This week, Liz Barnard differentiates between three holistic modalities–massage, chiropractic and bodywork–and considers what it means when the lines between them get blurred. From Liz:
I took a slight writing vacation last week. As in vacation from writing. So, yes, I missed submitting an article last week. I’m just tickled that you even noticed. No, there isn’t a good reason why. Just life, moving along a little more quickly than I’m accustomed to. It happens.
Having my back act wonky really didn’t help with the motivation to sit down and write. I finally realized it wasn’t getting better on its own or with the self-treatment I was doing. I went ahead for the quickest fix I could get where I live. That happens to be the chiropractor. As I was sitting waiting at the chiropractor’s office, I got into a conversation with one of the ladies that runs the place. I’ve been in there enough that she knows I do stuff with horses. As it turned out she thought I was running a horse sanctuary. It may look that way with the number of horses I have, but it is not in fact a rescue or sanctuary in that sense. (Although now that I think about it, it may bear looking into…)
So, I set her straight and told her I do massage and body work for the horses. To which she asked if I did chiropractic adjustments. Apparently they get requests occasionally for chiropractic work on horses, but this DC doesn’t do that. I quickly said no, I don’t try to do adjustments, although they do sometimes happen. Just some deep and lovely wisdom the body has, that in order for this particular muscle to soften up and regain normal function this little vertebrae needs to shift ever so slightly – all with a nice resounding pop that freaks most people out the first time or so.
That whole conversation got me thinking that I never did go into much depth on the differences between massage, bodywork and chiropractic. Why yes, making a short story long is a gift I have.
The first couple of articles I wrote for Horse Nation (here and here) I kind of lumped massage, chiropractic and bodywork all together. In truth they are not all the same. Here’s my take on the point of view of each of those. Please note that I am not a chiropractor, so if I misstate something, I will gladly take any kindly corrections offered.
Chiropractor – focus is on the alignment of the neck and spine. Sees the skeleton as the foundation for the rest of the body. Will use appropriate force as needed to manipulate or adjust joints back to their optimum position of alignment. Typically finds that misaligned vertebrae cause muscular imbalances.
Massage – focus is on the muscles and soft tissue. Sees the need for all those structures to be able to freely move. Views the skeleton as the anchor points for the muscles, the framework which the muscles move. Finds that imbalances in the musculature lead to injury and also misalignment.
Both generally have a holistic view of what’s going on the body. The maps they use just start at different places and have different landmarks along the way. The destination in both cases should be a horse that is moving freely, with no apparent restrictions.
Where does a bodyworker fit in? Well, although the term has some obviousness to it, it’s not very well defined. After all, most of us immediately understand that a chiropractor will adjust your spine and a massage therapist will work on your muscles. Which is why I tend to say “I do massagetherapyandbodywork” and typically don’t put much emphasis on either end of the compound word. Typically I take a huge gulp of air at the end of that statement too.
At best bodywork combines the paradigm of both massage and chiropractic care, looking at the skeletal system, the muscular system as well as the craniosacral system, the viscera (organs) and a few other systems. Typically staying within the boundaries of what they are licensed or certified or allowed to practice (or at least not blatantly crossing the lines).
At worst it is someone trying to dodge regulation by using a term that falls outside the legal radar. I have actually heard someone utter the words that because they call themselves a body worker, they can’t get into trouble for doing chiropractic manipulations. My thought with that was that they may be safe for now, but what happens when legislation catches up with the “new” terminology?
What’s gets even more confusing is when massage therapists do more than just massage, but still go by the moniker of massage therapist. In several states that I know of, a licensed massage therapist is within their scope of practice to perform up to a level four (of five levels) joint manipulation. Intentionally, not just as an “Oh, by the way the body was smart enough to move that bone so now everything is working better again.”
Then there are the chiropractors that use some techniques normally considered to be massage techniques (such as trigger point therapy) during their sessions. The first person I ever received trigger point therapy and a craniosacral treatment from was a chiropractor. I plan to go into more detail about craniosacral therapy next time, but I know of chiropractors, massage therapists, acupuncturists, drug and alcohol counselors, occupational therapists, physical therapists as well as a few dentists, doctors and nurses that utilize that modality.
Have I managed to make everything as clear as mud? Let me simplify – some massage therapists are just massage therapists, some are also bodyworkers – some chiropractors are just chiropractors, some are also bodyworkers – some bodyworkers do some of all of it well, some are dodging regulations. That helps clarify, right?
Let me come at it a little differently. Do you start to see how someone who is a bodyworker may do a little or a lot, whether they use that specific term or not? It helps to be familiar with what modalities they do. That’s my plan for the next few weeks. Once you have a better idea of what they are focusing on, you can make better choices about what might be more beneficial for your horse. (Or for yourself for that matter.)
About Liz: Like many here, I was always a horse-crazy kid. After receiving my Bachelors of Science in Equine Science, I started training horses. At some point it occurred to me that there were ways to make a living that were easier on my body. So I changed careers and became a Licensed Massage Therapist and Equinology Equine Body Worker. I love what I do. Growing up riding in the Pacific Northwest I was spoiled with indoor arenas. Now living in the high desert of Northern Nevada where covered arenas are as sparse as the trees, I find I’m a fair weather rider. When I do ride, I dabble with Reined Cow Horses. For more info, please visit my website www.lizbarnard.massagetherapy.