Massage Therapist or Chiropractor for Back Pain?

As a massage therapist I often get asked “If I have back pain do I see you or a chiropractor?”

Before I was a massage therapist I actually thought that all chiropractors were kind of quacks. I was wrong. I’ve learned A LOT since then. Chiropractic work (from a good chiropractor) can be essential to relieve long-term muscle pain, where massage only will not.

I’m going to break this down for you in a way that I wish someone would have done for me a long time ago!

First of all, let’s go over the cast of characters:

Just a hard-working bloke that always seems to have back pain. Usually toughing it out — day-by-day — and trying not to be a big ol’ crybaby. You may not even realize how much pain you are in every day because you are so used to it by now. Usually this pain doesn’t stop you from doing what you need to do, but once in a while your back totally wigs out and you feel like you are getting really, really old.

Massage Therapist:
God’s gift to the earth! The massage therapist uses touch to manipulate the muscles of your body to relieve pain, improve circulation, reduce your stress, help to rehabilitate your injuries, break up scar tissue, and reduce anxiety.

A chiropractor is a doctor that focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of neuromuscular disorders, with an emphasis on treatment through manual adjustment and/or manipulation of the spine.

So who can help you when you have back pain?
Both of them! BUT… let’s go over who ya gonna call.

Your back pain can be due to muscle issues, joint or bone issues, ligament issues … or all of them!

Call a Massage Therapist if you have basic muscle issues such as tightness, fatigue, and soreness. Massage is perfect for this! If your muscles are tight from sitting at the computer all day, working out, etc., then a good massage is the ticket. Even a massage simply for distressing and relaxing helps your muscles because when we are stressed we clinch our jaws and shoulders as if someone is about to push us down. This makes the knots in our muscles even knottier. And often a knot in a muscle can cause a chain reaction of pain and issues in OTHER areas so keeping your muscles in shape is smart. I like to use a golf ball (with the aid of the SPAball Kaddy) to really do some deep trigger-point work to release those knots. Especially in the rhomboid area in the upper back. Keep in mind that that if you have issues with your lower back, the most common causes for this are tight glutes, hamstrings, psoas, and IT bands! So make sure you keep these stretchy if you sit at the desk or in a car all day.

Getting a massage to manage your muscle pain is kind of like when you rinse out the paint from your paintbrush. If you keep it paint free you won’t end up as a stiff old brush!

Call a good Chiropractor if your bones or joints are out of whack. Sometimes it’s just your tight muscles that are pulling them in the wrong direction BUT a good adjustment from a chiropractor (who knows what they are doing) will not only give you some pain relief, but it’s great maintenance to prevent degeneration from the bones being in the wrong position for a long period of time! And it’s not about the “popping” sound … it’s about getting the nervous system to reset. Yes reset! Your brain will change the muscle length to hold the joint in the new position! And this can be done without the “popping” if that freaks you out.

Getting a chiropractic adjustment is kind of like brushing your teeth to prevent tooth decay!

Let’s say you aren’t JUST “out of whack”. Call a good Chiropractor trained and certified in Chiropractic BioPhysics if you have spine or neck structural defects that need to be corrected, such as scoliosis, one leg too short, or neck curving the wrong way. (PHOTO) This is my OWN neck, by the way, and are in the process of permanently changing the ligaments ideal alignment to properly support my heavy head.

Muscles react differently to stretching than ligaments do. After stretching ligaments they bounce back.  Ligament remodeling puts a force on a ligament long enough to take it to a moldable plastic state, which allows it to stay at a new length.

This treatment isn’t just for pain-management … it literally remodels your ligaments to FIX the problem that is giving you the chronic pain. Massage can make you feel better because it gives some relief to the muscle (and the other areas it’s affecting) but the defects in your structure are going to cause it to be in pain again and again.

The stress your muscles have to deal with, in the situation such as my neck, is kind of like holding a bowling ball directly over your head VERSES holding the bowling ball in front of your body. It’s harder holding it in front of your body because you need to engage your muscles a LOT more. When the muscles of your neck and upper back have to support your VERY heavy bowling ball of a head it causes your muscles to work REALY REALLY hard, as well as causing degeneration in your spine!

Yes Virginia, there most likely is a way to correct issues in your back and neck that you thought weren’t possible, so there may NOT be a reason for you to tolerate daily pain. If you want to find a chiropractor with BioPhysics training in your area visit:

Ah, little known fact, in case you think chiropractors aren’t real doctors…
Chiropractors are trained to be primary care physicians and receive eight years of training, just as medical doctors do. Both receive a similar education in their first two years of medical education, but in the second two years a medical degree emphasizes internal medicine, surgery, and pharmaceuticals, where a chiropractic degree emphasizes physical medicine, physical therapy, adjusting and nutrition.

As a massage therapist I want to see you pain free. It’s the BEST part of my job AND my goal! But I know that some of my clients need more than just massage to accomplish this. Sometimes chiropractic work ALONG with massage is the best road to take if you really want long-term pain relief, and to be able to be active well into your senior years! I waited longer than I should have to address my own personal bone and joint issues. Hopefully this gives you a better idea of what YOU need to do!

– Heather Karr, LMT

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