healthcare Navigation Among Gender Minorities in New Orleans.Transgender health,3(1), 118–126.
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Story first published: Tuesday, April 16, 2019, 11:00 [IST]
Read more about: chronic pain posture back pain