Chiropractor Vs. Massage Therapist: Which Is Better?

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Neck pain, back pain, sciatica, a pulled muscle, knots—all reasons to consider chiropractor vs. massage therapist or chiropractor with massage. But you don’t want to waste time or money with a solution that won’t help you feel better. And honestly, while both do excellent work, sometimes chiropractor or massage is better——and sometimes both.

Many face this dilemma, torn between the two and struggling to commit. On the surface, they seem to get similar results. After all, both effectively prevent some conditions and improve the healing process while providing pain relief.

But in reality, their goals, methods, and benefits couldn’t be more different.

Understanding the difference between massage and chiropractic can tell you whether you need massage or chiropractor first or to skip one altogether. Chiropractors and massage therapists are very aware of the importance of each other’s methods. Most chiropractors will wholeheartedly recommend massage therapy for specific conditions and vice versa. 

Which one is the real winner? It depends on your unique situation, so take the chiropractor vs. massage therapy quiz to find out. Or read on to learn more about these two effective methods for managing pain and stress.

Take the quiz now to find out which is better for your situation.

Chiropractor Vs. Massage Therapist: What’s The Difference?

Massage vs. chiropractor
Chiropractor Vs Massage Therapist

What’s the difference between chiropractor and massage therapist? What’s better massage or chiropractor?

The debate of chiropractor vs massage therapist continues. But they have a lot in common. Both chiropractic treatment and massage therapy have roots in ancient Chinese culture. The treatments are considered holistic care and promote health and wellness. Like many holistic methods, they increase the body’s ability to heal itself without medication or surgery.

However, in practice, they are very different.

Chiropractor – Supporting Spinal Alignment for Better Function

Chiropractic care is a non-invasive method designed to identify and restore proper range of motion. The primary goal of chiropractic care is to support a healthy neuroskeletal system. This system includes bones, joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, and other connective tissues.

But by far, the skeleton and the joints are the most critical pieces.

Your skeleton is your body’s structural support, and the spine is by far the most critical part of your skeleton. When it’s not aligned, you may experience pain, tension, pinched nerves, inflammation, unnecessary wear-and-tear on joints, and sudden or increasing loss of mobility.

Chiropractors focus on bone alignment as the root cause of these issues.

This care can support strength, mobility, and a faster, more thorough recovery after an injury. Similar to a dentist recommending that you brush and floss in between visits to maintain tooth and gum health, a chiropractor will also recommend an at-home exercise regimen and ongoing visits to reinforce the adjustment and help you experience lasting relief.

To get to the root cause of pain and discomfort, schedule an initial consultation, including a comprehensive evaluation and first treatment.

They may additionally suggest other therapies like nutrition therapy, acupuncture, and massage to enhance your results.

Do chiropractors do massage therapy? Many ask this. Usually, chiropractors do not do massage. A chiropractor could hire a massage therapist to provide massage within a chiropractic clinic as a separate service. But chiropractors and massage therapists require different skills and education.

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Massage Therapist – Easing Tension to Support Wellness

In massage therapy, the primary practice is the manipulation of soft tissues—mostly muscle groups. This manipulation comes with improved circulation and flexibility, and relaxation. It stimulates the nervous system and promotes tissue healing. It can reduce out-of-control inflammation.

Regular sessions can promote mental and emotional well-being as well. And since mind-body-emotions are all connected, this can promote overall physical health and wellness.

Either chiropractic or massage therapy can help you manage chronic pain. And chiropractors and massage therapy together can be even better. Still, the key difference between massage and chiropractic remains. Massage doesn’t impact the root cause of the pain (misalignments in the spine).

So yes, massage can have immediate benefits. But even with repeated massage sessions, the pain keeps returning unless you also work on the root cause—improving your structural integrity. On the other hand, chiropractic can.

Take the quiz to find out if you need chiropractic vs. massage.

Chiropractor Vs. Massage: What Do They Do?

What Does a Chiropractor Do?

Chiropractors are primary healthcare providers that can treat several conditions. Their main goal is to release subluxations in the spine. Subluxations occur when a vertebra (a single backbone) moves out of alignment with the other vertebrae. This is quite often visible on an X-ray.

Chiropractors generally use spinal manipulation and manually applied force or pressure to joints to adjust the spine, bones, and joints into proper alignment. As a chiropractor, I’m trained to feel misalignments and correct them.

Chiropractic Evaluation and Diagnosis

During your first visit, a chiropractor performs a complete evaluation to understand where misalignments and dysfunctions in the neuromuscular system exist. This will allow them to develop a personalized treatment plan to address them. They’ll ask you to perform specific movements and also guide other motions to understand better how your body is working—or isn’t.

This evaluation may include imaging tests like X-rays or MRI to confirm the injuries that a chiropractor can feel.

Chiropractic Treatment

Depending on your diagnosis, the chiropractor may perform a chiropractic adjustment during the initial visit.

In addition to spinal manipulation, chiropractors may use limited massage, splints, braces, physical therapy or shockwave therapy. They may also order X-rays and refer patients to other medical specialists, such as orthopedic surgeons or physical therapists when needed.

Chiropractors may give nutritional advice and prescribe vitamin regimens and exercise as a treatment. They may also recommend that you see a massage therapist.

For example, upper cervical chiropractic care focuses on the cervical spine. This is the part of your backbone located along the back of your neck. Misalignments here can lead to pinched nerves, upper body numbness, muscle spasms, and pain. In severe cases, you may develop cervical spinal stenosis and severe neuropathy.

Ultimately, the nerve signals traveling from the brain stem into the spinal cord become disrupted. This confuses the messages your brain and body are trying to send each other.

This can lead to seemingly unrelated medical conditions like tension headaches, TMJ pain, bruxism (teeth clenching or grinding), and mid to lower back pain.

Chiropractic Care Targets the Root Cause of Most Pain

Chiropractors target two vertebrae known as atlas and axis, found where the skull and brain stem connect with the first spinal vertebra.

Once they restore the balance with a chiropractic adjustment, that nerve signal flow is restored, and your body knows how to do the rest, fixing itself.

This enables the body and the nervous system to operate at their best possible level.

But chiropractors don’t focus solely on the spine. Chiropractors are responsible for treating the entire musculoskeletal and neuromuscular system, with the spine a primary focus because of the importance of the spinal cord.

In other words, we are treating bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscles.

chiropractor vs. massage therapist

What Does a Massage Therapist Do?

On the other hand, massage therapists are experienced in treating only muscular conditions and in helping relieve muscle pain, stiffness, and tension through hands-on treatments. That’s the big difference between massage and chiropractor.

Through massage, they can relieve inflammation short-term, which can undoubtedly improve nervous system function (if there is no nerve obstruction like a misaligned vertebra) and allow the body to heal soft tissues. This can also improve blood flow, lymphatic system drainage, and blood circulation for a time after the massage.

They focus on the muscles and soft tissues and perform one or several types of massage, often using different oils or lotions.

The massage therapist can also use different techniques: Each has different goals, so you should discuss what you want to achieve from massage with your therapist.

They may offer:

  • Swedish
  • Deep Tissue
  • Sports
  • Hot Stone
  • Chair
  • Prenatal
  • Trigger Point
  • Geriatric

For example, a sports massage is a very intense massage intended for athletes. Its goal isn’t to relax the client but to promote connective tissue health to reduce the risk of injury.

Types of massage therapy
Types of Massage Therapy

Massage vs. Chiropractor: Their Origins

According to Western Medicine, Daniel David Palmer founded the chiropractic profession in 1895. He studied human anatomy and concluded that many ailments resulted from pressure on the nerves from structural issues in the body.

Without a doubt, Palmer certainly expanded the science of chiropractic and normalized it in the Western World. However, even Palmer himself never said he invented chiropractic.

Writings about chiropractic adjustments date back to nearly 5000 years ago in what is now China, with separate writings in Greece some 2500 years later.

The first documentations of massage also date back around 5000 years to India’s Ayurveda medicine. Within this ancient set of health restoring and maintenance practices, massage is still revered and seen as an essential part of holistic health and optimal wellness.

References to early massage healing practices are also found in ancient Chinese and Egyptian writings.

Chiropractor Vs. Massage: Their Philosophy

Each profession offers benefits to the patient. But the approaches are not the same.   

A chiropractor’s approach is not necessarily just focusing on the area of pain only to provide temporary relief. They focus on “WHY?” the individual is experiencing those symptoms.

On the other hand, massage therapists provide more temporary relief. They are treating the symptoms but not the reason for those symptoms.

How Often Are Chiropractor Visits Needed

This depends on what your chiropractor is treating, its severity and personal goals. Generally, weekly to monthly visits are enough to reset the structural misalignment and relieve nervous system pressure and symptoms you experience from it. You should see significant improvements within 2 to 4 weeks with weekly visits.

However, for a time, these improvements need to be maintained with ongoing chiropractic care.

Through holistic functional medicine, a chiropractor’s longer-term goal for patients is to strengthen their joints, ligaments, tendons, and muscles’ ability to support healthier alignment when possible to the point that you no longer need a chiropractor or need to see them less frequently.

This can take several months or years. And some patients may need to see their chiropractor on an ongoing basis.

How Often Is Massage Therapy Needed

This can vary widely. At least once a month is a good starting point. If you’re actively working with a chiropractor with massage therapist to resolve a specific ailment, then your chiropractor may recommend massage before or after each adjustment.

Chiropractic adjustments can cause soreness as the body tries to reset itself. Chiropractor with massage care can ease the soreness to speed your body’s natural healing processes.

So, if you’re receiving chiropractor with massage, you will align massage appointments with a chiropractor. That means getting a massage more often.

You may be wondering can chiropractors do massage therapy? Yes, some do. Others focus primarily on chiropractic and other functional medicine areas like nutrition, acupuncture, laser therapy, etc., as we do in our clinic.

Massage Vs. Chiropractor: Education and Training

One of the most significant differences between chiropractors and massage therapists is their educational background. Chiropractors are healthcare professionals who need a four-year undergraduate education and a four-year doctorate in chiropractic.

During their programs, chiropractors pass several rounds of boards and certification tests and take classes in physics, chemistry, biology, anatomy, and physiology.

Massage therapist school, on the other hand, typically includes around 500 hours of training. However, this does vary from state to state. After training, they have the option to become licensed by completing FSMTB’s MBLEx exams that cover pathology, kinesiology, anatomy, physiology, body systems, and business ethics.

All of this can take 2 years or fewer.

Is Chiropractor or Massage Better?

So, many wonder: is chiropractic better than massage or vice versa? But the truth is both are very useful tools for restoring and maintaining function and easing symptoms related to that dysfunction. In some cases, chiropractor care is better, but massage can get the job done in others. In most situations, a chiropractor with massage is best.

Take our chiropractor vs. massage therapist quiz to see which we might recommend based on your unique symptoms and goals. You may be surprised which works best for common issues like these:

Chiropractor Vs Massage for Sciatica

Sciatica is a nervous system disorder involving sharp pain going down the legs from the lower back. It has several possible causes, from diabetes to herniated discs to bone spurs. The cause determines whether massage or chiropractor is best for sciatica. Sometimes, both. Other times, neither.

Chiropractor Vs Massage for Knots

What people refer to as knots are typically points of tension that can lead to tight or jumpy muscles. This results from unbalanced repetitive motion often combined with the underuse of nearby connected soft tissues.

Chiropractor Vs Massage for Back Pain

Massage may be just what you need to relieve occasional back pain. We encourage you to learn when chiropractor care may provide a better solution by taking the quiz.

Chiropractor or Massage of Neck Pain

Similarly, neck pain can have many causes, from compression in the cervical spine to poor sleeping habits.

Chiropractic or Massage for Pulled Muscle

While massage may seem like the clear choice for muscle issues, you need to ask why your muscle is getting pulled.

Chiropractic or Massage Therapy for a Neuropathy

Similar to sciatica, neuropathy is a nerve disease that may be caused by diabetes, poor circulation, or spinal dysfunction among other causes.

Chiropractic Care and Massage Therapy Are Better Together

Ultimately, a balance of these two therapies can provide patients with the best outcome possible. Massage therapy can help loosen the muscles before or after a chiropractic adjustment. A chiropractic back adjustment can last longer when a patient’s muscle tension is released.

As a result, the body has the best chance to heal itself after an adjustment.

Chiropractor with massage
Pre-Chiropractic Massage Therapy

The Benefits of Seeing a Chiropractor with Massage Therapist

Massage can break up adhesions. These are abnormal bunching of tissues that happen due to inflammation and injury.

With these adhesions broken up, the tissues can stretch and move more easily. As a result, the soft tissues adjust to chiropractic adjustments more readily. Massage also increases circulation, delivering oxygen and nutrients soft tissues need to heal themselves.

It also improves lymphatic function. One of the roles of the lymphatic system is to drain excess fluid and carry dead and dying cells out of the body, both critical to the immune system’s function in the healing process.

That’s why you may experience less soreness after a chiropractor visit when preceded by a massage appointment a day or so before.

Do I Need A Chiropractor Or Massage Therapist First?

Both chiropractic care and massage therapy can be helpful preventative measures to avoid the pains and discomfort that come from everyday life.

Possible Injury, Ongoing Radiating Pain, Sudden Unexplained Pain, Nerve Pain

In these cases, it is typically best to visit a chiropractor first. They will be able to ensure it is safe to see a massage therapist. So when choosing between chiropractor or massage first? Chiropractor.

Chiropractic care is better if you have joint pain, spinal disc issues, or pinched sciatic nerve. A chiropractor will identify the cause of your pain, whether it is muscular or skeletal, and help choose the correct treatment course.

Muscle Pain, Soreness, Stiffness, Need to Relax

If your primary issue is muscle pain or stiffness, or you are looking to simply relax and unwind, massage therapy is the right option. By massaging, massage therapists can increase circulation to the affected area, relieving the buildup of lactic acid that often causes muscle spasms and pain.

If you are still debating chiropractor vs. massage therapist, you should always consider getting professional advice from a licensed and trained chiropractor.

There are other individual factors to consider. Take the massage therapist vs. chiropractor quiz to learn which is better based on your unique health challenges and situation.

To get to the root cause of pain and discomfort, schedule an initial consultation, including a comprehensive evaluation and first treatment.

Active Release Technique (ART): An effective treatment for chronic pain

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Our body has incredible techniques of self-healing if we give proper stimulation to it. Active Release Technique (ART) is a simple way to heal chronic pain without the need for any surgery. This non-invasive treatment involves massage and body movement to heal chronic pain which happens because of problems in ligaments, muscles, nerves, tendons, and fascia.

This technique causes the breaking of scar tissues which are also called adhesions. This allows proper blood circulation in the body and increases flexibility and release of entrapped nerves for faster healing. The main aim of ART is to allow joints to move freely without any stiffness.

The active release technique is a movement-based technique that’s very specific, where it targets muscles from their origin to their insertion point, to break up scar tissue and muscle adhesion.

What kind of conditions can be treated with the active release technique?

Chiropractors, doctors, physical therapists, and massage therapists use this technique to treat many chronic and acute pains. In the case of soft tissue injuries or traumatic accidents, ART is an effective treatment.

There are various conditions with which the active release technique can help, which include neck pain, lower back pain, tennis elbow also known as epicondylitis, golfer’s elbow, and tension headaches. The active release technique can also help with pains that are more uncommon such as:

  • Shin splints
  • Chronic tension or headaches that can stem from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Shoulder strains and sprains
  • Rotator cuff injuries
  • Peripheral nerve entrapments such as Sciatica
  • Plantar fasciitis. Plantar fasciitis is pain at the bottom of the foot, which we found that the Active Release Technique can really help combined with Shockwave Therapy.

Active Release Technique for treating scar tissue

The active release technique is very good at breaking up scar tissue. The scar tissue is basically fibrous tissue, which makes the muscle harder to move, and we sometimes lose a little bit of mobility. Scar tissue can be between muscle and muscle, muscle and ligament, and ligament and nerves. The active release technique works really hard to break up these scar tissue or muscle adhesion.

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Once ART breaks up the scar tissue, patients may experience the below benefits:

  • Relief in muscles stiffness
  • Feeling of restoration in fingers and toes
  • Enhanced flexibility and strength
  • Less inflammation and joint pain.
  • Relief while doing exercise or other physical activity

ART is not much relaxing as a massage; it may be uncomfortable for patients. But once done, you will get a chance to participate in all physical activities and get relief from pain. This makes this technique worthwhile.

So what is scar tissue? 

Scar tissue is fibrous tissue that’s crisscrossed and can cause impairment in mobility. It is a collection of collagen and cells which covers the injury site. The way it does that is if scar tissue is blocking the blood flow, then we can see some of that tingling and numbness in the extremities.

Signs of scar tissue

  • Stiffness in the neck, knees, back, or elbow
  • Pain during exercise
  • Pain at the bottom of the foot near the heel
  • Tingling or numbness in the fingers
  • Decrease in flexibility or limited motion
  • Reduced strength
  • Inflamed joints

The active release technique has a multitude of benefits, including the increase in ranges of motion and mobility, which ultimately allows you to perform your activities at a much higher level.

Side effects of Active Release Technique (ART)

Patients may find some residual soreness and sometimes a little bit of pain and bruising. But most of our patients have recovered relatively well and quickly, ultimately resulting in less pain, less chronic pain, and just better movement throughout their day.

Who can benefit from the Active Release Technique (ART)?

Many star athletes, amateur athletes, or weekend warriors who want to do something adventurous in their life, prefer ART. Hence all age groups can take advantage of this technique with the help of a licensed provider.

To get to the root cause of pain and discomfort, schedule an initial consultation, including a comprehensive evaluation and first treatment.

Can the Active Release Technique replace surgery?

Sometimes we get the question of whether the active release technique can help prevent surgery. Lots of times we have been able to delay or even prevent surgery. An example, we got one patient in our clinic who’s been coming to us for a few months now for carpal tunnel syndrome. Carpal tunnel syndrome is where we lose blood flow and have nerve collisions because of the tightness around the wrist.

We’re able to release that through active release techniques or ART, which help them get a better feeling and less pain into their hands, ultimately preventing surgery altogether. They’re super thrilled to visit us at our San Francisco clinic. This can definitely arise in other parts of the body and the active release techniques can help even prevent surgical interventions. So if you or your loved one is suffering from any sort of musculoskeletal injury at any of the extremities, give us a call, and let’s get you on our schedule so we can see what’s going on and see if the active release technique or ART is the best type of therapy for you.

What to expect during an ART treatment?

This technique involves physical exams and treatment all at once. After knowing your pain area, your practitioner will sense the tightness or unusual muscle movement in the affected area. This is an examination phase.

After problem detection, your practitioner will manipulate the affected area with suitable movements. Such a technique will stretch the soft tissues and will break the adhesion which causes pain.

An expert practitioner should perform this technique. If you think that this technique will cure you, contact us.

Final Word

If you’re suffering from any sort of sports injury or any joint issues, give us a call at our San Francisco clinic. We have many different providers at our clinic that are trained to perform active release techniques and can get you better as quickly as possible. So you can go back to doing what you love.

 At our San Francisco clinic, we are versed in treating many different injuries with active release techniques. Get on our schedule with one of our trained providers so we can get started.

To get to the root cause of pain and discomfort, schedule an initial consultation, including a comprehensive evaluation and first treatment..