What’s the Difference Between Rolfing and Massage?

There is so much confusion around the difference between Rolfing and massage, in great part because many states require that Rolfers have a massage license in order to practice (Washington State is one).  Rolfing has been lumped in with massage and the differences not clearly distinguished.

In truth, Rolfing bears more resemblance to physical therapy.  When a client comes to my office, we first do a health intake so that I can learn about any possible contraindications or other concerns.  Then I do a postural and movement assessment with the client standing and walking.  Then, we begin work.  I may have the client lie on a massage table, but just as frequently, I have the client sitting on a special height adjustable bench or working with one of my other office tools.

There is a movement afoot to have Rolfing recognized under a different therapy umbrella – structural integration.  Ida Rolf, the founder of Rolfing, called her work structural integration, and her work has spawned numerous offshoot therapies: Hellerwork, Soma, KMI, Anatomy Trains and even just plain old, generic structural integration.

Some massage schools give cursory classes in what they term structural integration massage, but your average massage practitioner is not trained to assess posture and movement the same way that structural integration practitioners (including all of the therapies above) are taught.  In truth, the way of “seeing” the body that structural integration practitioners learn is very different from the western model of looking at the body.

Whereas most western practitioners try to isolate the symptoms and “fix” the part of the body that has broken down, Rolfers and other structural integration practitioners look at the body in a holistic manner.  We look to see how each joint is affecting every other joint, how the whole system is functioning together as a unit.  This is why we are often able to pinpoint movement deficiencies that escape minute analysis.

To truly grasp the difference between massage and structural integration or Rolfing, it’s best to experience it.  Even my clients say that it’s tough to put in words exactly how Rolfing feels, but once you know it a light bulb comes on.  Your body just “gets” it.

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  1. says

    Hi there! I think I watched you in a video about Rolfing not too long ago!
    I am inquiring about pricing.
    I have had a pain and weakness in my left arm for about 2 months now. Supposedly tendinitis, my doctor suggested lots of Ibuprofen and physical therapy if it persists after a couple weeks.
    I was referred by an ND to try Rolfing. I have Aetna insurance but do not know if it covers this sort of therapy.
    Please share cost info and anything else that you can so that I can plan accordingly. I do feel a sense of urgency, so please also share your availability on any upcoming Mondays & Tuesdays. I would really like to address this issue as it seems to be worsening.
    Thank you so much & enjoy your snowy Sunday!

    • admin says

      Hi Melyssa,

      Prices for sessions are listed under the Rates and Scheduling link in the navigation menu at the top of the page. I do not directly bill insurance; however, you may be able to self bill for reimbursement. You’ll need to check with your insurance provider to see how much of the session is covered and what kind of referral you need, if any.

      The best way to find an appointment that works would be to click the “Schedule Now” button at the top right of this site and find a time that fits your schedule. You can also email me directly (info at sukiebaxter dot com) if you prefer not to use the online calendar.

      For tendonitis, we’d want to look at why the tendon became strained in the first place. I can’t physically heal the tendon – that takes time and blood flow – but I can help take the strain off the tissue to allow it to heal faster. Weakness sounds like something might be getting impinged in the shoulder or neck – I’d have to see you to know for sure, of course.

      Probably the best course of action for you starting out would be to schedule a 60 minute toe-dabbler session as an intro so I can get a better idea of what’s going on with you and you can get a taste of Rolfing to see if it’s something you want to pursue. You can schedule that on the online calendar, or email me, as per above.

      Happy Sunday!

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