Pregnancy Pain? Who Do You See: Physical Therapist, Chiropractor, Massage Therapist?
Physical Therapist vs. Chiropractor: understand the difference between the two medical professions and how they can both help treat low back pain during pregnancy in their unique styles. Also, find out if it’s safe to see massage therapist during pregnancy.
This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.
You have been experiencing musculoskeletal pain, joint pain, muscle pain, low back pain or more specifically SI joint pain during pregnancy for longer than you had ever wanted. You know this pain is not the normal pregnancy pain. It’s time to seek help. The self-treatment route didn’t work, and now you need to see a professional. Who do you see? Where do you go? In this article you’ll have a better understanding of how a Physical Therapist, Chiropractor and a Massage Therapist can all help you to achieve pain relief from your lower back pain and treat your SI joint pain while being pregnant.
Low Back Pain In Pregnancy
First, before we go deeper into the differences between a physical therapist, a chiropractor and a massage therapist for pregnancy pain relief, let’s understand why so many women suffer from pain during pregnancy.
Did you know that 50-70% of pregnant women experience back pain? The back pain is due to changes in the center of gravity after mama’s belly starts growing, increased hormones such as Relaxin which allow for ligaments to stretch more easily and increased weight gain causing strain on your joints and muscles – thus, the pain begins.
With all these reasons it’s no wonder back pain is so common. If these problem areas are not addressed, then the pain can continue to get worse and long term damage can start to occur to your body. It’s better to catch the problem early on before it’s too late and gets severely worse and sometimes too difficult to treat.
Physical Therapist vs. Chiropractor vs. Massage Therapist
You have heard of all three: Physical Therapist, Chiropractor and Massage Therapist. You know what they do. But you may not know which one you should go see now that you are pregnant and experiencing back pain.
How does a massage therapist massage your back now that you have a belly that’s growing to be the size of a watermelon? Well, they lie you on your side rather than your stomach or they may use special tables designed for pregnant women.
Is it safe to see a Chiropractor who’s going to “crack” my spine while I have a tiny baby growing inside of me? The answer is yes, it’s safe and they will only perform the proper techniques that are specifically appropriate for pregnant women.
Will a Physical Therapist hurt me by making me exercise beyond the point I can tolerate? No, a physical therapist will only prescribe exercises that are appropriate for women during pregnancy.
All three medical professionals are trained to work with pregnant women and are capable of treating lower back pain during pregnancy. A lot of women get amazing relief from these types of treatment and can ultimately have results of being pain free upon the end of treatment.
Physical Therapist vs. Chiropractor? Which Is Better For Pregnancy Pain?
But how do you know which one you should make an appointment with? There are so many choices and they all seem the same.
So which one is right for you? Let’s get a clearer understanding of what each medical professional does in their role of treating patients with pain during pregnancy?
One thing that all three have in common is that they do not prescribe medicine or perform any surgery. So they use other forms of treatment to relieve pain.
Physical Therapy During Pregnancy
What is a Physical Therapist’s job description according to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA)?
A physical therapists (PT’s)
“…are movement experts who optimize quality of life through prescribed exercise, hands-on care, and patient education. Physical therapists teach patients how to prevent or manage their condition so that they will achieve long-term health benefits. PTs examine each individual and develop a plan using treatment techniques to promote the ability to move, reduce pain, restore function, and prevent disability.” –APTA
Physical therapists can help you build up your strength properly, tone your body to help with realignment and improve your endurance. All of these factors are beneficial and supportive when it comes to labor and delivery. Rather than just treating the pain, physical therapists treat the problem by correcting it and also by teaching you to know how to correct it on your own if it so happens to reoccur again.
Typically after an evaluation, physical therapists will prescribe a safe modality to relieve pain, whether that is heat or ice. Soft tissue mobility may take place, which is a low grade, slow velocity technique to help with alignment and other conditions. The primary form of treatment for PT is exercise prescription. Following this is patient education and explanation of a Home Exercise Program (which is basically like your exercise program you do at home on the days you are not in therapy).
A big reason to go see a physical therapist is if you are looking for someone to treat you from a muscular approach. Women who are pregnant go through hormonal changes such as increased relaxin. Due to this, your joints are hypermobile and more loose. Muscles in your body act as stabilizers to your lax joints. Physical therapy will focus on muscular toning to prevent laxity in the joints of a pregnant woman.
Many physical therapists do not require a script from a doctor to be referred for a physical therapy evaluation (this is dependent upon each state’s regulations). Instead, now you can go to a physical therapy clinic and get evaluated and treated that same day you make your appointment. That’s great news for those who need instant relief from severe back pain or other discomforts. And an added bonus is that a majority of insurance policies cover the cost of a physical therapy exam as well as the regular treatment visits.
Visiting A Chiropractor During Pregnancy
Chiropractors are similar to Physical Therapists in the sense that they work with muscles, joints, bones and other connective tissue; however, the technique of treatment is different. Chiropractors’ main focus is on realigning the spine using specific techniques with the end goal of reducing stress coming from the nerves that stems from the spine.
“Chiropractors use hands-on spinal manipulation and other alternative treatments, the theory being that proper alignment of the body’s musculoskeletal structure, particularly the spine, will enable the body to heal itself without surgery or medication.” –Web MD
Chiropractors use high velocity grade manipulations, which are safe on the body and are used to treat acute back pain. Acute back pain is referring to pain that has occurred rather suddenly and has lasted a short period of time (less than 6 weeks). Chronic back pain, however, is pain that has lingered on for 6 weeks or longer.
Chiropractors are also well known for aiding in realignment of the pelvis to help reduce the chances of c-section due to a breeched baby. If you are nearing the end of your pregnancy and you know you baby is breeched, you may want to consider the option of a Chiropractic visit to help your baby to become unbreeched before you go into the labor and delivery room. The technique for this is called the Webster Technique in which you can find more information about this here.
Massage Therapy During Pregnancy
As these medically trained professionals are quite popular, they are most known for instant relief and relaxation; however, long term effects are quite minimal. Due to the fact that relief is not lasting, many need to return back again to get the same treatment in order to get relief. There is no bone realignment as massage therapists do not have any training in manipulation but solely specialize in deep tissue relaxation and muscle work.
According to the United States Department of Labor:
“Massage therapists treat clients by using touch to manipulate the muscles and other soft tissues of the body. With their touch, therapists relieve pain, help heal injuries, improve circulation, relieve stress, increase relaxation, and aid in the general wellness of clients.”
Massage therapists do not prescribe exercises, medicine or other post treatment follow-ups –theses are up to the discretion of the patient herself.
Massage therapists are trained in treating women with a pregnant belly, and some have special tables that are more comfortable for women during pregnancy.
It is important that you see a massage therapist who specializes in prenatal massage, because certain trigger points and massage techniques are known to induce premature labor. That is not what you want, so be sure to find a prenatal specialist.
An article from UT Southwestern Medical Center had this interesting point to make:
“…there are pressure points in the body that are thought to initiate contractions or potentially induce labor. Because of this, many prenatal massage therapists require a doctor’s release to work with women in their first trimester of pregnancy.”
Keep in mind that there is little to no benefit from massage therapy during pregnancy according to research. Although it is relaxing and enjoyable, if the ultimate purpose is for long term relief, this may not be your answer.
However, research has shown that massage helps with relaxation, improves sleep, decreases stress hormones and relieves anxiety!!! What pregnant woman wouldn’t want that?!
Find A Prenatal Specialist
Be sure to find a prenatal specialist with advnaced training when it comes to choosing a physical therapist, chiropractor or a massage therapist.
Here are some titles to look for in the medical professionals name:
Physical Therapist: Certificate of Achievement in Pregnancy/Postpartum Physical Therapy (CAPP-OB)
- DACCP – Diplomate with ICPA reflecting the highest level of advanced training
- CACCP – Certified with the ICPA reflecting advanced training
- Webster Certified – trained to work specifically with pelvic balance in pregnancy
Massage Therapist: Certified Prenatal Massage Specialist
Are There Risks To Seeing A Physical Therapist, Chiropractor or A Massage Therapist
Yes to all so be sure to ask a lot of questions and check with your OBGYN if you are unsure which medical professional you should seek for your symptoms you are experiencing. Only you and your doctor know your body best, so be sure to use good judgement when seeking a particular profession to treat you and, ultimately, your baby’s health.
If you have further questions about your exact pain that you are experiencing and which route to take for treatment, comment below or contact me directly on my contact page.
If you have been to one of these medical professionals for treatment in the past, what did you like most about your experience? Start the conversation below.
If you are looking for a physical therapist in your area to help treat your pain, visit the APTA (American Physical Therapy Association) website.
Dr. Jena Bradley, DPT
This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.
**It is important to always consult your doctor before beginning any exercise program and get medical clearance. Always warm up thoroughly and stretch after all workouts. LiveCoreStrong.com and Jena Bradley will be not be responsible or liable for any injury sustained while exercising at home, gym or elsewhere. Perform exercises at your own risk.
About Dr. Jena Bradley
Jena is a mom of 4 darling little girls, a physical therapist and founder of Live Core Strong, a blog focusing on motivating moms to live a life that incorporates fitness and fun throughout their motherhood journey. She aims to be the friend you always wanted to have who could guide you through the “fog” when faced with an “I don’t know what to do” mommy moment. At the most inconvenient time of her life, she embarked on a journey of sharing her story and expertise to inspire the next generation of healthy moms. You can learn more about Jena by visitng her ABOUT page.