Back Pain: Choosing a Chiropractor vs. Massage Therapist

Image of a skeleton of the back 

Last Updated on April 4, 2024

Are you suffering from back pain but aren’t sure what to do about it?

If so, you’re not alone. Back issues are one of the most frequent complaints that doctors hear about. Each year, nearly 65 million Americans report an episode of back pain. Additionally, 8 percent of adults suffer from chronic or persistent back pain.

But, back pain doesn’t need to be a lifelong issue. With the help of a professional, you may be able to ease or fully eliminate your back pain. But, should you see a chiropractor or massage therapist for your back pain?

Read this post to find out!

Related: Injury Rehab Exercises to Try at Home 

What is a Chiropractor?

Chiropractor performing spinal manipulation 

A chiropractor is a trained medical professional who focuses on diagnosing and treating neuromuscular disorders. Often, chiropractic treatment focuses on manual adjustment or the manipulation of the spine. They focus on treating the bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons that make up the neuromuscular system.

Chiropractors also aim to reduce pain and improve patient functionality. They also work to educate patients. Many chiropractors focus on reducing back and neck pain through the use of spinal adjustment. 

What Does a Chiropractor Do? 

During your appointment, your chiropractor will begin by conducting a patient examination. They will look at the position of your spine and your muscle reflexes. In some cases, they may perform additional tests or take x-rays to diagnose your condition. 

After doing this, they’ll devise a treatment plan and monitor your progress. However, it’s important to note that chiropractors don’t prescribe pain medication. Instead, they rely on the body’s ability to heal itself. 

While chiropractors primarily use spinal manipulation to heal the back and body, they may use other treatments, including:

Depending on your circumstances, your chiropractor may also recommend other specialists or work with your family doctor to ensure your healing progresses. 

Related: Prenatal Chiropractor: What Is It and Why Is It Good for You? 

Education and Training for Chiropractors 

To become a chiropractor, one must complete a four-year program after earning their undergraduate degree. 

After completing a program, one must pass the National Board of Chiropractors Examiners exam and then obtain a license to practice in their state. All states also require continuing education to maintain licensing. During the doctoral program, future chiropractors:

  • Study anatomy, physiology, and other life sciences
  • Make assessments under the supervision of licensed chiropractors
  • Practice making spinal adjustments

What is a Massage Therapist?

Massage therapist giving a back massage 
Like chiropractors, massage therapists can also help with back pain. However, their approach, techniques, and training vary.

While a chiropractor focuses on fixing a misaligned spine, a massage therapist mostly focuses on healing the muscles by manipulating the body’s soft tissues. Typically, a massage therapist will use their hands to manipulate the soft tissues and muscles.

However, they may also use their forearms, elbows, knees, or fingers. In some cases, they may use special devices to promote healing, such as hot stones. 

What Does a Massage Therapist Do?

Before your massage therapy appointment begins, your therapist will take a few minutes to learn about your health history. During this time, you can let them know how you’re feeling and what you’d like from the massage session. 

There are several different massage approaches, and you’ll likely pick what approach you want before your appointment. While Swedish massage is the most common form of massage, there are other options available. Generally speaking, the best types of massage for back pain include:

  • Swedish massage
  • Myofascial massage
  • Reflexology
  • Deep tissue massage
  • Craniosacral massage 

Education and Training for Massage Therapists 

The training period to become a massage therapist is much shorter than the training period to become a chiropractor. While chiropractors need an undergraduate and doctoral degree, massage therapists don’t need either

Rather, students will need to attend specific training programs to become massage therapists. These training programs typically involve 300 to 1,000 hours of in-classroom and hands-on instruction. Program lengths can vary, but generally, they take anywhere from five months to two years to complete. 

Chiropractor vs. Massage Therapist: Similarities and Differences 

Perhaps the biggest similarity between chiropractors and massage therapists is that they both offer drug-free solutions to manage pain. Both practitioners work the body to promote healthier alignment. If done correctly, both treatments can yield immediate results. 

However, chiropractors can make medical diagnoses and request diagnostic testing, whereas massage therapists can’t. Additionally, chiropractors work to specifically address issues that affect the nervous and musculoskeletal systems. Massage therapists tend to focus on specific muscles or the body as a whole. 

Should you see a chiropractor for a pinched nerve? Click here to find out! 

Chiropractor vs. Massage Therapist: Which is Better for Back Pain? 

So, which professional should you see for back pain?

If you’re experiencing sore muscles and would like a way to unwind and relax, seeing a massage therapist may be best. For example, maybe you recently started lifting weights again, and you have a sore back from doing deadlifts. A massage therapist can help ease this soreness through a variety of techniques. 

However, if you’re experiencing back pain due to poor posture, a strained ligament, or some other injury, it may be best to see a chiropractor

A balance between chiropractic care and massage therapy is often the best approach for managing back pain. In many cases, massage therapists and chiropractors work together to provide the best outcome for their patients. 

Related: Understanding Low Back Pain 


Now that you know that chiropractors and massage therapists can both be beneficial for treating back pain, it’s time to schedule an appointment so you can experience some pain relief. 

If you’re looking to schedule an appointment with a chiropractor or massage therapist in the Portland, Oregon area, contact us today

1 thought on “Back Pain: Choosing a Chiropractor vs. Massage Therapist”

  1. Eli Richardson

    It’s helpful to know that chiropractors use spinal manipulation to heal the back and body. Recently, my mom mentioned she’s been feeling pain in her back and shoulders, so I believe it’d be good to find a chiropractor for her. I appreciate your insight on the different healing techniques a chiropractor uses.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

three + four =