A doctor showing the patient the spine and the lower back.

Massage vs. Chiropractor

A doctor showing a patient the spine and the lower back.

If you’re not a healthcare professional, it’s very easy to confuse chiropractic therapy with massage therapy, and vice-versa. Both are crucial therapies in the healthcare industry and help millions of people around the U.S (and the world) who suffer from a wide variety of physical and mental ailments feel better.

With that being said, it’s important to know the differences between the two in order to know which therapy is right for you. While they do overlap in a few areas — i.e. both are effective when it comes to aiding the healing process and can provide an improved range of motion for patients — they are both two very different therapies.

In this article, we’re going to look closely at both massage and chiropractic therapy to help you gain a better understanding.


Where Do Chiropractic & Massage Therapy Come From?

Both massage therapy and chiropractic care come from Chinese culture. Evidence of massage therapy has been found in writing and drawing as far back as 2330 BC in ancient Egypt!

The history of chiropractic care also traces its roots back to Greece and China. The Greek Father of Medicine, Hippocrates, once wrote that “Knowledge of the spine is requisite for many diseases”, about chiropractic care.

Massage therapy comes in several forms, but it boils down to this: manipulate the soft tissue so that the patient can have increased flexibility, circulation and relaxation. It also helps to heal damaged tissue.

Massage therapy and chiropractic care stem from the same ideology – use a hands-on approach to encourage the body to heal itself. They both work to alleviate pain, and offer similar benefits, like:

  • Reduced joint and muscle pain
  • Improved posture
  • Greater range of motion
  • More mobile joints

But there are some key differences between the two practices. What are they? What are some of the secrets of the industry?

Massage vs. Chiropractic: Understanding The Differences

Education & Training

The requirements to become a massage therapist vary by state. It can be anywhere from 330 to 500 hours of training, along with a massage therapy education program. Hopeful therapists then have to pass an exam and get a license. Depending on the state the person works in, the requirements are different for license renewal, but all include continuing education.

Chiropractors, on the other hand, are doctors. They have to go through a combined eight years of school – four in an undergraduate program and four more in a chiropractic program. They have to go through chemistry, anatomy, physiology, and physics classes.

After a chiropractor receives their required education they will have to take the NBC (National Board of Chiropractic Examiners) exam. It’s a four-part test that covers:

  • Basic science, especially spinal anatomy
  • Diagnosing and treating clinical subjects
  • Case history and Exams.
  • Practical exam, reading x-rays and demonstrating the technique

As is the case with most medications, what a chiropractor does next depends on the state they wish to practice in. Some states include a background check, a state-level exam, and a licensing fee.

There’s a stark difference between the training a chiropractor and a massage therapist go through. A chiropractor has a more complete understanding of the body and far more hours put in.

A woman having her back adjusted at the chiropractor.

What They Help With & How They Are Practiced

Massage therapists also largely deal with spiritual health, as well as physical. Their goal is relaxation and stress relief. Calming music or incense are commonplace with a massage therapist.

A chiropractor’s office looks more like a regular doctor’s office. Their focus is on treating the injured or painful parts of the entire musculoskeletal system, rather than just loosening someone up.

Chiropractors use things like x-rays, heat therapy, and physical therapy and then refer patients to somewhere else if needed.

Chiropractic care doesn’t focus on soft tissue like massage therapy but focuses on the central nervous system and the spine. If your spine is aligned correctly, then your central nervous system can work properly.

Sore muscles can be created from overexertion or sudden exercise. Pain is usually the sign of your spine being out of alignment. If that is the case, you should go to your chiropractor for the best treatment options.

A woman having a relaxing back massage.

What They Focus on

Usually, a massage is done as a Swedish massage. It is normal to find scented candles, a dimly lit room, and some background music. The therapist will use gentle to medium pressure and focus on relaxation.

Most spas after add-ons like sugar scrubs and pedicures. While a massage can loosen up the tight muscles, these massages are focused on relaxation and can offer you some downtime with the add-ons.

When you first visit the chiropractor you will spend time describing what is wrong. They can also give you relaxation, but the focus is to help with chronic pain and health issues.

Once they find the problem, they can get to the root of it. Instead of temporary relief, a chiropractor can give you answers to the pain. This can involve alignments, stretching, and massages.

Massage Types

If you go to a spa and are confused by the list of massages, here are what they all mean:

  • Lymphatic Drain – This is a special massage that helps drain the lymph nodes, which helps immune function and eliminates lymphedema.
  • Hot Stone Massage – This massage has round, hot stones that are placed on the body to relieve tense muscles.
  • Shiatsu – The Shiatsu massage comes from Japan and gently stretches and uses finger pressure to help with energy flow.
  • Thai Massage – This isn’t so much relaxing as it is invigorating and it involves the whole body. It is often referred to as the lazy person’s yoga. It helps with flexibility and energy.
  • Sports massage – Those who are extremely active like athletes get these done to help massage muscles and improve blood flow.
  • Trigger Point – This helps release muscles that are tense and locked in a single place. This can cause pain, headaches, and insomnia.
  • Deep Tissue – This method uses deep and slow movements to help with muscles that have concentrated pressure.
  • Swedish Massage – Usually if you have muscles in your neck or back that are tense, joints can be pulled out of place and cause pain. The Swedish massage helps relax muscles so that you can have adjustments made.
  • Myofascial Release – This helps ease pain by stimulating the stretch reflex that is in muscles while also releasing contracted muscles.

A man having a deep tissue back massage.

Insurance Coverage & Cost

There are small things that make a difference when you decide between a spa massage and chiropractic care. Usually, insurance companies don’t cover spa massages.

Some do allow for physical therapy, but a typical day spa usually doesn’t accept your insurance. There are some exceptions when things like car accidents are involved, but even when that happens it is unlikely that your massages will be covered.

Spa massages can be expensive, depending on what you choose. You will also need to tip as well. But, there is no need to tip a chiropractor. It is likely that your insurance covers at least a few visits a year with the chiropractor.

The spa massage environment is more relaxing and beautiful, which you won’t find at a chiropractor’s office.

Those who get chiropractic care and massage care usually heal faster than those who only do one or the other.

A man having his back adjusted at the chiropractor.

Why Blend Chiropractic & Massage Therapy Together?

Some benefits include:

  • Better blood flow to muscles, which helps you heal faster
  • Better mental and emotional health
  • Less stress
  • Better immune system response
  • Fewer pain levels
  • Better range of movement
  • Not as fatigued
  • Less scar tissue showed

Most of us have gotten used to the quick fixes, but we need to realize that the benefits from chiropractic care and massages will take time.

Most physical injuries are multifaceted and need more therapies to be healed. These two things go hand in hand and help each other. Adjustments usually last longer if you aren’t in as much pain.

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