Massage Before or After Chiropractor? How to Decide?
When you have a chiropractic treatment coming up and you are considering getting a massage as well, it can be difficult deciding which to do first. After all, you want to feel the relaxing benefits of your massage, but you don’t want to do anything to undermine the benefits of your medical care either.
If you’re considering whether to get a massage before or after your chiropractic treatment, book your massage before your appointment if you want to enhance the benefits of your treatment.
Massage and chiropractic care complement each other, and can significantly improve the results of your treatment. In fact, many chiropractors will have their patients make massage a regular part of their treatment plan.
Chiropractic care often focuses primarily on the joints, spine, and resultant compression of the nerves. However, there are enhanced benefits associated with addressing the entire musculoskeletal system when addressing pain or mobility issues. To decide whether you should consider pre or post chiropractic massage, you need to understand how each therapy works independently in order to facilitate optimal results.
How Chiropractic Care Works
Chiropractic care, often called a chiropractic adjustment, focuses on addressing problems with the joints and spine.
Conditions that are commonly referred out to chiropractors, such as back and hip pain, are often caused by poorly aligned connections throughout the skeletal system.
When you have an injury or painful condition – whether neural, muscular, skeletal, or connective tissue related – the pain can cause your muscles to tense and restrict movement. The more pain and discomfort you experience, the more you will try to protect that area of your body – which can ultimately lead to long-term postural disorders.
As time passes, the lack of ability to move through a full range of motion can cause the joints to become stiff and misaligned with other parts of the skeletal system. This can occur in the hips, knees, shoulders, and spine. When this happens, due to the painful condition, it can be difficult to work yourself out of the “trapped” position your body has acquired.
Additionally, pain and injury can cause increased inflammation in the body, reducing the functional movement of your joints even more. This is often the point when patients will seek out a chiropractor.
Chiropractic care works by re-establishing the full range of motion in the joints, as well as helping to correct faulty alignment caused by pain or injury. In order to access those joints effectively, chiropractors need to be able to work around stiff muscles and connective tissue that can take significant time and care to relax, especially after long periods of disuse. Often the practitioner will use heat therapy, but massage can also effectively warm the tissue, with more accuracy.
How Chiropractors Mobilize Joints
Chiropractors have a variety of techniques that are used to address their patients’ unique needs. At the core, their main objective is to restore their patient’s ability to fully use their joints and surrounding muscles, with a reduction of pain and increased functionality.
When patients come to see a chiropractor, their joints and spine are often affected by inflammation and misalignments that subsequently reduce their ability to move normally, without pain. Chiropractors tend to use two main types of techniques: manipulation and mobilization.
When you think of a chiropractor, you might think of the cracking sounds made during spinal adjustments. Those types of adjustments are called manipulations and require the chiropractor to apply various amounts of force in order to realign various joints of the body.
While the noise may seem unsettling, it normally isn’t painful and can often provide instantaneous relief. It is the chiropractor’s job to work well within the patients’ pain tolerance.
Mobilizations require careful attention and often involve multiple sessions in order to deliver the results a patient desires. After all, what takes months to years to develop cannot expect to be resolved in just one 15-30 minute session. To obtain optimal results, in addition to multiple visits, therapeutic exercises for the patient to perform at home will often be prescribed.
Mobilization starts with the chiropractor assessing the position, mobility, and alignment of the joint being adjusted. For example, if your problem is that your shoulder has lost the range of motion that is necessary to raise your arm above your head, your chiropractor would manually feel the condition of the joint and test its mobility.
By feeling the joint itself, the chiropractor will be able to assess how misaligned the joint may be, as well as pinpoint specific structures that are getting in the way of restoring proper alignment and mobility.
At this point the chiropractor will likely use their hands, as well as a variety of other tools, to work back and forth between releasing obstructions in surrounding tissues and use manipulations to increase a healthy range of motion.
Every joint has muscles and tendons that chiropractors need to work through as they mobilize a person’s joints and spine. The more resistance within these tissues, the more difficult, and sometimes painful, the adjustment will be.
How Massage Improves Chiropractic Care
Massage therapy will help relax a person, both physically and mentally. This will help to reduce blood pressure and alleviate any potential stress prior to the chiropractic adjustment. These benefits can improve the quality of care, and enhance the overall experience during the chiropractic appointment.
Getting a massage that properly warms up and loosens the muscles before the appointment can help in two ways:
- Relaxed muscles will give the chiropractor better access to mobilize the joints.
- If the patient is new to chiropractic care, having the muscles relaxed can help ease the potential anxiety and discomfort that can be experienced as a first-time patient.
Massage can also help reduce inflammation and pain, which can help heal the condition that caused the necessity for chiropractic care in the first place. While chiropractic care alone can often provide significant relief, combining treatment with massage can amplify and extend the benefits between treatments.
After receiving a massage to calm the nerves and warm up the muscles, the chiropractor will have to spend less time manipulating the stiff tissues. Thereby helping to more effectively mobilize and realign the injured or stiffened joints. Often you will find chiropractors that work in concert with massage therapists in the actual chiropractor’s office, providing more bang for your buck.
The improved circulation and flexibility that comes with regularly combining these two therapies could also reduce the total number of chiropractic treatments necessary in order to achieve significant results.
If you have that option, you can conveniently coordinate both appointments to save valuable time. You’ll be able to quickly transition from the massage table to the chiropractic office without wasted time in between sessions, which will help prevent the muscles from cooling down and tightening back up.
Which Types of Massage Can Help
There are a variety of types of massage that you can choose from to complement your chiropractic care appointment. These variants all focus on different techniques to achieve specific results in a person’s muscles, connective tissue, and other systems of the body.
Deep Tissue Massage
This type of massage is meant to alleviate high levels of tension in the muscles and the connective tissue that surrounds them, called fascia. Deep tissue massage can often be suggested for patients who have persistent or chronic pain, who have physically demanding jobs, or have recently been injured.
Many people report that after they have a deep tissue massage their muscles experience a new aching sensation, which is distinct from their original pain. This can indicate that the massage therapist has helped loosen stiff tissue that was holding a lot of tension, and the body is beginning its healing process. Patients should make sure to communicate clearly with therapists so that they don’t apply too much pressure during the massage.
Myofascial massage has similar goals as deep tissue massage but focuses more on alleviating pain and restoring restricting ranges of motion. The massage therapist first identifies areas of the muscles that are stiff and cause pain when touched.
These are often referred to as “trigger points.” Then, they manually apply pressure and stretch the muscle to loosen those areas but without directly touching them. Many times, people with persistent back pain are recommended to try myofascial massage.
This is another type of massage that is meant to treat chronic pain. However, it is often recommended to people in whom the underlying cause of pain is related to the nervous system, instead of just within their muscular system.
Neuromuscular massage also works around trigger points. With this style, the massage therapist will use techniques to address compressed nerves, poor posture, and limited mobility, all problems that can arise from repetitive stress injuries that can be caused by repeating specific motions over long periods of time.
This is the most commonly performed type of massage, and many people are recommended to start with a Swedish massage if they haven’t had massage therapy previously.
Swedish massage relies on massage therapists using their fingertips, knuckles, and palms to focus on the tissue close to the surface of the skin. It’s great for relaxation and can help a massage therapist evaluate your massage needs if they haven’t worked with you before.
Why Your Sessions Hurt the First Few Times
When you begin chiropractic care, you can often experience pain during some of your first treatment session, as well as soreness after the appointment is over. This can be expected, especially in cases that need extreme adjustments or are addressing a long-term condition.
Your chiropractor’s work on your joints and spine will change the balance of your body, which will shift how different muscles are being taxed. When your joints are misaligned, often you will have one muscle have to take over the work of another. After your session, when the joint is back in the correct position, it can cause a lot of changes for which your muscles won’t feel prepared.
The muscles that have been underused as a result of pain or poor mobility will have atrophied, or have significantly lost strength and size, due to the diminished demands placed on them. These muscles can often feel sore, but that will change as they get stronger, become more active and the body gets used to being back in balance.
Having a massage before your appointment will likely allow your chiropractor to use more gentle manipulations and mobilization techniques of your joints and muscles. This can also help to reduce any post-treatment pain or discomfort.
The soreness felt after a session may last from one to a few days. As you improve your joint mobility and muscle strength over time, the level of soreness experienced with each subsequent treatment will diminish with time.
Applying heat to your muscles can also help reduce the effects of soreness, as well as help with joint inflammation. Of course, make sure to speak with your chiropractor about any unusual or persistent pain.
What Chiropractic Care Does Over Time
Chiropractors are often seeing patients with chronic conditions, especially when it comes to back and neck pain. These conditions can have deep-rooted causes that can’t necessarily be 100% cured.
As a result, many patients with similar problems can become pain-free for periods of time but will continue to need follow-up chiropractic care in order to maintain their mobility and health. That can also be true of people in certain professions that have heavy physical demands, such as athletes, blue-collar workers, and emergency response personnel.
In addition to helping manage long-term conditions and combat the physical effects of a physically demanding job, chiropractic care over time can also improve health in other ways.
Chiropractic care has been shown to promote the function of your immune and nervous systems. The combined effects can result in improved organ health, which reduces your risk of developing certain types of diseases. Additionally, chiropractic treatments have been shown to increase lung capacity, which can help improve your cardiovascular health, too.
When you consider all the benefits that long-term chiropractic care can offer, it seems like a smart idea to significantly increase these benefits by pairing treatment with a pre-session massage. Having these two tools in your health care arsenal will go a long way to help you maintain your mobility, reduce pain and inflammation, and promote your overall health.
Common Conditions Treated by Chiropractors
Chiropractors can treat a variety of conditions. While many of these are specifically related to injury, others can include chronic pain conditions that you might not expect.
Conditions commonly treated by chiropractors include:
- Spinal conditions
- Misaligned spinal discs (also known as subluxation)
- Coccydynia (pain in the tailbone of the spine)
- Herniated discs
- Spinal osteoarthritis
- Degenerative disc disease
- Chronic pain
- Chronic back pain
- Chronic generalized pain
- Chronic neck pain
- Other pain conditions
- Piriformis syndrome
- Cervical headaches
- Back sprains/strains
- Myofascial pain (caused by a “knot” or adhesion within the muscle that becomes a painful trigger point, often caused by overuse)
- Structural conditions
- Leg length discrepancy (which can cause painful postural issues)
A large range of conditions can be treated with chiropractic care, and the underlying causes can vary. From acute injuries due to car accidents or sports to genetically-linked pain conditions, chiropractic care can benefit people with a wide range of physical conditions. it is always recommended that the patient do their research and ask relevant questions to assure chiropractic care is advisable.
When to Consider Post-Chiropractic Massage
Although chiropractors will often recommend a massage before treatment, there are also benefits to getting a massage afterward. At the end of the day, it is best to work with your treatment team and consider both approaches to find what ultimately works best for you.
In situations involving persistent sports injuries and excessively tight muscles, it is worth considering your massage session following your adjustment to help make sure the work your chiropractor did is maintained between visits.
Depending on the severity of your condition, if your chiropractor provides integrated massage service into their office, they may recommend massage both before and after as a plan of care.
If you want to improve the results that you receive from chiropractic care by incorporating massage therapy, discuss what is best for your specific situation with your chiropractor. While many patients will experience significant benefits from having a massage before their chiropractic adjustments, some will find better results afterward.
There are even chiropractors that have combines these treatments into a single approach called chiropractic massage. Be sure to consult your chiropractic care provider or consult with a few in your area to discuss their recommendations.
Whether you have an injury or pain condition you need to manage, want to address the impacts of a physically demanding job on your body, or just want to explore the potential benefits chiropractic care has to offer, consider improving your experience with a pre-treatment massage. Based on what many chiropractors have to say, it can only increase their ability to help you get the results you’re looking for faster, and help improve your overall quality of life!
Richard A. Lehman, LMT, CSCS