Acupuncture and massage are prevalent Alternative Medicine Methods. If you had to choose one, which one would it be?
In this article, we will cover the fundamental differences, benefits, and risks of each of the methods, and by the end, your choice will be much more precise.
Here is a fast answer If you don’t want to read the whole article: Acupuncture should be chosen for results-oriented medical purposes, and massage for relaxation and general health. Muscle tension relief is where both methods can have a similar effect.
Table of Contents
The Origins of Acupuncture Vs. Massage
Acupuncture is part of the Chinese Medicine system. Traditional Chinese Medicine TCM includes Acupuncture, Chinese Herbal therapy, Nutrition, Qi Kong, and Tui Na. We should have compared Tui Na, the Chinese Medicine massage or physiotherapy, to massage therapy, not acupuncture. But because of the popularity of both massage and acupuncture, a comparison between them is more relevant. Acupuncture has been around for at least 3000 years. Because it is part of a medicine system, it can address most illnesses, from back pain and migraine to digestive system, fertility, and anxiety.
The Origin of massage Therapy can vary with different massage systems. Massage is a natural way of healing; each of us will massage a painful knee instinctively. Massage as therapy has been used for thousands of years in India, China, and around the world. Still, if we look at the origin of the most common massage therapy- the Swedish Massages- it was invented in the 1830s by a Swedish fencing instructor named Per Henrik Ling. He healed his elbow by massaging around it. He later developed the technique currently known as Swedish massage.
The Benefits of Acupuncture Vs. Massage
Since there are many massage methods and different acupuncture styles, It is more accurate to compare the Balance Method Acupuncture and the Swedish and deep tissue massages.
The Balance Method acupuncture is unique because we use distal points, so the difference from localized massage can be more obvious.
Generally speaking, the deep tissue massage is more intense, with deep pressure, and more painful than the Swedish massage, which is a gentler rubbing technique. Since many massage therapists use both methods, it makes sense to include them. Both are done on the skin with massage oil in a similar “Spa” setting, and one can alternate between them even during the same session.
Let’s assume that one has equal access to each therapy and the price and time are the same to compare the actual treatment.
Acupuncture Vs. Massage prices
Acupuncture prices are more or less similar in the same city, and massage therapy prices can vary – from being cheap received from a new therapist, or very expensive in a spa or hotel. Most insurance plans recognize both acupuncture and massage. Acupuncture may be subsidies in some states, such as Alberta, to treat post-MVA injuries.
A good question will be, what will give me the best results for my money? Acupuncture or massage? In the sense of solving a problem – I would say acupuncture. For relaxation and enjoyment, massage.
Diagnosis – Acupuncture Vs. Massage
Acupuncture diagnosis is based on TCM diagnosis. The acupuncturist will check the pulse and the tongue and ask you different questions to diagnose the source of your condition. An old Chinese saying is that you can have seven other causes for each condition and, therefore, seven different treatment strategies. The acupuncture treatment is based on personal diagnosis; what is suitable for one patient with headaches will worsen the other person’s headaches.
A good diagnosis is what makes one treatment extremely successful. In contrast, a lack of personal diagnosis (common in the western world) can give average results or even create adverse side effects. Besides the Traditional Chinese Medicine diagnosis, the medical diagnosis from the physician and test results such as blood work or X-Ray is also considered.
Massage therapy diagnosis is limited to medical diagnosis from the physician and to palpation of the body, feeling tense or knotted muscles. Depending on the skill levels of the massage therapist, they can check different aspects such as mobility range and posture. In most cases, it will be a whole-body treatment unless the patient asks to focus on a specific area, so a diagnosis is not always relevant.
When to go to Acupuncture or a Massage?
Since acupuncture treats many conditions, some of them will be less relevant for massage, even if massage in the area can benefit you.
For example, a massage over the abdomen can benefit the digestive system, but it is not practical to go for a massage to treat chronic IBS, constipation, or fatty liver.
Accuracy in the Treatment
Massage and acupuncture use the same principle – the body can heal when there is a good flow of blood and energy. It can be understood when you think of a city as an organism; if there are traffic jams, the supplies won’t arrive, first responders won’t be able to reach the destination on time, and everybody is upset!
While massage generally creates this flow in the body, acupuncture can be precise, using the acupuncture points as a code that can work on a specific junction, train the first responders, or produce more food for the supermarkets.
Local Vs. Distal Treatment
Acupuncture and massage can treat the pain locally- meaning you treat where the pain is. If the muscle is slightly tense, especially massaging the area, the feeling is great – since the body is enjoying the release. In case of severe pain and inflammation, working locally is unpleasant and, in some cases, can aggravate the condition. I have heard many stories about people going to a massage with a herniated disc or an intense migraine, only to get dramatically exacerbated by the treatment. Not every aggravation is terrible, but in this case, distal acupuncture will relieve the pain without even touching the place that hurts.
For example: for severe back pain, you can lie on your back- face up and get some needles in your hand that will alleviate the back pain – in many cases, an immediate improvement is recorded.
Distal treatment in balance method acupuncture allows immediate relief, will enable you to choose your position between sitting, lying on the back or abdomen, whichever is more comfortable, and teaches the body to treat the pain- since the affected area wasn’t manipulated, and it healed- the body did the work.
The Risks in Massage Vs. Acupuncture
With a good therapist, there shouldn’t be any risks in both methods. Make sure your therapist is licensed and has experience. In massage, the most common risk is that the therapist will apply too much pressure on a sensitive area, such as a bulged disc, and create a dramatic aggravation.
If you know you have sensitivity in the spine or other areas, don’t go to a massage or an experienced RMT. Always tell them if you are sensitive in a particular body area. Some aggravation in pain for 24 hours is acceptable and can be a good sign if the pain diminishes the day after.
The risk in acupuncture can be from damage from the needles, but this is extremely rare. The acupuncturist should use single-use needles and apply appropriate disinfection. Local acupuncture may also cause temporary aggravation – less than a massage; distal acupuncture doesn’t have side effects.
“I have back pain – should I choose Acupuncture or massage?”
That is probably the most common question I get. Massage will be good if it is a simple backache from stress, bad posture, and lack of exercise.
Suppose it is an acute pain, muscle spasm, sciatica, or some problem in the discs, spine, or pelvis bones. In that case, acupuncture should be used first, mainly distal acupuncture, until the condition is relieved.
If you have chronic pain that massage didn’t help, see the acupuncturist; it might be a little more complicated than just tight muscles.
Training for an acupuncturist vs. massage therapist
While it is different in each state – a worldwide acupuncturist is trained for four years, compared to a year or two of partial education for a massage therapist. Acupuncturists are trained to treat many different conditions and can simultaneously treat a few conditions from the root cause. So, if you have back pain and insomnia, acupuncture can address both.
Both massage and acupuncture can be beneficial; combining them at different times is what most people do. Whether you choose acupuncture or massage, make sure you find a good therapist that you can create a good relationship and feel comfortable.