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Rolfing Massage

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.[1] Essentially, Rolfing is based on the theory that instead of being made up of separate parts, your body is a seamless network of tissues. Rolfing works through all the layers of your body to reorganize connective tissues and realign your body.[2]

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.[3]

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.[4]

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.[5] 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 overkill.

Instead, you might first try a sports massage. Designed for everyday athletes and gym warriors as well as professional athletes, sports massage 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, tell them about your training regimen and what activities you’re doing when you notice any pain or discomfort. 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.


[1] Rolf Institute of Structural Integration: “What is Rolfing Structural Integration?” https://www.rolf.org/rolfing.php

[2] Id.

[3] Body Balance Rolfing and Massage: “What Rolfing Isn’t” https://bodybalanceportland.com/?p=2090

[4] ActionPotential: “What is Rolfing?” http://www.rolfusa.com/rolfing.html

[5] Rolf Institute of Structural Integration: “What is Rolfing Structural Integration?” https://www.rolf.org/rolfing.php

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