The therapy with the bad rap

Rolf Structural Integration does more to relieve pain than cause it


When most people think of Rolfing Structural Integration, one question immediately comes to mind: Does it hurt?

“This is the most common question that Rolfers get,” says Adam
Mentzell, Certified Advanced Rolfer® at Chautauqua Health Cooperative.
And after more than a decade in the profession, his answer is “generally

Despite a bad rap for putting clients through the ringer — how many
of you imagined an Inquisitor’s rack just reading the headline? —
Rolfing® Structural Integration has done much more to relieve pain than
to cause it.

Amy Hayes of Boulder, who recently completed her own series of Rolfing therapy, had heard the rumors, too.

“I expected it to be excruciating,” she says. The fact that she
decided to give it a try it is a testament to how much pain she had been
in. And for Amy, the leap of faith paid off.

“I felt like I was let out of a straight jacket,” she says. “After 20
years of sitting at a desk, my posture was not perfect […] and I
actually had a lot of pain in my hips and shoulder.”

Amy went through what is known as the Rolfing Ten Series, a set of
ten sessions that works through body, posture and movement issues in a
methodical, structured way — though Amy says she added an 11th session
for some more targeted work.

Named for its founder, Dr. Ida Rolf, Rolfing Structural Integration
is a method of “soft-tissue manipulation and movement education” that
aims to improve posture, lessen aches and pains, increase flexibility
and improve overall physical well-being. The basic premise of the Rolf
method is that an imbalance in one part of the body leads to
compensations and “restrictions” in other parts, which in turn causes
the pain, aches or stiffness we generally associate with aging. By
manipulating — as gently as possible — the underlying connective tissue,
Rolfers try to correct those imbalances, misalignments and areas of

Most of Mentzell’s clients are young adults to middle-aged, he says,
though he also treats a number of athletes who are either looking to
undo some wear-and-tear, or who want to get a little extra edge to their

For anyone who hasn’t experienced this method of structural
integration, Mentzell is keen to point out that while it might look a
little like shiatsu or a backrub — the practitioner does put his or her
hands on certain body parts and move them around — it’s not like a
“really hard massage,” as many people assume.

“People compare it to what they think it’s like,” he says.
For one thing, diagnostics and education play a much bigger role in Rolfing than in a relaxing hour of massage.

Whether a client is looking to solve a specific problem — a tight
shoulder or painful back — or just looking to get more in tune with
their body, each session starts with communication: questions and
answers about what’s working, what isn’t and what the client is looking
to accomplish. That means there’s no “checking out” during a Rolfing

“It’s not a passive process,” Mentzell says. Throughout the session,
as the therapist moves and manipulates different parts of the body, the
client is actively engaged. And once the session is over, there’s a
take-home portion, too.

“There’s a fair amount of homework,” Mentzell says. That homework
involves noticing how you are moving or sitting and learning what you
can do differently to avoid causing more tension and imbalance.  A great
session isn’t wholly effective if the client doesn’t incorporate new
habits, Mentzell says.

“A real strength of the work is that it gives people options for the
habitual things we do in daily life,” he says. “The goal is to get
clients to a place of self-managing …”

Despite the physical focus of the work, Mentzell says the most
exciting part of his career has been seeing the emotional impact
successful treatment has for his clients.

“As we change the way we move and stand and go through life, it’s not
just a mechanical issue,” he says. “It’s something that transfers over
to how we are in the world. And that’s one of the things that keeps me
excited about the work over time, getting to witness those changes.”

For anyone considering giving Rolfing therapy a try, Mentzell says
successful treatment requires open communication between client and
practitioner. He suggests talking to several different certified Rolfers
and finding someone you feel comfortable opening up with.

“This work is really a partnership,” he says. “The fit is important.”

The Rolf Institute for Structural Integration, founded in 1971, has
its headquarters in Boulder. For more information, visit,
or call 303-449-5903.

For more information about Adam Mentzell, visit