Rolfing is the rather unusual name for the process that employs deep tissue massage with the aim of relieving stress and improving mobility, body alignment, balance and muscle function.
Dr Anu Arasu
Rolfing is the rather unusual name for the process that employs deep tissue massage with the aim of relieving stress and improving mobility, body alignment, balance and muscle function. The concept was pioneered by Ida Rolf, a biological chemist who trained in chiropractic medicine, osteopathy, alexander and feldenkrais technique, before developing her own method of body manipulation.
Those who practise rolfing believe that problems occur when we move in a dysfunctional way which causes the connective tissue around muscles to tighten and become shortened. Practitioners believe this restricts the movement across a joint and that massage can stretch out and reorganise the tissue, allowing freer movement. They also teach the patient to become conscious of their posture and alignment to stop bad habits like slouching over a computer which can shorten muscles.
So far there is little evidence for the benefit of rolfing, simply because the studies haven’t been carried out, but it is an emerging field. In a paper published this year, ultrasounds of human patients with chronic low back pain demonstrated that they had altered connective tissue structure compared to patients without low back pain, which highlights the need for more research into how stretch techniques might be beneficial. In another study, published in Effects of Structual Integration on State-trait Anxiety, rolfing was found to significantly reduce anxiety in patients. Generally speaking, Rolfing is very safe but as it involves deep manipulation of tissues, people with broken bones, vertebral disc disorders, skin wounds or bleeding disorders should be cautious or avoid it altogether.
Dr Anu Arasu is a medical writer and practising GP in Knightsbridge, London. Follow her on twitter @doctoranuarasu or read her blog about life as a GP at gpapprentice .gponline.com
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