Exploring Massage Therapy: Rolfing (Part I)

National Public Radio recently reported on Rolfing as a type of massage therapy that was becoming more popular among the “yoga-Pilates-acupuncture crowd.” While we’re big fans of NPR any way, we’ve linked the story to this post because it does a good job of explaining the ideas behind fascia manipulation and why some people think Rolfing has therapeutic properties while others remain unconvinced.

The story also does a good job right at the beginning of explaining that Rolfing isn’t an average sort of massage. Instead, it’s a modality more associated with physical training or intense yoga. In fact, a New York Times article on Rolfing noted that Rolfing really isn’t massage at all. While massage therapy focuses on manipulation of muscles and chiropractic therapy focuses on bones, Rolfing focuses on fascia, connective tissue that binds muscles together.

Because fascia is hard to align, it requires a probative, often painful manipulation of body tissue. In fact, the NPR story has the journalist going in for her first session with her rolfer letting her know that he doesn’t want to go past a 7 or an 8 on the pain scale, with 10 being excruciating painful. The headline for the Times story meanwhile reads “Rolfing, Excruciatingly Helpful.”

Proponents of Rolfing in the Times article as well as in an article from the Massage Therapy Journal claim a physical and emotional response to the realignment of their fascia, which allows them to overcome pain from past injuries marked by an improvement in wellness that lasts for weeks.

Researchers, however, claim that no comprehensive study has been conducted yet that conclusively links Rolfing to changing the body’s structure and relieving pain/providing therapy. However, with Rolfing’s emphasis on proper posture and body strengthening, it probably shares helpful therapeutic properties with other forms of physical therapy.

Interestingly, Rolfing has a long history and was popular before, as I’ll explore next week.

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