How is Rolfing different from Massage Therapy?

I get asked a lot of times about the differences between Rolfing and massage therapy. As both a Rolfer and Massage Therapist, I can attest that both have benefits.  But based on what a client’s goals and needs are, one might be better than the other.
There are many varieties of massage, which can be particularly effective for loosening tight tissue, reducing stress, improving range of motion in joints and evoking an increased feeling of relaxation and well-being. Since these benefits are also a by-product of Rolfing, many people experience confusion as to the difference between Rolfing and massage therapy.

Rolfing asks the question, “how can greater ease be found for this body?” Rolfing considers the relationships within the body with the intention of bringing greater balance, adaptability, and integration to the body, allowing for greater support and function throughout. People gravitate towards Rolfing because they have tried many things unsuccessfully and desire change in their bodies with pain, posture, and movement.  Simply put, Rolfing helps the body get back to its natural integrity.

One additional characteristic of Rolfing I will highlight is education.  The role of teacher is something I take seriously. In each session, I seek to impart insights to clients to increase their awareness and understanding of their bodies; to help clients make the work we do their own.  My job is to become obsolete in the process, by empowering my clients to take charge of their own physical and emotional health.

Here is another way of explaining the differences between Rolfing and Massage Therapy.  I love this analogy, and as much as I would love to take credit for it, I can’t–it comes from one of my amazing instructors at the Rolf Institute­® of Structural Integration.

Imagine a river stream coming down off the mountains…..


As the stream comes off the mountain it twists and turns, winding its way down, directed by the landscape with rocks and fallen trees. If you stick your hand in or even step into the water, what happens to the flow of the water? I am sure your answer is that the water redirects, flowing around hand or legs.  Correct!  But what happens when you remove your hand or step back on to the bank?  It goes back to how it was flowing before.

This represents Massage– loosening tight tissue, reducing stress, and evoking an increased feeling of relaxation and well-being.  However, many clients report feeling better for a few days, but slip back into feeling the same aches and pains.

With this same river, you stick your hand into the water and start to move the rocks and fallen trees underneath the surface of the water.  What happens when you remove your hand?  You have changed the flow and direction of the river more permanently.

This represents Rolfing—similar benefits as massage, but as the structure of the body begins to get back to its natural integrity, it wants to stay there.  Posture is different….body habits and movement change, allowing for more sustainability of the results.

So you might be asking, should I pursue Rolfing or massage?

If you are someone looking for relaxation, releasing tension in tight muscles, an overall sense of well-being, and decreasing of stress—massage might be just perfect for you.

If you are someone chronically dealing with pain, the inability of your body to function well, battling poor postural patterns….and you recognize the need for change in your body—Rolfing is a better-suited practice for you.

Both are therapeutic, but for different reasons.  Based on what you are needing or looking for, one or both of these practices may be effective treatment for you.

I hope this is helpful is bringing more of a picture to the differences between Rolfing and massage therapy.  While I haven’t gone into detail in this article to these other practices, chiropractic, massage therapy, physical therapy, acupuncture and Rolfing are complementary practices. And honestly, many times it is a combination of these practices that helps people find well-rounded wellness in their bodies.

So there you have it!