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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Deep Tissue
- Hot Stone
- Trigger Point
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.
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.
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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.