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The word ‘massage’ comes from the Arabic root ‘massa’ meaning to squeeze, knead or touch. It’s based on the intuitive and universal instinct to rub areas that hurt. There are documented records of the use of massage therapy that dates back to Ancient Egyptian and Chinese civilisations circa 300 BC.
Various cultures and civilisations have cultivated theories and concepts about massage including Hippocrates of Ancient Greece, Ambroise Paré in 16th century France and more recently Dutch practitioner Johann Georg Mezger, who is considered to be the father of modern-day massage.
Sports massage as we know it today has a wide range of applications including easing stiffness and pain, increasing flexibility, improving mobility, and aiding recovery. It’s also a form of therapy that lends itself really well to being combined with other medial and therapeutic interventions such as physiotherapy and osteopathy.
As a sports or massage therapist, your primary goal is to alleviate a patient’s pain and return them to a fully functioning state as soon as possible. You’ll be required to treat people of all ages and backgrounds using a variety of techniques.
These may not always strictly involve massage, so being flexible and adaptive to each patient’s individual circumstances is a must.
The exact nature of the work you undertake will largely depend on where you are employed and which specialist skills you possess. In addition to treating the physical effects of an injury, you may also find yourself dealing with a patient’s emotional state. Many suffer from depression, low self-esteem, anxiety and reduced confidence following such setbacks, so providing all-round care and support is of paramount importance.
Sports therapists are tasked with preventing injuries as much as they are with treating them, particularly when it comes to working in collaboration with a sportsperson(s) and their respective club(s). The goal is to identify areas which are weak or prone to injury and feedback to the strength and conditioning coach so that these factors can be addressed.
As we’ll explore in the next section, many sports massage therapists are self-employed, as such the need for a recognised qualification and valid insurance is of paramount importance. After all, how likely is someone to visit a massage therapist who is both unqualified and doesn’t have valid insurance?
As a minimum, you’ll need the Level 3 Diploma in Sports Massage Therapy, to give it its official title. This course covers a range of topics including anatomy and physiology for sports massage, the ins and outs of soft tissue dysfunction and a range of effective sports massage treatments. This paves the way for a massage therapist to effectively screen clients, plan a range of treatment options and deliver the necessary massage.
Post-Level 3, massage therapists have the ability to progress onto the Level 4 Certificate in Sports Massage. This advanced qualification literally takes things to the next level, exploring how soft tissue mobilisation and neuromuscular techniques can be used on clients and how the correct treatment can aid the repair process of previously diagnosed injuries, amongst other techniques and topics.
The environments where sports massage therapists operate are incredibly varied. Becoming self-employed and operating your own practice or working for an established facility are two of the most preferred routes for fitness professionals but they are far the only options.
Nowadays, many small, medium and large sporting events such as marathons or cycling races invite sports massage therapists to provide pre and post-event massages to event participants.
For others, sports massage therapy is but one of many services offered by a fitness professional. It’s often a very popular CPD route for personal trainers, Pilates instructors and yoga teachers.