My mare has gotten a sore back from a combination of a few factors that have now been fixed as much as possible. It's been suggested to get a chiro out and then someone else said a massage might be better. What would the difference be exactly and which is more recommended for a situation like this?
You can't compare the two. It is apples vs. Oranges. They work well together, but it is not really one or the other unless you know the underlying issue. Massage works the muscles. Chiropractoric work effects the bones and joints. A massage isn't going to realign my mare's hip when it is out.
I like to start with the massage therapist. She can get the muscles loose and can figure out if it is just a muscle problem or if there are bones/joints out of alignment, in which case a chiropractor is recommended. IME, an equine massage therapist tends to have a more "whole body" view of the horse than a chiropractor so I like to start there and move to a chiropractor if the massage therapist confirms that is what needed. The most common problem I have had with my horses and their backs is a rib getting out of alignment which makes all the surrounding/attached muscles sore. My massage therapist can get the muscles relaxed first and then get the rib back into place. If it is more than that, she will recommend a chiropractor, but she has always managed to get the rib back into alignment and then help the muscles relax and return to normal.
I know that my osteopath likes me to have a massage before an adjustment. The massage loosens everything up and makes me easier "to work on." Don't know if this translates to horses, though.
It absolutely makes a difference and, having bodywork to release muscle spasms BEFORE a chiro may just negate the need for a chiro ... but at any rate, it relaxes the muscles so they won't pull the chiro adjustment out of whack. If they aren't relaxed and released then they'll just pull everything back out of alignment.
Something else to consider with chiro adjustments is that if the hooves are not balanced correctly then the adjustment won't take or keep anyway. I've had chiros work on my hoofcare clients that mention how much longer the horses hold their adjustments simply because their hooves are in good form and balance.
I'll be the lone voice of dissent. I have never found chiro to be all that helpful (in ME or in the horses). It seems to offer a brief amount of relief, but pretty much as soon as the body is put back to work, it comes "undone." Even when done regularly. So, I've never really been that excited about it, though I know lots of people who swear by it both for themselves and for horses.
I AM all about massage and always see big benefit from that, though, like chiro, you need to do it with some regularity and not just once in awhile. But once they get worked a time or two, the effects last longer than, I think, chiro. Again, I have found this true with my body as well as the horses.
In my opinion and experience you are best off starting with a good massage therapist and then using a chiro after the massage therapist based on what the masseusse finds. My horse seems to respond best to massage in general and I tend to see the most long term results from massage. Chiro has been very helpful when he has been dealing with a chiropractic issue specifically.
I recently started having massage and chiropractic work done on a mare with a boatload of problems that we're still trying to solve. Both also do some holistic work (the massage therapist has recently started using aromatherapy as well). The MT donates her sessions (it's a non-profit horse rescue). I had her come out to work on this mare to see if we could start figuring out her problems. The MT then suggested I get a chiropractor out shortly after the massage because she thought Indie needed it. A good MT will tell you when there's something that needs fixing that he/she can't do, but someone else can. She recommended a chiropractor/acupuncturist and told me to let her know when the chiropractor came so that she could come out shortly thereafter to relax the muscles again to help them adjust to anything that's been shifted, instead of having them just pull everything back out of place.
I would start with the MT, and if the MT suggests chiropractic work then go with it. If your horse's sore back has pretty much gone away, and the factors creating it have been reduced, then you might not even need the chiropractic work, or maybe just one session. I had another horse who years ago we had acupuncture done on for his sore back and we fixed the cause, and he's never had a problem since. He's never had any massage work done, but these days he's also just a backyard horse who gets lightly ridden and isn't competed.
Massage and Chiro adjustments do work very well together when you have an imbalance in the skeletal system.
But like many have said it is a good place to start with massage as a skilled therapist will be able to determine if there is a misalignment somewhere that a chiro needs to work on.
Being a massage therapist myself I work hand in hand with chiro's and they do prefer that I come out beforehand to loosen the muscles and allow them to work more precisely.
But if the problem does lie only in the muscles then the massage therapist can address these issues (though it may take a few sessions) and then give you "homework" to help with the area of concern.
Massage itself is a great tool to gauge how your horse is doing in training, and also help prevent some types of injuries when done on a routine basis.
Plus most horses love a good massage.
Though I will say I also have a chiro out a couple times a year to just tune up my own mare so it is also a great routine maintenance tool as well.