Rolfing Massage: An Alternative for Stress and Pain

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Rolfing Structural Integration (Rolfing for short) is a type of hands-on bodywork that targets fascia (connective tissue) throughout the body. The Rolfing technique uses sensations to activate the nervous system, which then tells the muscles to relax. It is used to help decrease pain, improve posture, and make moving the body easier.

This article discusses Rolfing—what it is, what it helps, how it differs from massage, potential drawbacks, and how to find a practitioner.

<p>Daniel de la Hoz / Getty Images</p>

Daniel de la Hoz / Getty Images

What Is Fascia?

Fascia is connective tissue that can be found throughout the body. Its function is to hold other structures—organs, nerves, blood vessels, bones, muscles—in the proper place. Fascia also connects the skin to the structures beneath it.

Goal of Rolfing Massage Therapy

The primary goal of Rolfing is to release tension throughout the body and improve posture by realigning the fascia. Rolfing also improves flexibility and reenergizes the body. It can potentially help reduce pain and ease chronic stress.

Conditions Treated and People Who Could Benefit

According to the Dr. Ida Rolf Institute, Rolfing can benefit people from "all walks of life, with different skills and journeys," including children and infants.

Rolfing has been reported to help in the following ways:

  • Improve athletic performance

  • Help athletes return to their sport after injury

  • Reduce symptoms of low-back pain

  • Decrease the occurrence of repetitive stress injuries in the workplace

  • Improve performance in the workplace

  • Help correct curvatures of the spine

  • Help people feel more comfortable in their bodies

  • Increase energy levels

  • Improve neurological function

According to biochemist Ida Rolf, the founder of Rolfing, areas of the body that have been injured are also emotionally charged. As a result, Rolfing can help bring emotional pain and negative memories to the surface to help the individual process them, leading to emotional harmony.

Rolfing Massage Techniques

According to the Dr. Rolf Institute, Rolfing is not a form of massage. Rolfing involves these three steps:

  • Palpating: Feeling the tissue to determine where there are imbalances

  • Discriminating: Separating the layers of the fascia in areas that have become "stuck"

  • Integrating: Returning the tissues to proper alignment

Rolfing is often provided in a set of 10 sessions called the Ten-Series. Each session focuses on a specific body area.

Sessions one through three are called "sleeve sessions" and aim to loosen and balance the superficial layers of connective tissue. Sessions four through seven are called "core sessions" and focus on the bottom of the pelvis to the top of the head.

Sessions eight through ten are "integration sessions," blending the work of the previous sessions to improve the body's movement as a whole.

Rolfing vs. Physical Therapy and Regular Massage

While Rolfing is a type of tissue manipulation, it differs from physical therapy and massage.

Physical therapy is performed by licensed healthcare professionals—physical therapists (PTs) and physical therapist assistants (PTAs). Physical therapy is used to restore function and help prevent disability for people with injuries and other health conditions.

While physical therapists sometimes perform soft tissue massage, it is only one of many hands-on techniques these healthcare professionals use. Physical therapists use a variety of other treatment interventions, such as:

  • Joint manipulation/mobilization

  • Stretching

  • Strengthening exercises

  • Gait training (improving a person's ability to walk)

  • Pain-relieving modalities (such as heat/cold, ultrasound, electrical stimulation, cold laser)

Massage therapy is performed by a licensed massage therapist (LMT). Massage therapy also involves tissue manipulation to help improve overall wellness or reduce the side effects of a health condition.

Massage therapists use various techniques to help reduce tension, improve circulation and flexibility, and promote relaxation.

Examples of massage therapy techniques include:

  • Swedish massage (promotes circulation and relaxation)

  • Asian Bodywork (ABT) (balances the flow of energy throughout the body)

  • Neuromuscular massage or trigger point therapy (reduced tightness and "knots" in muscles)

  • Deep tissue massage (helps break up scar tissue)

  • Myofascial release (decreases tightness in the fascia)

  • Lymphatic drainage (improves the flow of lymphatic fluids to help remove toxins)

  • Prenatal and maternity massage

Rolfing vs. Myofascial Release

While Rolfing and myofascial release target the fascia, they are not the same. Rolfing focuses on treating fascia restrictions throughout the body to bring it back into alignment. Myofascial release treats conditions affecting fascia in a specific body part, such as the low back.

Rolfing Drawbacks

While Rolfing has many reported potential benefits, there can be some drawbacks, including:

  • It can be uncomfortable: In general, Rolfing should not be painful. However, the initial pressure applied to areas requiring treatment can be uncomfortable. This discomfort is usually brief.

  • It can bring up emotional trauma or repressed memories: Rolfer's (Rolfing practitioners) are not trained mental health professionals, and the emotional release that can occur during Rolfing is not the primary goal of treatment.

  • It can be expensive: The cost of Rolfing varies by location, but sessions can cost several hundred dollars each.

Does Insurance Cover Rolfing?

Like many types of alternative health treatments, Rolfing is not likely to be covered by insurance. However, there might be exceptions. Contact your individual health insurance provider for more information.

How to Find Certified Rolfing Therapists

Practitioners who refer to themselves as Rolfers are certified graduates of the Dr. Ida Rolf Institute. You can find a certified Rolfer in the directory on the Dr. Ida Rolf Institute website or use their search tool to verify practitioners.


Rolfing is a type of hands-on bodywork that targets the fascia—connective tissue throughout the body that holds other structures in place. Restrictions in the fascia can lead to chronic pain, poor posture, and difficulty moving the body. The primary goal of Rolfing is to release tension in the fascia throughout the body and bring it back into alignment, allowing the body to move more freely.

There can be drawbacks of this type of treatment. Rolfing can be uncomfortable, and it sometimes brings up repressed emotions or memories of past trauma. Sessions can be expensive.

Read the original article on Verywell Health.