While they may both hold your comfort and wellness literally in their hands, a massage therapist and a chiropractor don't have as much in common as you might think. Learning the difference between the two can help you find the treatment you need from the right care provider.
What Kind of Care Does a Massage Therapist Provide?
Like a chiropractor, a massage therapist uses their hands to provide pain relief. Unlike a chiropractor, however, the work of a massage therapist focuses on only the soft tissues. This includes your muscles and tendons, but also the connective tissue surrounding them. When pain is a result of overworked muscles or excessive tension, a session with a massage therapist can and often does provide pain relief.
When spinal misalignments and subluxations interfere with the nervous system to cause pain throughout the body, a massage therapist may be able to address the effects of those subluxations on the surrounding soft tissues, but they can't order x-ray imaging or address the underlying issues. Working with a massage therapist can be so beneficial that many chiropractors recommend it to their patients, but it can't replace chiropractic care when the root of the issue lies in the skeletal system.
How Chiropractors Treat Things a Massage Therapist Can't
Though massage therapists are heavily trained and licensed in most states, a chiropractor must complete a four-year undergraduate education followed by a four-year Doctor of Chiropractic program. They complete a residency program and pass multiple rounds of boards and certifications before beginning their practice.
Once completed, this training and education period allows chiropractors to provide in-depth treatment of the musculoskeletal system. They're able to order imaging, which can aid in diagnostic care and to devise treatment plans that target problem areas with the aim of ensuring the nervous system and whole body are operating at their best. By correcting misalignments along the length of the spine, chiropractors are often able to resolve even pain that initially seems unrelated to the spine.
When vertebrae are misaligned, they can interfere with the signals sent by the nervous system to the rest of the body. This interference can cause a host of symptoms, some of which can mimic other health conditions that are much more difficult to treat. Unlike a massage therapist, who may use any number of effective techniques to address soft tissue pain, a chiropractor can address underlying issues causing the pain in the first place.
Do I Need a Chiropractor or a Massage Therapist?
If your discomfort is purely muscular or related to the soft tissues, a visit with a massage therapist may provide the relief you're seeking. When there's spinal, skeletal or joint pain, however, a chiropractor is almost always your best bet. While making your treatment decisions, it's also wise to keep in mind that many insurance plans do offer at least limited chiropractic coverage but may not cover a massage therapist.
A chiropractor will also be able to determine the source of your pain through more active diagnostic work, and may recommend you visit a massage therapist, either in tandem with their care or because your needs are more suited to massage therapy.