What’s the Difference Between Chiropractic and Massage?



I’ve had persistent pain in my back for several months now. I’m ready to see a specialist about it, but the problem is that I don’t know exactly where I need to go or who I need to see. When I talk to friends and colleagues about it, some recommend massage therapy while others say I need to go to a chiropractor. What’s the difference between chiropractic and massage, and how can I tell which would be the most benefit to me?


While both chiropractors and massage therapists do bodywork to promote relaxation and ease pain and tension, there are significant differences between the two methods. As explained by Dr. Andrew Scott of Scott Family Chiropractic, a chiropractor identifies areas of your spine that are out of alignment and may be interfering with your body’s nervous system, causing you pain. Through chiropractic adjustment, the chiropractor eliminates this interference to promote efficient operation of your body’s neural network.[1]

Massage Therapy Can Help Release Tension

Massage therapists, on the other hand, manipulate soft tissues, including your muscles and tendons, and the connective tissues surrounding those muscles and tendons. If you have tension in your muscles and tendons, massage therapy can help release that tension.[2] This may provide an immediate lessening of the pain you’re experiencing, but that relief may not be permanent if the cause of your pain is the alignment of your spine rather than tension in your muscles.

Another key difference between chiropractic and massage therapy relates to the education and approach of chiropractors and massage therapists. Chiropractors are doctors who have completed chiropractic school, a residency, and board certification. Their approach is a medical one, and they treat your spine as well as your entire musculoskeletal system. They can order X-rays or refer you to other medical professionals as necessary.[3] While massage therapists complete thousands of hours of training and are licensed, they are not doctors. They can’t prescribe medications or make referrals, although they may make recommendations for you based on their observations.

Which treatment will work best on you depends on your personal situation. These methods aren’t necessarily either/or – many chiropractors recommend massage therapy for their patients.[4] A spinal problem may cause tension in the surrounding muscles as they attempt to compensate for the misalignment. While chiropractic work could get your spine back in alignment, there would still be room for you to benefit from massage. On the other hand, if your pain is caused by muscle strain or tension, there may be little a chiropractor could do for you.

Particularly if you have a busy schedule, it may be easiest for you to book a massage to start. You can schedule a massage at any time that’s convenient for you, and a massage therapist can come to your home or any other location that would work best for you. In contrast, chiropractors typically keep normal office hours, and you would have to travel to their office for an appointment. Try a massage once a week for a month and monitor how your back feels.


[1] Scott Family Chiropractic: “What Is the Difference Between Chiropractic and Physiotherapy or Massage Therapy?” http://www.scottfamilychiro.com/scott-family-chiropractic-blog/what-is-the-difference-between-chiropractic-and-physiotherapy-or-massage-therapy

[2] Id.

[3] 100% Chiropractic: “The Difference Between Chiropractic and Massage Therapy” https://www.100percentchiropractic.com/the-difference-between-chiropractic-and-massage-therapy/

[4] Id.

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