Rolfing Vs. Massage: What Are the Differences?



I’ve been active my whole life, but I only started a focused weightlifting program a few months ago. I’m noticing gains, but I’m also noticing sporadic pain that makes it difficult for me to engage in some of the other activities, such as running, that I once enjoyed. One of the guys at the gym recommended Rolfing, and there are a couple of trainers who swear by it. I haven’t heard much about Rolfing. How is it different from regular massage, or deep tissue massage?


The full name for Rolfing is Rolfing Structural Integration, and it’s named after Dr. Ida P. Rolf, who founded the technique. It’s described to be a form of bodywork that reorganizes the connective tissues, called fascia, that permeate the entire body.

What Is Rolfing?

Rolfing Structural Integration works to detach, realign and stabilize the entire body on this web-like network of connective tissues, thus theoretically mitigating stress, minimizing compensation and alleviating pain. Named after its founder, Dr. Ida P. Rolf, Rolfing® Structural Integration is a form of bodywork that reorganizes the connective tissues, called fascia, that permeate the entire body.

Some massage companies may offer what they call a rolfing massage. It’s important to note that rolfing and massage are separate entities, each offering a set of unique benefits for the client.

What Is Rolfing Therapy?

Rolfing is a type of therapy that involves deep manipulation of the body’s connective tissues. It may help alleviate both muscular and psychological tension to realign and restore balance in the body. 

Rolfing works through all the layers of your body to reorganize connective tissues and realign your body.

While Rolfing often involves deep tissue work, Rolfing practitioners vary the depth of their touch in response to the needs of their clients. While deep tissue massage is defined by the depth of touch used, Rolfing is defined by the method practitioners employ.

How Is Rolfing And Massage Different?

Furthermore, although both Rolfing and massage involve soft tissue manipulation, the purposes are different. The purpose of massage therapy is relaxation and release of tension. Rolfing aims for a longer term and overall improvement in your body’s alignment and functioning.

There is published research that demonstrates that Rolfing SI creates a more efficient use of the muscles, allows the body to conserve energy, and creates more economical and refined patterns of movement. 

Only you can decide which treatment would better address your complaints. Rolfing is used by professional athletes and dancers, both to recover from past injuries and to improve their overall performance. But if you haven’t had a recent sports-related injury and you’re not training for hours a day, you might find Rolfing to be an excessive solution.

When Massage Over Rolfing Makes Sense

For some of you, it’s going to make more sense to try a sports massage. Here’s the thing you need to remember, everyday athletes and gym warriors as well as professional athletes, sports massage therapy combines the relaxation of a traditional Swedish massage with deep tissue techniques. Regular sports massage can aid in muscle recovery as well as relieve the tension around particular muscles that are stressed or overused. This might be an issue for you if, for example, you’re going for a run after a particularly intense leg day. Schedule your massages once a week or once every other week for a couple of months and see if you notice any improvement.

When you choose your massage therapist, you do want to make sure you let them know about your training regimen and what activities you’re doing when you notice any pain or discomfort. This information alone will help them judge what massage techniques may be best for your unique scenario. This will help them focus their efforts on the areas where you need it most. Your massage therapist also might give you some stretches and warm-up exercises that will ease your discomfort in between therapy sessions.

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