Arrow-right Camera
Subscribe now

This column reflects the opinion of the writer. Learn about the differences between a news story and an opinion column.

Front Porch: Finding an alternative solution

It was with some trepidation and ample curiosity that I scheduled my first Rolfing appointment.

Rolfing you ask? Read on.

For a year, I was elbow deep in annoying morning hand numbness. Carpal tunnel syndrome was my diagnosis of choice and when I mentioned this to my naturopath, I was prepared for a referral to a neurologist.

“Before we look at surgery,” my doctor said, “let’s try physical therapy.” I screwed up my mouth like a bad taste had hit my buds. “Not just any physical therapy,” she said ignoring my grimace, “but Rolfing.”

I was given the name of several physical therapists and decided on one whose bio said she also works with animals, which is a major plus in my book. I made the call, waited four weeks to get in and was greeted at the office door by the therapist’s three Italian greyhounds, Enzo, Oliver and Monte.

Being an Italian greyhound mom, I knew then that whatever this Rolfing was, it would be well worth it. Turned out I had met the therapist in August at an Italian greyhound get-together. Sometimes the world is, indeed, small.

After my first hourlong treatment I went back to work, highly skeptical this Rolfing thing would nip the numbness. “Drink lots of water,” the therapist said, “you’re gonna need it.”

Rolfing is a technique involving soft tissue movement pioneered by Ida Rolf. In 1920 Rolf earned a doctorate in biological chemistry from Columbia University. She studied the combined effects of muscle and fascia at a time when alternative medicine, which focuses on the body’s ability to heal naturally without surgery or medication, was as foreign as women doctors.

As my physical therapist explained, “Think of fascia as the thin clear membrane on a chicken breast. It’s like an envelope keeping everything confined. Rolf’s 10 Step Series is designed to release the fascia in graduated segments allowing the muscles to return to their natural form.”

My therapist’s journey into physical therapy and eventually Rolfing began at the age of 16 when dancing brought her to a physical therapist for knee pain. The therapist was stumped on how to treat her. “My muscles were strong yet flexible from dance. The only solution he offered was to stop dancing.” Thankfully, she found a therapist experienced in alternative methods and became so inspired that she attended the University of Washington earning a bachelor’s degree in physical therapy.

A few years later when her chronic pain patients showed minimal improvement, she researched Rolfing, also known as structural integration. She applied and was accepted into the Guild for Structural Integration becoming a certified practitioner of the Rolf Method of Structural Integration in 2003.

Does Rolfing work? For me, yes. The hand numbness I was experiencing is gone as is the pain in my low back and hips. However, this type of therapy isn’t easy. One hour of slow, deep pressure on screaming fascia can tax the hardiest of souls. But my PT knows her Rolfing. I trust her. The 10 Step Series is in full swing. Surgery isn’t on the horizon and there are rewards … despite the screaming fascia.

First and foremost, the pain and numbness are gone. Secondly, we swap Italian greyhound stories throughout the session and have solved many of the world’s problems. Thirdly, independent Enzo and cuddle-bug Oliver are comforting companions during treatment while quiet, wonderful Monte sleeps under a blanket.

I’ll admit I was skeptical about this Rolfing stuff. In my profession, carpal tunnel syndrome is almost always a given; surgery is almost always the answer.

But sometimes, when you least expect it, the answer appears in alternative ways.

Voices correspondent Sandra Babcock can be reached by email at Previous columns are available at columnists/

More from this author