Back Pain Treatment: Rolfing

Dr. Ida Rolf developed a deep tissue massage technique known as Rolfing to loosen and break up scar tissue that has accumulated over the coverings of muscles do to previous strains, pulls, tears, and surgeries. These areas of scarring, known as adhesions, develop as a result of trauma to the muscle coverings and other connective tissues, due to various injuries and surgical interventions. Adhesions may bind to connective tissues, such as the fascia that cover muscles, tendons, and ligaments, and make movements that were previously fluid, more difficult or painful. Untreated, these adhesions may have lingered for long periods of time, or for the life of the patient. Rolfing involves penetrating massage and vigorous movements to loosen or release adhesions covering the muscles, so that the connected structures may function correctly again. These manipulations to loosen and break up adhesions will have the effect of bringing the body into correct alignment.

Dr. Rolf's area of specialty before her later innovative program was Yoga. Dr. Rolf passed away in the late 1970s, but her techniques continue to be taught and practiced in rehabilitation centers and massage therapy clinics today.

The premise behind Rolfing is that over time we develop specific body movements that accommodate physical alignments and pain symptoms. Due to a knee or hip injury to one side of our body, we may change our gait or shift our weight distribution to accommodate our physical misalignments and pain symptoms. We may shift our weight to take some of the pressure off the side and area of the body that is hurting us. As a result of these changes in our body mechanics, the connective tissues in our body stretch to adapt to these particular postures. As we continue these changes over long periods of time, the connective tissues can bind us into these unbalanced postures and movements. In some cases, the connective tissues may shorten on one side of our body, further pulling our bodies out of balance.

This theory explains why many professional athletes and regular people sustain an original orthopedic injury that spirals into other joint pain problems that they never had before. Imagine a person sustaining an injury to their left knee. To draw weight away from the knee that is bothering him, a baseball player changes his batting stance towards one in which their right lower leg is forced to bear the major loads of his body weight. Eventually, that ballplayer begins to experience knee pain in his right leg and lower back - injuries that he has never experienced before.

Dr. Rolf was an early pioneer at looking at joint pain injuries, and recognizing the chain of events leading up to them. She believed that these connective tissue imbalances could be reversed to balance out the lengths of the connective tissues that move and support our joints, muscles, ligaments, and tendons. Dr. Rolf believed that if the connective tissue could be loosened, it could reset the framework of the body to give someone a balanced and proper posture and gait. Dr. Rolf developed a diagnostic discipline that recognized problems in a person's vertebral alignment, what caused it, and how to fix it using penetrating massage and movements. For example, the Rolfing practitioner may detect that a parson has slipped out of their proper vertical alignment, letting the head to slump too far forward. This slumping posture may stretch the ligaments of the upper neck and back muscles, causing upper back pain and neck pain. Through the use of deep massage techniques, the Rolfer works to release the body's tension and get ligaments and joints moving freely.

Patients who receive this treatment should understand that the sessions may be quite uncomfortable, due to the aggressive manipulations done on the body that are required to break up the adhesions. Patients who have received successful benefits as a result of these treatments often declare the temporary discomfort to be more than worth it, apart from the discomfort involved while the alterations to the connective tissue structures are occurring.

To find local Rolfing practitioners in your area, you may contact the Rolf Institute at

The Rolf Institute
205 Canyon Blvd.
Boulder CO 80302, (800) 530-8875
(303) 449-5903
Fax: (303) 449-5978

What is Rolfing? Rolfing is a hand on manipulative treatment designed to realign the soft tissues of the body be restoring balance to the length of the connective tissues on both sides of the body. Rolfing is also a manipulative treatment designed to breaking up adhesions and areas of tightness on the fascia, which covers the muscles and other connective tissues of the body.

A typical Rolfing treatment program typically involves about 10 sessions that are designed to bring the soft tissues of the body back into balance.

The various elements of the spine, torso, and upper limbs are designed to complement one another, so the pressures of gravity and forces of the body are spread out evenly as we stand, walk, and lift and pull heavy objects. When the body is in balance, each section does its part so that no joint or section of the spine becomes overwhelmed or injured.