In today’s world, the line between physical therapy and sports massage has become blurred. Sports massage has evolved over the past few decades to be more specialized in the treatment of soft tissue injuries while the majority of physiotherapists have begun incorporating more massage into their treatment plans.
But many people still don’t know if sports massage is physiotherapy or not, so they are left wondering whether they should book an appointment with a physiotherapist or a sports therapist…
Is Sports Massage Physiotherapy? The short answer is yes. The somewhat longer answer has to do with what physiotherapy actually is, where it came from, and how sports massage fits into that.
First off, as a profession, physiotherapy only dates back about 100 years or so—though modern physical therapy as we know it today grew out of manual therapy practiced by groups like osteopaths (more on them later).
When treated for injuries and pain by members of these non-medical professions in Western Europe during World War I and II, many soldiers used words like miracle worker and angel to describe their caretakers.
Afterward they asked these same practitioners—most notably physical therapists–to continue treating them once they returned home.
1) Long History
Sport Massage is a centuries-old practice that can be traced back to ancient times. In fact, there are many illustrations of massages found in Egyptian pyramids and other historical artifacts from around that time.
The evidence we have points to sport massage being used for treatment before competitive events or as a way to treat injuries sustained while playing sports.
What’s more, our modern understanding of anatomy, physiology and kinesiology closely align with methods used thousands of years ago. That’s some serious staying power! (and proof) physiotherapists and massage therapists are onto something good here…
2) No Boundaries
Many physiotherapists are familiar with massage. Many sports and physical therapists also have some experience with massage, even if they don’t call it that. However, many people outside of these disciplines aren’t sure whether or not what a physiotherapist does is massage.
It may surprise you to learn that many of your other health care professionals (such as podiatrists and chiropractors) also do types of manipulation as part of their practice; it seems like a common practice in health care settings to refer patients to one another for their different services.
3) Treat Many Conditions
Osteopaths and sports massage therapists are both capable of treating a wide range of injuries. Osteopaths tend to focus on all types of back and neck problems, while sports massage practitioners often treat soft tissue injuries, such as strains, sprains and ligament problems.
One benefit of seeing an osteopath or physiotherapist over a masseuse or therapist is that they have been trained in spinal manipulation—which can sometimes be used to help relieve back pain without surgery. A therapist should be able to refer you to a specialist if necessary.
Although physiotherapists are trained in various massage techniques, their primary therapy modality involves hands-on physical therapy that includes therapeutic exercise, stretching and other non-invasive treatments.
That’s why sports massage (sometimes referred to as physiotherapy) can be an effective treatment option for many individuals looking to relieve muscle tension and improve range of motion without relying on powerful drugs.
In fact, a growing number of professional athletes utilize sports massage services on a regular basis—even more so in recent years with rising performance expectations and restrictions on what substances they can use.
Unlike pharmaceutical treatments, sports massage does not provide any medication or intoxicating effects for relief from pain or discomfort.
5) Exercise in Practice
Massage therapy can provide a number of benefits to professional athletes, from those at a high level of play to weekend warriors. It can help alleviate soreness, reduce muscle tension and soothe damaged tissue that may have occurred as a result of over-training or competition.
These practices are all beneficial for professional athletes, who need to be in top physical condition, but they’re also beneficial for sports enthusiasts and even casual exercisers. There are two major types of massage therapy: Swedish massage and deep tissue massage.
Both are beneficial in their own ways, depending on what type of soreness you’re experiencing, how much time you have to dedicate to it and what your needs and preferences are as an individual.
6) Complementary Treatment
In many cases, physiotherapists will use complementary treatments such as sports massage therapy to assist in rehabilitation of musculoskeletal injuries. In fact, physiotherapists often collaborate with other healthcare professionals including chiropractors, osteopaths and medical doctors.
A physiotherapist may also work with a massage therapist if there are limitations in range of motion during an injury or surgical recovery.
What’s more, many people feel a benefit from sports massage as part of their overall health and wellness program and look to physiotherapists for help in finding a good massage therapist. Both modalities have a role to play in injury rehabilitation so it makes sense that people would consider both in getting healthy again.
7) Brings Forth Positive Change
The most obvious benefit of sports massage therapy is that it helps bring about positive change in your body. If you’re experiencing tightness, knots or pain, then sports massage therapy can help to alleviate these symptoms.
By reducing tension and stimulating blood flow, sports massage therapy aims to bring about healthy changes within your body and mind. As a result, you’ll feel better and more rejuvenated.
8) Highly Experienced/Trained Professionals
A physiotherapist has gone through university training that takes four years. Many therapists who do sports massage have also studied and practised as a physiotherapist first.
They are qualified and experienced to assess injuries, treat with manual therapy techniques, prescribe exercise rehabilitation programs and advice on best practices for body care for optimum performance.
Some will also be able to perform joint mobilizations, injections or other advanced techniques that are not available from a general massage therapist. This experience provides you with an expert professional knowledgeable in working with people of all ages who have sports related injuries.
9) Practical Application
The primary goal of physiotherapy, as defined by its international governing body, World Federation of Chiropractic (WFC), is to improve a patient’s quality of life. As such, physiotherapists are experts in pain management and rehabilitation after an injury.
In fact, many athletes and sports enthusiasts choose sports massage because it helps them rehabilitate faster and more effectively than conventional treatment.
People who are often treated by physiotherapists include those with acute or chronic muscular skeletal injuries or problems—including runners, weightlifters, football players and swimmers. This is because muscles play a crucial role in supporting our bodies while we move around every day.
10) Professional Code of Conduct
A code of conduct is essential for any healthcare professional, and therapists are no exception. The code should include an ethical statement and a description of your practice policies.
By writing down your practices, you can rest assured that all patients have fair access to quality care—and any legal trouble will be handled quickly and efficiently (through your patient’s rights in writing).
It also helps to make sure that other therapists aren’t providing conflicting or misleading information. A professional code of conduct helps keep everyone honest in their practices.
All joking aside, while sports massage may not be as serious as physiotherapy, it’s still a viable option for people who want to improve their physical health and body awareness without extensive training or equipment.
Now that you know what sports massage is, how it works and what your options are if you choose to pursue a career in sports massage, I hope you feel prepared to make an informed decision about whether or not you think sports massage might be right for you.
You don’t have to be a world-class athlete or even able-bodied to benefit from sports massage. Anybody can see a professional sports therapist and take advantage of some of these benefits on their path towards better health.