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Complementary Therapy (ASCT)

The Active School of

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Message from Mel Cash

To many prospective students seeking to enter the massage profession, a Sports Massage course would appear to be the route to a successful therapy career. For most though, the aspiration to work at the professional level in sport is, as yet, not an immediate priority. Just to make a living from working with ‘Joe Public’ (and countless weekend warriors) attending to their aches and pains, is more than sufficient in the early stages of most therapists’ careers. If this describes you, we suggest you read the following article before making your choice of course provider…

Whatever Happened to Sports Massage?

An (adapted) communication from Mel Cash*

All I really want to do is treat my clients, teach my students, and write books which share my knowledge and experience with others. I don't like the politics of massage so I try to keep a low public profile but there is some misunderstanding about my role in Sports Massage which I feel I must address.

Perhaps the worst mistake I ever made was calling my first book ‘Sports Massage’. It should have been titled ‘Remedial Massage for Sport’, but my publishers though ‘Sports Massage’ sounded more contemporary (it had never been seen in print before). I hoped at the time that ‘Sports Massage’ would become synonymous with Remedial massage and mean the same thing. But how wrong I was!

Others saw the title and thought it simply meant giving massage to sports people and they developed their training courses around this notion. At the elite level in sport, a massage therapist is only required to give a thorough massage, and nothing else, because there are many other specialists on hand to assess injuries and supervise the treatment and rehabilitation of our leading sports performers. So the majority of Sports Massage courses that emerged only trained therapists to deliver a good massage, and nothing else. If you replace the references to sports participant with 'client' these courses are virtually the same as any basic body massage course, except that the techniques taught are applied more deeply.

What I find unbelievable is that most Sports Massage courses I have seen do not include any treatment of the abdominal muscles! But these muscles play an absolutely vital role in postural alignment; they are an essential part of respiratory function, and are central to all physical activities. How could you hope to properly meet the massage needs of the athlete if you don't know how to treat this absolutely essential part of the body?

And the idea that sports people only need deep massage is also quite alarming. A good massage therapist must be able to use a blend of deep and superficial techniques and not be taught to do one and/or the other as if they were separate types of treatment.

This level of massage training may be adequate in elite sport when there are other specialists around, but incredibly few therapists make their living in this very small sector. The majority of Sports Massage therapists work alone in the private sector, and the public’s perception is that their therapist should be able to treat their minor sports injuries, and other muscular aches and pains.

In these injury situations, providing there are no contraindications, the level of Sports Massage training provided by most courses, only enables the therapist to ‘give it a massage’ and hope that it works. If it does not, all they can do is refer the client to another medical practitioner. Or worse still, if the problem keeps returning and they continue to ‘give it a massage’, this could keep the pain away whilst a more serious underlying problem develops.

Therapists in such situations need to have the ability to safely assess injuries so they know when massage treatment is appropriate and when a client should be referred to another specialist instead. Good massage may take the pain away, but that alone is not a proper remedy for the problem. They must also be able to consider the causes of the problem and offer advice on how it can be prevented in the future. And the causes usually have much more to do with posture, occupation, and other lifestyle stress, than they do with sport.

There is a misconception that Sports Massage is the new front-line in the development of the massage profession, but in reality it is a step backwards with a very limited scope. People embark on Sports Massage training courses with the best intentions, believing they will come out with all the skills they need to succeed in private practice. But, however well they do in training, they are still faced with a huge learning curve when they enter the real world as a therapist faced with clients with injuries. Of course there are many good CPD courses available to help them get the additional training they need, and the best and most dedicated do go on to become successful therapists. But this is not the route they expected.

I may have been responsible for starting the term ‘Sports Massage’ and many courses with this name recommend my books to their students, but this does not mean I endorse this level and scope of training. What I see happening today under the title ‘Sports Massage’ gives me no pride at all and is something I wish to distance myself from.

Mel Cash

See also Soft Tissue Therapy v Sports Massage

* In the UK, Mel Cash would be considered synonymous with Sports Massage, and one of the predominant authorities on the subject. Indeed, his texts on Sports Massage are considered obligatory reading on many Sports Massage courses:

Sports Massage

Sport and Remedial Massage Therapy

Advanced Remedial Massage and Soft Tissue Therapy

NB The syllabus of the ISRM/BTEC (Level 5) Professional Diploma in Soft Tissue Therapy offered by ISRM Associated Schools, more than adequately covers the essential elements required of a competent ‘Sports’ massage practitioner working in private practice.

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