What Is Rolfing? A Guide to the Massage Therapy Emma Lovewell Swears By

Massage is a great way to treat yourself or relieve tension in achy muscles. But if you’re looking for a way to transform your overall well-being, Peloton instructor and Flow Advisor Emma Lovewell recommends booking a Rolfing session.

Rolfing, also known as Rolfing Structural Integration, is a type of bodywork that targets and manipulates the deep tissue in the body. The practice is focused on the fascia — connective tissue that holds together every organ, bone, nerve fiber, and muscle. This webbing stabilizes your organs and bones while reducing the friction your muscles have when moving.

Think of the fascia as the white threads you see when you peel an orange, describes Lovewell. This white spongy substance surrounds the oranges, and similarly, the fascia surrounds your muscles and tissue. And like with any muscle, stress and prolonged immobility can tighten this structural support, restricting your range of movement and worsening posture. A tight fascia network can prevent oxygen from entering and exiting the muscles. With Rolfing, “the idea is to loosen the space around the muscles so that the muscles can move more freely. It can feel like a lot of pinching, kind of like separating the skin off of the meat.”

Lovewell says she first discovered Rolfing when she had just started teaching Spin and was suffering from plantar fasciitis. “I was going to this one physical therapist who was massaging my foot and having me roll my foot around on a tennis ball, and nothing was working,” she says. She finally found relief from a Rolfing session focused on her hip and groin. “The whole belief is [that] everything stems from something else. So if you have knee pain, it’s probably connected to your hip or your ankle.”

For her Rolfing sessions now, Lovewell works with Jessa Zinn, owner of The Fascia Lab. “I can’t sing her praises enough. I see Jessa every other week now, or once a month, depending on my availability, and I’ll go for a two-hour session. It’s just the most therapeutic thing…she’s helped me so much.”

Zinn found Rolfing after experiencing back pain. Yoga temporarily helped, but when her back pain returned, the practice actually made it worse. With a colleague’s recommendation, she found Rolfing and found the experience empowering. “Rolfing gave me a connection to my movement patterns that I hadn’t previously had awareness through. By becoming aware of those patterns, I was able to manage them over time.”

If you’re curious about the practice, here’s what to know to see if Rolfing is right for you.

Rolfing is different from massage. Advocates of Rolfing suggest the release of tension and realignment of the body provides long-term health benefits that go beyond the traditional massage. “While a regular massage can leave you feeling looser and more relaxed for a limited time after, Rolfing focuses on releasing pain and assisting in restoring proper alignment of the body, creating long-lasting pain relief,” says CG Funk, a massage therapist at Massage Heights and board member of the International Spa Association.

Stacie Scarbery, an Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals member and owner of Denver Highlands & Wheat Ridge Rolfing acknowledges the usefulness of massage and physical therapy. However, when it comes to Rolfing, she finds the practice unique because it is aimed at educating the patient on their body and treating the root cause instead of the symptoms. “I find that when patients understand their body and its patterns, then they are able to avoid falling into old habits that keep them locked in pain.”

Related story

Leaky Bladder? Urinary Incontinence Can Happen at Any Age. Here's How to Find Relief