Injury type: Acute

Category: Complementary and Alternative Therapies

Rating: No research

What is it?

Rolfing® Structural Integration is named after Dr Ida P Rolf who began using this technique more than 50 years ago to create a holistic system of soft tissue manipulation and movement education that organized the whole body in gravity. It is said to incorporate three steps: palpation, discrimination and integration. The tissues are palpated, or touched, to feel for imbalances in tissue texture, quality and temperature. Fascial (connective tissue) layers that adhere to muscles are discriminated, or separated. Finally, integration involves relating the body segments in an improved relationship, bringing physical balance in the gravitational field. Rolfing also involves education to increase awareness and understanding of the body.

It is often used by people who have a history of injury or trauma and notice that the effects of their often minor injuries are beginning to interfere with their everyday lives.

How does it work?

There is no clear evidence on how exactly Rolfing works. There are, however, several theories. Firstly there is the thixotropic or gel-sol-gel theory. Basically, this theory states that touch/pressure is thought to generate heat and that this heat softens or liquefies connective tissue and turns it from a gelatinous to a liquid substance. Once the tissue is softened, it may become more malleable and can be more easily reorganized and manipulated. While in this plastic state it may form a new relationship to the surrounding muscular and bony structures. Pressure of the type applied by Rolfers may also activate sensory receptors (neurological theory). These receptors are thought to send signals to the brain which in turn allows the affected tissue to change its tensile strength and make it easier to manipulate. Other Rolfers have argued for a hybrid theory which incorporates elements of both the neurological and thixotropic models. Another way of answering this is to state that Rolfing is thought to balance the body in all directions: front to back; side to side; and inside to outside. It purports to integrate all layers and types of connective tissue.

Is it effective?

There is no evidence on the use of Rolfing in the management of whiplash.

Are there any disadvantages?

As a general guide the intensity experienced is transitory, moving quickly form brief intensity to a decrease in sensation. Thus, Rolfing may cause temporary discomfort but should not be a painful experience. The therapist should continuously ask you about the intensity and pace of the treatment. Given the nature of the treatment, it is likely that at least 10 treatments will be necessary to achieve any outcomes. Such a number of treatments may therefore be quite costly.

Where do you get it?

The Australian Rolfing Association has a website of certified practitioners contact details. Otherwise consult the Yellow Pages for a therapist in your area.


The use of Rolfing cannot be recommended following whiplash because of a lack of high quality rigorous research evidence. More research is required.