What is Rolfing® Structural Integration?

Named after its founder, Dr. Ida P. Rolf, Rolfing Structural Integration is a form of bodywork that reorganizes the connective tissues, called fascia, that permeate the entire body.

More than fifty years ago, Dr. Rolf recognized that the body is inherently a system of seamless networks of tissues rather than a collection of separate parts. These connective tissues surround, support and penetrate all of the muscles, bones, nerves and organs. Rolfing Structural Integration works on this web-like complex of connective tissues to release, realign and balance the whole body, thus potentially resolving discomfort, reducing compensations and alleviating pain. Rolfing SI aims to restore flexibility, revitalize your energy and leave you feeling more comfortable in your body.

Essentially, the Rolfing process enables the body to regain the natural integrity of its form, thus enhancing postural efficiency and your freedom of movement.

What are the benefits?

Rolfing Structural Integration has the ability to dramatically alter a person's posture and structure. Rolfing SI can potentially resolve discomfort, release tension and alleviate pain. Rolfing SI aims to restore flexibility, revitalize your energy and leave you feeling more comfortable in your body. The genius of the work rests on Dr. Rolf’s insight that the body is more at ease and functions most effectively when its structure is balanced in gravity.

Athletes, dancers, children, business professionals, and people from all walks of life have benefited from Rolfing SI. People seek Rolfing SI as a way to ease pain and chronic stress, and improve performance in their professional and daily activities. It's estimated that more than 1 million people have received Rolfing work.

Research has demonstrated that Rolfing SI creates a more efficient use of the muscles, allows the body to conserve energy, and creates more economical and refined patterns of movement. Research also shows that Rolfing SI significantly reduces chronic stress and changes in the body structure. For example, a study showed that Rolfing SI significantly reduced the spinal curvature of subjects with lordosis (sway back); it also showed that Rolfing SI enhances neurological functioning.

The term "Rolfing" is the nickname that many clients and practitioners give this work. It is now a registered service mark in 38 countries.

Rolfing Structural Integration's Approach to...


"The stronger you are the more confident you become. The injuries (from the accident) left me off balance until I discovered the benefits of Rolfing bodywork, and I've been winning ever since."

Other pro-athletes who have benefited from Rolfing SI include Michelle Kwan and Elvis Stojko, ‘98 Olympic Silver Medal figure skaters; Phil Jackson, former Chicago Bulls’ coach; Charles Barkley of the Houston Rockets; Rob Moore of the Phoenix Cardinals, Tim Salmon, CA Angel baseball star; the Phoenix Suns basketball team; Mario Lemieux of the Pittsburg Penguins; Bob Tewksbury, pitcher for the Minnesota Twins; Edwin Moses, Olympic track athlete; Joe Greene, ‘96 U.S. Olympic Bronze Medal long jumper; and Ivan Lendl, former tennis champion.

Back Pain

"Those dissatisfied with other back pain treatments often consult a Rolfer™, whose unique premises and methods are often effective in reducing pain and dysfunction when other approaches have failed."

Low back dysfunction is a common cause of pain and disability. Though its mechanism is often unclear, evidence suggests several factors as possible contributors, including unhealed soft tissue injury, pressure on nerves, chronic muscle tension or insufficient muscle tone, insufficient circulation and fluid movement, and even emotional stress and hostility. And, outcomes of treatment – be it medication, physical therapy, exercise, chiropractic or massage – are often unsatisfactory.

Those dissatisfied with other back pain treatments often consult a Rolfer™, whose unique premises and methods are often effective in reducing pain and dysfunction when other approaches have failed. A Rolfer believes that many musculoskeletal problems can be mitigated or resolved by balancing the length and tone of soft tissues throughout the entire body. This view is crystallized in Dr. Rolf’s admonition, “Where you think it is – it ain’t”; in other words, the place where it hurts is not necessarily the source of the problem.

A Rolfer evaluates the client's entire body structure, considering not only the low back as the locus of the symptoms, but also the quality of support available to the low back from the pelvis, hips, legs and feet, as well as the mobility of the body segments above. Do the middle and upper back, shoulders, neck and head engage each other with well-coordinated grace? A Rolfer works with the connective tissue, which not only surrounds every muscle, joint and organ, but also functions as the body’s organ of support, to balance the span and tone of the connective tissue network as a whole.

Though recipients of Rolfing® Structural Integration often report mitigation of low back pain and dysfunction, scientific research concerning its effects is just beginning. Several promising hypotheses of how the Rolfer’s methods might alleviate chronic musculoskeletal pain merit investigation, including:

  1. Balanced length and tone throughout the body, including improved support from the pelvis, hips, legs and feet, and improved coordination in the mid and upper back, shoulders, neck and head, might lessen the strain the low back bears in daily activities. Perhaps reduced strain allows injured tissues to heal and reduces the odds of re-injury, which would mitigate chronic pain.
  2. Increased pliability of the connective tissues might enhance circulation and fluid flow in regions where nociceptive amplifiers– substances that heighten and/or accelerate the brain’s perception of pain – have previously accumulated.
  3. More balanced span and tone throughout the connective tissue network might relieve nerve compression and irritation through improved alignment of joints and/or increased pliability of scar tissues that have entrapped nerves.
  4. Greater mobility and reduced tension in the soft tissues of the low back and sacrum might facilitate relaxation, as well as reduce the intensity of negative emotions that can exacerbate the symptoms.

At this point in time, these are only theories. Good scientific research needs to be done before we know which of these effects, if any, actually do contribute to the alleviation of chronic pain. Any of these hypotheses might also account in part for the therapeutic effects of chiropractic, osteopathy, massage or acupuncture. What sets Rolfing Structural Integration apart from these other disciplines is:

  • its emphasis on balancing span, tone and mobility throughout the entire body,
  • its method of working extensively and deeply within the connective tissues to produce long-lasting improvements, and
  • its design as a limited intervention.

Repetitive Stress Injuries

Overall cost savings to the company in such areas as turnover, unemployment costs, health insurance, training, and productivity are estimated to be about $2,500/employee/year. Certified Advanced Rolfer™ Working On-Site Helps to Reduce Problems Related to RSI

According to Larry Miller, Director of Human Resources at Starkey Laboratories, workers' compensation costs were "going through the roof" when he introduced a new element into Starkey's employee wellness program in 1992. The cost increases were due in large part to the growing number of repetitive stress injuries (RSI), including carpal tunnel syndrome.

That year he brought in Siana Goodwin, Certified Advanced Rolfer, to provide Rolfing® SI on-site for employees with RSI symptoms. For the last six years, Sandra L. Jones, Certified Rolfer, has been the on-site Rolfer at Minnesota-based Starkey Laboratories (one of the world's largest custom hearing aid manufacturers), with dramatic results:

  • The year before the program began, 7 employees had carpal tunnel surgery.
  • There have been no carpal tunnel surgeries at the Eden Prairie plant in the last 6 years. After receiving Rolfing SI, one employee who’d had surgery and was recommended for another never needed the second surgery. The cost of the Rolfing work was about $600; the cost of surgery would have been about $35,000!
  • Starkey’s modification factor (a measure of risk that determines insurance premiums) dropped from .92 to .61, an incredibly low rate. The average national MOD factor is .95, with .85 considered highly desirable, especially in the injury-prone manufacturing sector.
  • Starkey’s workers' compensation costs decreased 92% in seven years.

Starkey has benefited in many other ways from their on-site Rolfing program, including reduced absenteeism and increased productivity. Furthermore, Starkey’s cost savings in areas such as turnover, unemployment costs, health insurance, training and productivity are estimated at about $2,500/employee/year.

Starkey recently purchased two other hearing aid companies and in 2005 built a new facility in Eden Prairie, increasing to 1300 the number of employees there with access to Rolfing SI. In 2005, Erin Herdina, Certified Rolfer, began to bring Rolfing SI to the 228 employees at the plant in Glencoe, MN. Also in 2005, Jon Martine, Certified Advanced Rolfer, brought Rolfing to Starkey’s plant in Colorado Springs, CO, where 27 employees receive Rolfing on a volunteer basis.

This program was recognized as one of the "best practices" by the Minnesota Quality Awards in 1996.


Rolfing SI maybe an effective prophylactic measure to reverse potentially problematic patterns in the young.

Is Rolfing® Structural Integration suitable for children?

A common misunderstanding about Rolfing SI is that its main value is in correcting long-standing structural patterns. However, Rolfing SI can also serve as an effective prophylactic measure to reverse potentially problematic patterns in children.

One of the things children learn from watching us is how we carry ourselves. They naturally imitate their parent's language, movement and other modes of expression. These patterns can be seen in family photos and are as much a part of a child's makeup as his or her hair color, height and predisposition to certain hereditary conditions. Rolfing SI can begin to correct patterns, such as hip imbalances, which may limit the child's development and mobility.

When children are injured from falls or minor accidents, they may seem fine on the outside, once the cut or bruise has healed. However, as Dr. Rolf pointed out, all healing is not really the same. Minor changes have taken place internally, in the injured connective tissue, joints and muscles. Small tears or pulls cause the tissue to thicken. Soon, muscles begin to adhere to each other and are less able to function as discrete entities. These changes may express themselves as a slight limp, lower energy, or a decrease in range of motion or strength.

Early intervention by a Rolfer™

Early intervention by a Rolfer™ who understands children’s unique needs can make a profound difference in a child's awareness, comfort level and self-esteem. The importance of receiving loving supportive touch, in and of itself, is immeasurably valuable to a developing child. And Rolfing SI can accomplish so much more, creating palpable change in the child's connective tissue matrix.

We’ve also found that having adolescents receive Rolfing SI during and after puberty (a time of great insecurity and emotional turmoil for most) frequently has a profound effect on a developing teenager’s awareness of and comfort with his or her rapidly changing body and mind, besides the obvious structural benefits of receiving Rolfing SI.

The Rolfing® Ten-Series

The hallmark of Rolfing Structural Integration is a standardized “recipe” known as the Ten-Series, the goal of which is to systematically balance and optimize both the structure (shape) and function (movement) of the entire body over the course of ten Rolfing sessions.

Each session focuses on freeing restrictions or holdings trapped in a particular region of the body. A practitioner also maintains a holistic view of the client’s entire system during each session, thus ensuring the transformational process evolves in a comfortable and harmonious way.

The Ten-Series can be divided into three distinct units:

Called the "sleeve” sessions, sessions 1-3 strive to loosen and balance surface layers of connective tissue.

Specifically, the first session is devoted to enhancing the quality of breath with work on the arms, ribcage and diaphragm. Opening is also started along the upper leg, hamstrings, neck and spine.

The second session helps give the body a stable foundation by balancing the foot and muscles of the lower leg.

The third session typically involves a “side view” for an understanding of how the head, shoulder girdle, and hips are positionaly related to one another when standing under the influence of gravity. Then, the body is addressed within the context of this new vision.

Sessions 4-7 are referred to as “core” sessions and examine terrain found between the bottom of the pelvis and top of the head. The idea of core also includes the deep tissue of the legs for its role in support.

Session four begins this journey, its territory extends from the inside arch of the foot and up the leg, to the bottom of the pelvis.

The fifth session is concerned with balancing surface and deep abdominal muscles to the curve of the back.

Session six seeks to enlist more support and moment from the legs, pelvis and lower back, while the seventh session turns its sole attention to the neck and head.

“Integration” is emphasized throughout the remaining three sessions, as sessions 8-10 provide an opportunity for the practitioner to blend previously established advancements, and ones yet to be made, into the body in a way that encourages smooth movement and natural coordination.

During sessions eight and nine, the practitioner determines how best to achieve this integration, as the protocol is unique for each individual.

The tenth and final session is also one of integration, but more importantly, serves to inspire a sense of order and balance. Once completed, the wisdom of the Rolfing Ten Series will drive and support the body with health for years to come.