Sports Massage – What Is It and How Does It Differ From Other Hands-On Therapies?

Sports Massage – What Is It and How Does It Differ From Other Hands-On Therapies?

Sports Massage appears to originate from around 1900 when a Finnish School developed its first system of Sports Massage based on the Swedish Massage system. Sport and Remedial Massage came about after the London School of Massage (LSSM) realised that clients were coming in with injuries. Whilst Sports Massage was a form of deep tissue, the LSSM developed Sport and “Remedial” Massage using advanced techniques taken from the osteopathic and physiotherapy world to help treat and meet the needs of clients, not all of those techniques being “deep”. This allowed the LSSM to teach students, like me, to have a more clinical approach to massage and to be able to treat a broader range of musculoskeletal problems. The LSSM was the first school in the UK to teach Sports Massage back in 1989.

From Sports Massage to Sport and Remedial Massage to Soft Tissue Therapy

Sports Massage has reputation for being a deep tissue form of massage. Sport and Remedial Massage became a more clinical version with application of advanced techniques. Soft Tissue Therapy, also developed by the LSSM, to better reflect an extensive range of advanced, alternative hands-on techniques without using conventional massage strokes and to include more exercise, rehabilitation and movement for daily living as part of the healing process. This allowed for a broader range of clientele and not for those who are sporty, but for anyone, at any age with any background.

Whatever you want to call it, the work that I do is very client-specific based on history, presentation of pain and injury and needs on the day. The aim is to support every-body based on subjective history, diagnostic testing allowing for a more detailed and specific treatment. Based on objective findings, I use hands-on techniques, backed up with rehabilitative exercises to help people from all walks of life whether they suffer pain and discomfort from their sporting or active lifestyles or with musculoskeletal problems caused by work and life’s stresses to get to the root cause of pain and injury. Whatever the situation, my aim is to improve my clients’ overall health, wellbeing and performance whether that be in their chosen sport or activity or simply life in general.

Rachel giving a sports massage to a man, working on his neck

How My Treatments Have Evolved

I did my initial training with the LSSM fifteen years ago and since then I have worked with a wide range of clients from professional sporting backgrounds to the very elderly and everyone else in between. Along with countless courses, workshops and years of experience watching people move their bodies, I now get to share my knowledge tutoring sports massage at Focus Fitness. This journey hasn’t happened overnight. Looking back to when I first started, I was an average therapist really wanting to make people feel better, but not having the experience to have success every time. I’ve had countless learning opportunities where treatments haven’t gone as well or as I would’ve liked. I’ve reflected on every treatment and every client. What’s gone well? What could I have done differently? What can I do next time? What’s the learning and where’s the growth here?

What Does a Successful Treatment look like?

A successful treatment session isn’t just about the hands-on work, knowledge of anatomy and biomechanics and professional accreditation. It’s about life experience, additional training and curiosity. A successful treatment session includes, but is not exhaustive of:

  • Feeling someone’s energy and knowing how to calm their nervous system.
  • Understanding where that client is coming from and how they’re entering my space.
  • Creating trust and holding a space for whatever comes up.
  • Deep listening
  • Specific questioning
  • Drawing on my own life and work experiences
  • Empathy

That’s not something we can always teach, but it is something a therapist can learn to do over time.

That is also part of the healing process. It’s about meeting a client where they’re at and taking them to a place where they’re not or haven’t been for a while. And of course, the hands-on work is crucial in the facilitation of that healing process. Specificity is key. Being directive, specific with a mixture of giving the client what they want based on their needs on that day is crucial.

My Treatment Evolution

Fast forward to today, I can now say I am really good therapist. It’s taken being over complicated to simplifying things, to tutoring and revising those skills that at one point I had forgotten or never learned. It’s taken me years to piece together all the professional learning I’ve had and continue to do so. It’s been about making mistakes, being open to self-evaluation and change, new ways of thinking and knowing that this is a journey and having a beginner’s mindset. The more you know, the more you realise you don’t know. Things change all the time, science changes all the time and being open to that has been part of that journey. I’m by no means perfect and there’s a lot I don’t know, but I continue to grow, feel grateful to my clients as they have been by far, some of my greatest teachers.

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