What’s Better For Back Or Neck Pain: Chiropractic, Massage, Or Acupuncture?
We get questions all of the time. One of the most common is the one asking which service would be best for a person’s specific pain. We all know that money doesn’t grow on trees so we want to spend our hard-earned dollars on the thing that will make the most impact on getting rid of our complaint. This is very understandable. With this question in mind, I thought I would go through three of the most impactful services available at many chiropractic offices.
I am a chiropractor so it makes sense to start with chiropractic care. I am not sure this can be discussed completely without bias but I will come close since my clinic, Creek Stone Integrated Care here in Amarillo, TX, offers all three services.
I think it is important to note that chiropractic is a profession. It is not a form of treatment. For man, there is a perception that chiropractic just means moving or popping bones. That could not be further from the truth. Under the chiropractic profession falls many services a licensed chiropractor is able to perform. Some of these services are:
- Spinal manipulative therapy (adjustments, addressing movement issues)
- Short-term pain relief
- Chronic pain syndrome treatment
- Non-surgical spinal decompression (for disc herniations, disc issues, pain/numbness/tingling into limbs)
- Exercise-Rehab (very much like physical therapy in-office)
- Myofascial/Muscle Work - similar to massage but not as intensive
- Proprioceptive training
- Low-level laser - also known as cold laser therapy - great for joint pain, inflammation of any kind, and quicker healing of injuries
- Therapeutic modalities - electric stim and ultrasound
- Postural study and recommendations
- Balance training
- Biomechanical training
- Acupuncture - acupuncture, which we will talk more about in a second, can be done by chiropractors that choose to get that specific training and certification.
As you can see, going to an evidence-based, on-top-of-their-game chiropractor can be a REAL game changer for regular musculoskeletal pain. A high-level chiropractor can integrate several techniques and ideas to treat pain from all different directions and really make a HUGE impact on a patient's pain no matter how long the pain has persisted. That’s exciting!!
It is especially exciting when you consider the American population has been led to believe over the course of generations that pain can be treated through pills, shots, or surgery. But, when we look at the opioid crisis, the fact that each year 103,000 go to the hospital and 16,500 people die from taking simple over the counter ibuprofen and Tylenol. Combine that with the ineffectiveness in the research literature of most spinal surgeries for chronic pain…..well…..I for one find it exciting that chiropractors can help in a non-invasive, safe, non-pharmaceutical fashion. The caveat is that it takes the time and commitment that not all Americans are built for.
Rome wasn’t built in a day. If you start a regimen at the gym, it will take time and commitment to see the results of your hard work. Anything in regard to the musculoskeletal system is like that. Chiropractic, massage, and acupuncture are not different. It would be helpful to keep this concept in mind when seeking treatment from either of these professionals.
Chiropractors go to school for 8 years on average to achieve their doctorate degree. About 2% of chiropractors go on to extra education and testing to achieve a Fellowship. I got my Fellowship in neuromusculoskeletal medicine in 2019.
Evidence-based chiropractors like me basically use techniques backed by commonly accepted guidelines and the research literature. We are typically focused on pain and getting rid of it. So, it makes sense that if a patient has back or neck pain, a chiropractor like me is an excellent first choice.
I will begin by saying that there are multiple different styles of massage therapy. To be licensed for massage, massage therapists must go to school, learn every little muscle and connection and how it all works together, and then pass the test to prove they retained the knowledge. Then, as it should be, many continue to learn and obtain additional certifications as they are in business longer and longer.
Massage is classified as manual therapy when we look for it in the research literature and manual therapy has a TON of healing benefits. That goes for the patient with musculoskeletal pain as well as those without. For example, there are suggestions that massage therapy is even good for things like PTSD and blood pressure which have little to do with pain for most.
The Mayo Clinic says the research suggests massage may be helpful for the following:
- Digestive disorders
- Insomnia related stress
- Myofascial pain syndrome
- Soft tissue strains or injuries
- Sports injuries
- Temporomandibular joint pain
In talks with several patients, I have discovered that some are afraid of massages. They tell me they had one in their life and it hurt and they hated it. This goes for any service; just because one or two experiences were not positive does not make it wrong for you. Can you imagine going to a family doctor and getting a blood pressure medication? Let’s say that particular medication did not control your blood pressure effectively. Are you going to say that all blood pressure medications are wrong for you, you hate them, and will never take another blood pressure medication?
Of course not!! That would be foolish, wouldn’t it? Much in the same way that it would be silly to swear off massage, chiropractic, or acupuncture because you had one or two treatments and wasn’t impressed.
I tell patients that the way to get a great massage is to communicate. Massage therapists are not typically narcissistic. They really WANT you to be happy. They WANT to do a great job. Because they WANT you to come back to them the next time you choose to get a massage.
That means that for you as well as for the therapist, communicate with them. Tell them if the pressure is too much. Tell them they don’t need to be afraid to really dig in and get after it. OR….tell them if it is too much pressure. There is no shame in telling them that it is too much pressure and they will lighten up immediately. That’s the way to get a massage that you love and that will keep you happy and eager to return.
When suffering neck or back pain and you feel it is purely muscles, a massage therapist may be the best first call. Some people are more in tune with their bodies and can tell if their pain is purely muscular. For these people, the decision is easy. For most, they aren’t able to determine whether there are bone or structure or movement issues mixed with muscular issues causing the pain. Our patients here at Creek Stone have the best of both worlds since we have chiropractic and all that entails as well as 5 massage therapists of all experience levels on staff and available to them.
I was admittedly late for the acupuncture train. But I am on board now. This is mostly due to the fact that I simply had never been exposed to acupuncture before expanding my clinic to include other professionals outside of myself. As a result, I hired an excellent acupuncturist that has really allowed me to experience what acupuncture is capable of doing.
Now, I know what you’re thinking because I hear it from patients all of the time; you don’t want to be stuck with a bunch of needles. Hear me out. You will not believe me unless you try it yourself BUT, the needles are tiny when compared to those used to give you medicine or to draw blood. Tiny compared to those. You literally do not feel them at all. Out of 30, you may feel a very small little twinge in one or two but it is very light and not painful. This is literally the least of your concern.
Especially when you consider the amazing benefits of acupuncture! Check this out; Johns Hopkins says that the National Institutes of Health studies have shown that acupuncture is an effective treatment alone or in combination with conventional therapies to treat the following:
- Nausea caused by surgical anesthesia and cancer chemotherapy
- Dental pain after surgery
- Menstrual cramps
- Tennis elbow
- Myofascial pain
- Low back pain
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
Not only that but great research has shown acupuncture to be effective in treating chronic pain, anxiety, stress, tension, and PTSD.
The research has been so convincing that the Veteran’s Administration is now sending veterans to our clinic here in Amarillo, TX for chiropractic care AND acupuncture and the Federal government is paying for the care. That’s outstanding! I will add that our veterans absolutely love acupuncture because it is helping them sleep and, when combined with chiropractic care, has changed their lives.
These veterans have been able to reduce or eliminate their pain medication, get more quality sleep, and get active and back to being involved in their lives. With suicide being such a scary statistic with our nation’s veterans you can see the benefits of chiropractic, massage, and acupuncture, for some, go far beyond simple pain relief. Sometimes, it is literally a question of life and death and we take that very seriously.
So, when asked the question of which service to recommend, I admit my bias and chiropractic is my first go-to for non-complicated musculoskeletal pain. And that goes for massage, acupuncture, surgeons, or any other practitioner simply because I have seen the effects and benefits for over two decades.
However, the longer answer is that I take care of the structure, the frame, if you will while providing attention to the muscles, form, and function. While massage therapists and acupuncturists focus purely on everything attached to the frame and, as we’ve noted, sometimes things not attached such as PTSD, stress, and anxiety.
The truth is, the best treatment comes about when practitioners combine efforts into an integrated approach to the complaint. A patient receiving care from a chiropractor, a massage therapist, as well as an acupuncturist simultaneously looks a lot like a successful case.
Which is the reason I chose to include all three disciplines in my clinic for a one-stop healthcare stop for pain. It just makes sense and we see the amazing results every day.
Dr. Jeff Williams, DC, FIANM is a Fellowship-trained Neuromusculoskeletal specialist and chiropractor in Amarillo, TX. As an Amarillo chiropractor, Dr. Williams treats chronic pain, disc pain, low back pain, neck pain, whiplash injuries, and more. Dr. Williams is also the host of The Chiropractic Forward Podcast. Through the podcast, Dr. Williams teaches fellow chiropractors and advocates weekly for evidence-based, patient-centered practice through current and relevant research. If you have any questions for Dr. Williams, feel free to email at [email protected]
Learn more about Dr. Williams and his practice at https://www.amarillochiropractor.com. Dr. Williams's full-time Amarillo chiropractic practice is Creek Stone Integrated Care at 3501 SW 45th St., Ste. T, Amarillo, TX 79109