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Stiff Neck – Chiropractor or Massage?

chiropractor or massage

We’ve all had to suffer through a stiff neck. Whether you’ve fallen asleep at a rough angle or sat with awkward posture at the work desk, neck pain is at best uncomfortable and at worst debilitating. Many of our patients see us regularly to treat neck pain and related problems. Another popular treatment option is massage. This raises the question: Who is it best to see if you have a stiff neck – a chiropractor or a massage therapist? In this post we’ll answer that question and more. We’ll dig into the causes of a stiff neck as well as the differences in the way chiropractic and massage therapy aims to diagnose and treat neck pain.

What can cause a stiff neck?

Because it eventually carries all of the nervous signals to and from our brain, the spine plays a vital role in almost everything our bodies do. Being so close to the head and brain this is especially true when it comes to the vertebrae and nerves of the neck. As a result, even small changes or traumas to the structure of the neck can lead to pain and secondary problems.

Muscle tension

Most mild to moderate neck pain is felt in the muscles of the neck and shoulders. Sometimes the pain and loss of motion from a stiff neck is simply caused by tension or injury to the muscle itself. This is often the case for acute, or short term neck pain, caused by poor sleeping position, poor posture or a strain injury such as a sporting strain. Muscle issues may resolve themselves and can be quickly treated by massage therapists or chiropractors. 

A misaligned spine

Vertebrae are designed to work best in a very precise position next to their neighbours. Because they are involved in the movement of the neck, carry blood vessels and nerves to the face and are supported by so many muscles, misaligned vertebrae can cause serious pain and follow on issues. This is a chiropractor’s specialty.

A misaligned spine can stop the neck from moving correctly, put pressure on blood vessels and nerves and change the way they function, cause tension and pain in muscles as they try to compensate and lead to secondary conditions like headaches and sinus issue which we’re about to look at.


Headaches can lead to neck pain and neck pain can even spread to become certain forms of headaches. In particular, pain from severe headaches like migraines and cluster headaches often radiates to other parts of the body including the neck and shoulders.

Sinus infection

Your sinuses might seem like they’re a long way from your neck, but sinus infection is often related to neck pain. Tension in muscles from infections in specific sinuses and inflammation from immune response are a couple of the ways that a sinus problem can lead to a stiff neck and neck pain.

stiff neck female model

How does massage therapy work?

Massage therapy focuses on maintaining correct structure of your muscles. A well trained massage therapist will identify areas of excessive tension and injuries in your muscle and attempt to return the muscle fibres of the affected area to a more relaxed, comfortable state. Good remedial massage therapy uses manual manipulation techniques. This is more than a back rub.

Massage therapists are comprehensively trained in anatomy and physiology so that the pressure and movements they apply to the muscle promote a return to normal structure in the best possible way.

The Pros

Massage therapy focuses on and treats the symptoms of your neck pain directly. Despite the fact a stiff neck usually stems from a problem with the spine, the pain you feel is usually muscular.

Treating these muscles is what massage therapy excels at. After a short recovery period, massage therapy may provide immediate relief from your neck pain and help you regain some of your lost range of motion. Remedial massage is a little rougher than recreational massage, many clients still find the experience relaxing and enjoyable.

The Cons

Unfortunately, treating the sore muscles in a stiff neck will likely only alleviate symptoms of neck pain for a short time. Neck pain is often caused by a more complex underlying problem and unless that issue is identified and treated your sore neck is likely to return.

Qualified massage therapists are extremely good at what they do, but their training most often doesn’t include an in-depth medical diagnosis. A massage therapist may not be skilled in identifying the underlying causes of your neck pain especially if there are issues related to your skeletal or nervous systems.

How can treatment by a chiropractic help?

Treatment for a stiff neck or neck pain is one of the most common reasons patients seek out the help of a chiropractor. Chiropractic therapy reaches deeper than the muscles of your neck. A chiropractor is trained in the anatomy and physiology of a variety of body systems and utilises advanced diagnostic techniques to identify the issues contributing to neck pain. This is especially important when you experience neck pain that stems from an issue in another part of the body.

The Pros

Chiropractic medicine attempts to always maintain a focus on the relationship between all three of the muscular, skeletal and nervous systems. When it comes to a stiff neck, this means that your chiropractor not only understands the symptoms of a stiff neck, but the diagnosis and treatment of many of the underlying causes as well.

Chiropractic therapy is therefore well suited to provide a more long-term solution to your stiff neck. In particular, chiropractors understand the finer details of the structure of your spine and the issues that can arise due to misalignment of the vertebrae.

Spinal issues are one of the most common causes of a stiff neck. A chiropractor is also trained to identify the relationship between neck pain and secondary problems including headaches, dizziness and sinus issues.

The Cons

Many patients worry that chiropractic treatment will be scary or painful. The truth is though, that chiropractic therapy is nationally accredited and safe and patient comfort is one of the highest priorities of chiropractic treatment. For example, the chiropractors at MyChiro are trained in a wide-enough variety of techniques to ensure that treatment can be tailored to the needs and concerns of every patient. Focussing on and treating the underlying causes of your stiff neck may not provide immediate relief.

The number of visits to your chiropractor needed to resolve your issue will depend on the complexity of your specific case. This may also affect the time before you begin to feel relief. But the most important point is that a chiropractor isn’t interested in quick fixes, and is trying to provide you more permanent relief in the long term.

Getting help with your stiff neck or neck pain

If you suffer from a stiff neck we hope you now have a better idea of what is causing your discomfort and the treatment options that may be available to you. If your neck pain is chronic or you suspect there may be complex underlying causes, the chiropractors at MyChiro are your best bet for long term relief. If you’d like us to assess your neck pain or have any more questions about stiff necks or chiropractic therapy, get in touch with us today.

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