Each week, massage therapist Krisy Williams coaxes the knots and tension out of the muscles in Michelle Dorin’s back and shoulders. For Dorin, it’s not a day at the spa. The treatments are a vital part of her six-month journey to find relief from injuries sustained a decade ago in a car accident. Massage therapy, paired with chiropractic treatment, are the keys to her healing, she says.
“I’ve noticed when I’ve had chiropractic care without massage, I’ve had my spine reset, but the muscles are fighting to pull the bone back into that position. Before I know it, in a day or two, the pain [came] back,” says Dorin. She compares the sensation to pieces of shattered glass trapped inside her body. “The muscles would slowly pull the bone back out of alignment and pinch the nerves again.”
Of the more than 30 chiropractic offices located within Asheville city limits, 43 percent advertise in-house massage therapy services.
The basis of chiropractic care is the use of gentle force to shift spinal vertebrae back into position, preventing the bones and bulging disks from putting pressure on the sensitive nerve endings, says Stephen Snider, owner of Snider Chiropractic Center and a 1983 graduate of the National College of Chiropractic in Illinois. When left untreated, even small misalignments in the spine can cause a host of issues, he says.
“The amount of pressure it takes to cause pain is about the same amount of pressure as a quarter sitting on the back of your hand,” says Snider.
Subluxation is the technical term for a misalignment. Chiropractors “palpate the muscles along the spine, and based off the muscular position, they can tell where a vertebra has shifted,” says Serenity Allen, community outreach director and operations manager of Merrimon Family Chiropractic. “Once they identify those subluxations, they use gentle touch to push the bone back into position.”
In some cases, though, the body fights the adjustment, and tense muscles may pull the vertebra out of alignment, says Michael Fortini, a chiropractor at Merrimon Family Chiropractic, a clinic that sees 300 patients every week and boasts two staff massage therapists.
The objective of massage, Fortini says, is loosening muscle fibers and relaxing tendons to increase blood flow. Chiropractic medicine emphasizes the use of specific, calculated force to move bones in order to improve nerve flow, he continues. Accomplishing one of these objectives, Fortini says, can aid the ability to achieve the other objective.
“One of the reasons I would suggest having a massage in adjunct with chiropractic is that the vertebra has a better chance of holding its place if it is relaxed. So this way, the adjustment lasts longer,” Fortini says.
“Research has shown that when a muscle is stressed out, it will pull on the bone. The only purpose of muscle is to move bone. So if we’re moving bone, as chiropractors, away from a nerve, and that muscle is still tight, but [patients] go to a massage therapist [who] helps the muscle relax, the odds of that bone staying in position are greater.”
Dawn Larsen, community relations director of the Asheville-area Massage Envy Spa locations, agrees. “Chiropractic care and massage go hand in hand,” she says. “If you just get one thing done, you’re going to feel relief. But if you get both done, you’ll feel even better.”
The tension relief, improved circulation and nerve flow stimulation that massage generates enhance the results of chiropractic, she says, noting that both she and her husband see a chiropractor for regular adjustments.
“The goal of both modalities is health and overall wellness,” Larsen says.
“Primarily, chiropractic and massage deal in the functional domain,” says Robert Resnick, a chiropractor with more than 30 years’ experience in the U.S. and abroad. Look “at the body kind of like a well-tuned symphony,” he suggests. “Instead of players, you have muscles, nerves, tendons and ligaments that are interacting in respect of various forces like gravity, familial predispositions, accidents and life stress. Just like in a symphony, when somebody doesn’t play the way they’re supposed to, you still get a symphonic sound, but there’s a certain disharmony, or dissonance, that occurs.”
Chiropractors examine the different “players” and attempt to improve the function, says Resnick. “I think that chiropractic and massage are pretty aligned in that way.”
For Snider, the three independent massage therapists who rent space in his office pick up where he leaves off: They tackle secondary muscle issues and enhance the effectiveness of the alignment. Massage is “such a huge asset,” he says.
In the chiropractic world, the opportunities for collaboration with other natural medicine modalities are seemingly endless.
“I’ve personally been a chiropractor for almost 25 years, and I’ve always integrated many other modalities, like massage therapy, Trager, Feldenkrais and talk therapy,” says Tirrell Magnuson of Mountain Community Wellness Center in Waynesville. “I love pairing chiropractic with massage — it’s very integrative to do that. I also like to utilize acupuncture and other forms of body work.”
Massage is an important part of healing, she says.
“Chiropractic really focuses on the nervous system, and massage is focusing on the musculature,” says Magnuson. “All of those things need to be addressed if you want to achieve your highest healing.”
When pairing chiropractic with massage, the role of the massage therapist is to create space and elevate blood flow, Williams says.
“It’s very supportive, just like the partnership between exercise and stretching,” she says. “Sometimes that touch just tells your body, ‘OK, you can let go,’ and that release can be really significant.”
Often, she says, she focuses her practice on deep-tissue massage and trigger-point therapy.
The results are incomparable to anything else she tried, says Dorin.
“After I started getting the massages, I found that when the chiropractor would adjust me, the adjustment would stay,” says Dorin. “There weren’t any more muscle spasms pulling my bones back out of alignment. It’s made all the difference.”