Chiropractic and massage, the oft-coupled disciplines, coming under one educational roof
INTEGRATIVE CARE HAS BECOME THE MANTRA IN MODERN HEALTH CARE. It brings together health professionals from different backgrounds, such as chiropractic and massage, and perspectives to use their sometimes widely different skills to treat health consumers, putting patients’ needs first.
It’s a job that all health professionals might agree is still easier said than done. Efforts are underway on many fronts to deliver on the value and promise of integrative care.
A new generation of health professional
“It’s what we are all about and what we are trying to do with the next generation of health professionals,” says Michele Renee, a chiropractor who also is a massage therapist. Renee directs Northwestern Health Sciences University’s massage program and also recently took on an additional title: director of integrative care. “It’s a reflection of how we teach and how we want to work, here on campus, at our clinics and as we train our students to practice in many different locations,” she says.
In particular, she says, chiropractic and massage therapy — her two disciplines — have lots of opportunities to work together and make a difference for patients.
“For a chiropractor, being in an environment with a massage therapist who has expertise in soft-tissue work — it’s just a different world and not the same at all as what a chiropractor has traditionally learned and practiced,” she says. “And the opposite is true as well. A massage therapist can learn and do a lot working alongside a chiropractor. When they work side by side, they gain a new appreciation for each other’s skills and how they can benefit their patient. In many ways, it makes the work of treating the patient so much better and also so much easier.”
Integrative in action
This kind of integrative care plays out daily at clinics.
At the Integrative Clinic of Minnesota, health professionals offer their skills to treat patients with health issues and concerns of all kinds. The clinic is unique in the Twin Cities area. For more than a decade, it has operated in a largely residential neighborhood south of downtown Minneapolis, providing care ranging from massage to chiropractic to traditional medicine for anyone from the neighborhood or the region who comes to the free clinic for treatment.
A typical case is a patient who is dealing with arthritis but who has not previously been to a health professional of any kind for treatment. Working under one roof — and often in the same room — a chiropractor and massage therapist can provide a range of treatments to help the patient feel better and improve his or her range of motion and physical activity.
“The clinic is an amazing place, with inter-disciplinary work and inter-professional activity across the boundaries of health,” Renee says. “In the health care world, we often come from different backgrounds with different training. But when we work together, we can apply our skills to address our patients’ needs and often come up with solutions that we wouldn’t have considered working separately.”
She adds, “We also can learn a lot from each other.”
Chiropractic and massage together for athletes
At the campus’ Human Performance Center on campus, a clinic that helps patients including professional and world-class athletes enhance their performances for competitions. The center recently moved into a new location where professionals including chiropractors and massage therapists work together directly and daily to benefit those they are treating.
“It’s a wide and open space, with treatment areas where we can see patients together and work side by side,” said Timothy Stark, a sports chiropractor and the center’s director. “I love it when I see our chiropractors walking a patient over for a consultation or treatment with a massage therapist, or the other way around.”
He adds, “This is the future of health care, where all of us are present and available to help our patients depending on their needs. It’s about putting their needs first, whether that’s dealing with pain or range of motion or enhancing performance. Each profession offers expertise that fits nicely with the other but that is different. We can provide better care when we know how to work together and when we have opportunities to work together.”
Jordan Knowlton-Key, a chiropractic sports fellow, has decided to take the next step in his practice by completing the massage program. When he is done, he will not only be a chiropractor but also a massage therapist. He has seen the need and the benefits of chiropractors and massage therapists working together, and wants to bring those skills together in his practice.
“Sometimes I need more massage skills, more manual hands-on skills for the patient,” he says. “Sometimes that is the only thing the patient can tolerate if they are dealing with pain or a certain issue. I want to have all the instruments and all of the knowledge at my disposal. No one profession has all of the answers.”
As a sports chiropractor, he also knows that sometimes athletes or teams can’t afford to have more than one health professional working the sidelines or the training room. Having a professional who is cross-trained and able to practice a variety of disciplines such as chiropractic and massage brings value.
“I have always been a more hands-on provider,” Knowlton-Key says. “But with massage therapy, I can bring in the muscle work and more of an understanding of how it all works together. I’ve been in some environments where I couldn’t do some of the more aggressive manual therapies because the patient couldn’t withstand anything more than a light touch. In those cases, with dual skills, I can be more helpful to my patients.”
Knowlton-Key plans to enter the massage program in spring 2020 and graduate in about 18 months under a slightly streamlined program that will take into account some of the classes he already has completed for his chiropractic degree. Eventually, he would like to start his own integrative health practice in his hometown region, in South Dakota’s Black Hills.
“Integrative health care doesn’t really exist there — at least not to this extent,” he says. “I believe that to teach and practice integrative health, we have to live the example.”
ROB KARWATH is a former newspaper and TV reporter and editor who is president and CEO of North Coast Communications, with offices in Duluth, Minn., and Lawrence, Kan. One of his clients is Northwestern Health Sciences University in Bloomington, Minn. For more information about the university or its programs, go to nwhealth.edu or call 952-888-4777.