The Research behind Rolfing® Structural Integration

Research Awards

Dr. Biol.Hum.  Robert Schleip of Ulm University, and Research Director of the European Rolfing Association e.V., was recently awarded the prestigious Vladamir Janda Prize for Musculo-skeletal Medicine in Leipzig.  The award is presented by the German Society for Manual Medicine (Deutschen Gesellschaft für Manuelle Medizin), the Society of Manual Medicine Physicians (Ärztegesellschaft für Manuelle Medizin), as and the Physiobörse (Wittlich) every two years.

Dr. Schleip’s contribution was to prove that human fascia is regularly populated with myofibro-blasts, cells similar to those found in smooth muscle, and already well known for their role in wound healing, as well as pathologies involving chronic tissue contraction.  Additionally, the fascia of the lower back has also been shown to posses a particularly high concentration of such contractile cells.  While current doctrine assigns fascia, the dense white-coloured connective tissue that surrounds muscles and many other structures in the human body, a purely passive role in the transmission of force, this discovery opens the door for future fascial research to establish new directions in the understanding and treatment of back pain.

 

European Rolfing® Association e.V. Research Efforts

ERA is supporting scientific research into the effects, effectiveness and therapeutic mechanisms of the Rolfing process in:

  • Physiology and Medicine,
  • Preventive Care & Maintenance of Health,
  • Psychology and Sociology,
  • Anthropology and Philosophy.

For further information, contact:

  • Dr. biol.hum. Robert Schleip, Research Director of the ERA: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
  • Dr. phil. Gertrud Hartmann-Meitzner, Scientific Adviser of the ERA, Research Coordination:  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

 

The Rolfing Institute of Structural Integration

The Institute has gathered a comprehensive Bibliography of Research Articles related to Rolfing Structural Integration which can be viewed online.

 

Connective Tissue and Gravity

Connective tissue interrelates all internal parts of the human body and divides its functioning units.  This organ, linking all structures, is called the fascial web.

It was Dr. Rolf's theory that the cause of human discomfort, both physical and emotional, lies in the relationship of our body’s connective tissue and the earth's gravitational field.

There is an optimal, more natural body alignment for each of us, which she believed eases interaction between self and gravity.  When this alignment is lost through external factors, it causes internal stress that can manifest in the body’s connective tissue causing real discomfort.  Prevent or correct misalignments and the stress can be eliminated or at least reduced.  This is a central principle underlying Rolfing.

Fascia is constantly changing and adapting to demands placed on the individual's body.  It reacts to particular physical stresses by producing additional material that enhances stability and support.  However, in some instances, more material than necessary is produced, the result can be reduced mobility instead of stabilization.  This loss of mobility then negatively affects posture and movement patterns.

Dr. Rolf called fascia the "Organ of Form" and suggested that through deliberate, accurate and precise movement of this tissue, over-all relief and well-being can be achieved.  Through the Rolfing Touch, the elasticity and sliding capacity of the tissue can be restored and the body realigned to function with more ease.  By introducing the influence of gravity on well-being Dr. Rolf broke new ground.  The latest scientific findings support her theory.

 

Scientific Literature supporting Rolfing

Since the nineteen-seventies, researchers have published numerous scientific results about Rolfing.  These studies show that Rolfing can effectively change body structure, posture and movement of clients, with lasting effects.  Psychological effects are often described, as well.

 

Physiological Studies

A recent investigation demonstrates that the basic Ten Series of sessions is capable of significantly decreasing pain and increasing active range of motion in adult subjects, male and female, with complaints of cervical spine dysfunction, regardless of age [1].

Previous physiological studies demonstrated already that a single Rolfing session significantly decreases standing pelvic tilt angle and significantly increases vagal tone [2,3].  The results provide theoretical support for the reported clinical uses of soft tissue pelvic manipulation for certain types of low back dysfunction [4] and musculoskeletal disorders associated with autonomic nervous system (ANS) stress.

Early electromyography evaluations already pointed to improved organization and greater balance in the neuromuscular system following the intervention with Rolfing [5].  Studies that are more recent have confirmed an improvement in balance in persons with myofascial pain [6].

Several additional case studies evaluated the effect of Rolfing on persons with specific conditions [7-11].

  1. James H et al. Rolfing structural integration treatment of cervical spine dysfunction.  Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies.  Article in press, accepted 1 July 2008.
  2. Cottingham J. Shifts in pelvic inclination angle and parasympathetic tone produced by Rolfing soft tissue manipulation.  Physical Therapy, 68:1364-1370, 1988.
  3. Cottingham J, Porges SW, Lyon T. Effects of soft tissue mobilization (Rolfing pelvic lift) on parasympathetic tone in two age groups.  Physical Therapy, 68:352-356, 1988.
  4. Cottingham JT. 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.  - Public testimony presentation to the National Center of Medical Rehabilitation Research of the National Institute of Health, Bethesda, MD; March 19, 1992.  Rolf Lines 20(2): 42-45, 1992.
  5. Hunt V, Massey W. Electromyographic evaluation of Structural Integration techniques.  Psychoenergetic Systems 2:199-210, 1977.
  6. Findley TW et al. Improvement in balance with Structural Integration (Rolfing): A controlled case series in persons with myofascial pain.  Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation 85(9):e34, 2004.
  7. Deutsch JE, Derr L, Judd P, DeMasi I, Reuven B. Outcomes of Structural Integration applied to patients with different diagnosis: A retrospective review.  Proceedings of the XIV International World Congress of Physical Therapy, Barcelona, 2003
  8. Deutsch JE, Derr LL, Judd P, et al. Treatment of chronic pain through the use of Structural Integration (Rolfing).  Orthopaedic Physical Therapy Clinics of North America 9(3):411-425, 2000
  9. Talty CM, DeMasi I, Deutsch JE.  Structural Integration applied to patients with chronic fatigue syndrome: a retrospective chart review.  Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 27(1):83, 1998
  10. Deutsch JE, Judd P, DeMassi I. Structural Integration applied to patients with a primary neurologic diagnosis: two case studies.  Neurology Report 21(5):161-162, 1997
  11. Perry J, Jones MH, Thomas L. Functional evaluation of Rolfing in cerebral palsy.  Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology 23(6):717-729, 1981.

Rolfing SI and Cerebral Palsy

Preliminary clinical studies have been performed with small samples of patients with cerebral palsy[1], chronic musculoskeletal pain[2,3], impaired balance[4,5], and chronic fatigue syndrome[6].  The outcomes of those studies suggest that Rolfing has positive effects on walking, musculoskeletal pain and associated limitations in joint motion, and on balance. Preliminary research on the underlying therapeutic mechanisms suggests improvements in movement coordination and efficiency[7], sensory processing[8], self-esteem[9], and relaxation[10,11], and reductions in anxiety[12].

1. Perry J, Jones MH, Thomas L.  Functional evaluation of Rolfing in cerebral palsy. Develop Med Child Neurol 1981; 23(717-29

2. Deutsch J, Derr LL, Judd P, Reuven B.  Treatment of chronic pain through the use of Structural Integration (Rolfing). Orthopedic Physical Therapy Clinics of North America 2000; 9(3): 411-27

3. James H, Castaneda L, Miller MM, Findley T.  Rolfing structural integration treatment of cervical spine dysfunction. J Bodywork Movement Therapy 2008;

4. Findley T, Quigley K, Maney M, Chaudhry H, Agbaje I.  Improvement in balance with Structural Integration (Rolfing): a controlled case series in persons with myofascial pain.  (Poster 147) American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, October 9, 2004, Phoenix, Arizona. Arch Phys Med Rehabil 2004; 85(9): E34

5. Findley T, Quigley K, Maney M, Chaudhry H, Agbaje I.  Balance improvement with structural integration (Rolfing) in persons with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. In: T Findley, Schleip R, ed. Fascia Research. Munich: Elsevier GmbH, 2007a: 242-43.

6. Talty C, DeMassi I, Deutsch JE.  Structural Integration applied to patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: a retrospective chart review. J Orthop Sports Physical Therapy 1998; 27(1): 83

7. Hunt V, Massey WW.  Electromyographic evaluation of Structural Integration techniques. Psychoenergetic Systems 1977a; 2(199-210

8. Silverman J, Rappaport M, Hopkins HK, Ellman G, Hubbard R, Belleza T, Baldwin T, Griffin R, Kling R.  Stress, stimulus intensity control, and the Structural Integration technique. Confinia Psychiatrica 1973; 16(201-19

9. Pratt T.  Psychological effects of Structural Integration. Psychological Reports 1974; 35(856

10. Cottingham J, Porges SW, Lyon T.  Effects of soft tissue mobilization (Rolfing pelvic lift) on parasympathetic tone in two age groups. J Amer Physical Therapy 1988a; 68(3): 352-56

11. Cottingham J, Porges SW, Richmond K.  Shifts in pelvic inclination angle and parasympathetic tone produced by Rolfing soft tissue manipulation. Physical Therapy 1988b; 68(9): 1364-70

12. Weinberg R, Hunt VV.  Effects of Structural Integration on state-trait anxiety. J Clinical Psychology 1979; 35(2): 319-22.


Psychological Studies

A controlled clinical study indicated that Rolfing caused a lasting decrease in state anxiety when compared to the control group.  Results were discussed in terms of the release of emotional tension stored up in the muscles due to Structural Integration [1].  In a psycho-physiological study, changes after Rolfing structural integration were indicative of increased openness and better-modulated sensitivity to environmental stimulation [2].

  1. Weinberg RS, Hunt VV. Effects of structural integration on state-trait anxiety.  Journal of Clinical Psychology, 35(2), 1979.
  2. Silverman J et al. Stress, stimulus intensity control, and the structural integration technique.  Confinia Psychiatrica 16(3):201-19, 1973.
  3. Hunt VV, Massey W, Weinberg R, Bruyere R, Hahn PM.  A study of Structural Integration from neuromuscular, energy field & emotional approaches.  Research Report submitted to Rolf Institute, UCLA Dept. of Kinesthiology, 1977.
  4. Pratt TC.  Psychological effects of Structural Integration.  Psychological Reports, 35(2):856, 1974.

Fascia Studies

Recent research in fascia is of great relevance to Rolfing.  Since the First International Fascia Congress in 2007, the term "fascia" is interpreted broadly as the soft tissue component of the connective tissue system that permeates the human body, thus fascia extends to all fibrous tissues within the body.

The European Rolfing Association co-organized the First International Fascia Research Congress at the Harvard Medical School in Boston, 2007.  This Fascia Congress received international attention and was reported in the respected scientific magazine "Science”.  The Second International Fascia Research Congress in 2009 was again supported by ERA and hosted by the Faculty of Human Movement Sciences at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam.  The Third Fascia Research Congress will be held in Vancouver, B.C., Canada in March 2012.

 

Fascia and Back Pain

Recent studies demonstrated that many muscle pains are due to, or at least reinforced by, fascial irritations.  Lumbar fascia is one example, previously disregarded in back pain research; the lumbar fascia is densely innervated by pain receptors.  During inflammatory processes in the lower back area, the sensitivity of this fascia is considerably enhanced [1].  Histological studies suggest that micro injuries within the lumbar fascia are a frequent cause of back pain [2].  These and similar studies cast doubt on the intervertebral discs as the primary and most frequent cause of back pain [3].

  1. Tesarz J, Tachuchi T, Mense S. Die Fascia thoracolumbalis ALS potentielle Ursache für Rückenschmerzen.  Manuelle Medizin 2008; 46: 259
  2. Schleip R et al. Letter to the Editor concerning "A hypothesis of chronic back pain: ligament subfailure injuries lead to muscle control dysfunction" (M. Panjabi).  European Spine Journal 2007; 16: 1733-1735
  3. Interview mit Schleip R. Rückenschmerzen, Faszien und Rolfing.  BR2, Wissensredaktion.  ARD Mediathek.  (Interview beginnt nach ca. 3/4 des Podcasts)

Fascia as a Sense Organ

Plasticity of fascia is not adequately explained by mechanical properties alone (like piezo-electricity) [3,4].  Fascia are highly innervated by numerous mechano-receptors [1,2].

  1. Schleip, R. Fascial plasticity - a new neurobiological explanation: Part 1.  Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 7(1):11-19, 2003.
  2. Schleip R. Fascial plasticity - a new neurobiological explanation: Part 2.  Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 7(2):104-116, 2003.
  3. Dölken M. Was muss ein Manualtherapeut über die Physiologie des Bindegewebes und die Entwicklung einer Bewegungseinschränkung wissen? Manuelle Medizin 2002; 40: 169-176.
  4. Threlkeld AJ.  The effects of manual therapy on connective tissue.  Physical Therapy 1992; 72: 893-902

Fascia in Movement

A considerable amount of force transmission in movement is done by intra- and extramuscular fascia [1].  Model calculations showed a significant role of the lumbar fascia in stabilizing the back in human gait [2,3].

  1. Huijing PA.  Muscular force transmission necessitates a multilevel integrative approach to the analysis of function of skeletal muscle.  Exerc Sport Sci Rev 2003; 31: 167-175
  2. Barker PJ et al. Effects of tensioning the lumbar fascia on segmental stiffness during flexion and extension.  Spine 2006; 31: 397-405
  3. Zorn A et al.  The spring-like function of the lumbar fascia in human walking.  In: Findley TW, Schleip R, Hrsg. Fascia research - basic science and implications for vonventional and complementary health care.  München: Elsevier; 2007: 188 (Fascia Congress 2007).
  4. Schleip R, Naylor IL, Ursu D, Melzer W, Zorn A, Wilke HJ, Lehmann-Horn F, Klingler W. Passive muscle stiffness may be influenced by active contractility of intramuscular connective tissue.  Medical Hypotheses 66(1): 66-71, 2006.
  5. Schleip R, Klingler W, Lehmann-Horn F. Active fascial contractility: Fascia may be able to contract in a smooth muscle-like manner and thereby influence musculoskeletal dynamics.  Medical Hypotheses 65(2):273-277, 2005. 

Fascia and Manual Intervention

Modelling[1] and studies involving manual intervention [2,3,4] illustrate the potential for change inherent in human fascia.


1. Chaudhry HR, Schleip R, Ji Z, Bukiet B, Maney M, Findley TW.  Three-dimensional mathematical model for deformation of human fasciae in manual therapy.  Journal of American Osteopathic Association, 2008.  108(8):379-390.

2. Chaudhry H, Huang C, Schleip R, Ji Z, Bukiet B, Findley T. Viscoelastic behavior of human fasciae under extension in manual therapy.  Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 11(2), Apr 2007.

3. Heymann WV, Böhni U, Locher H. Grundlagenforschung trifft Manualmedizin.  Manuelle Medizin 2005; 43: 385-39

4. Threlkeld AJ.  The effects of manual therapy on connective tissue.  Physical Therapy 1992.

 

Rolfing Nederland acknowledges the contribution of Theres Grau and appreciates her efforts compiling and summarizing the research material presented herein.