Sport Massage is probably the most recognized specialty within the massage domain. It is unique in that it is the sport medicine adaptation of massage and often includes a host of advanced techniques. Sport Massage reflects the specific needs of the active individual which varies depending on their level of activity and whether they are in training or in competition, or even on game-day. Canada is a pioneer in this domain with an independent organization The Canadian Sport Massage Therapists Association (CSMTA) that promotes, educates and advocates on behalf of those that have chosen to include this path of practice. Since 1996 I have been integrally involved in this domain and a contributor at the committee level.
There are many differences between regular / spa type massage and massage that takes place in the sport medicine environment. Therapists who have trained in this skill know how to adapt the tempo of treatment, the duration, the depth, and even the type of verbal interaction with the client. This then varies depending on whether this is pre-event, post event, between events on the same day, the day prior and even during training.
The RMT with this specialty will require advanced training in orthopedics, understanding the profile of injury healing, knowing mechanisms of injury and kinematics of the sport itself. They share more of the knowledge and skill set associated with Athletic Therapists. This is one of the reasons their relationship is synergistic. While Athletic Therapists may assist with massage duties, they will likely defer these to their Sport Massage colleagues. Conversely, with duties such as emergency care, taping and specific clinical scenarios, the massage therapist will suggest these clients confer with their Athletic Therapist colleagues.
Both are sport medicine clinicians of choice with sports teams. Massage therapists with the sport massage specialty tend to be the primary provider for sports such as aquatics where tissue health and maintenance are a priority. Contact sports such as rugby, gridiron football, and ice hockey will require a therapist with further training in emergency care and equipment, which speaks to the skillset of the Athletic Therapist. Track and field athletics would likely benefit from both equally.
Depending on the situation sport massage can be very vigorous, but the therapist must be particularly attuned to possible injury and other signs of stress within the tissue. The athlete may even be unaware of these subtle signs, so the therapist must be particularly mindful of their responsibility as frontline caregivers who engage with the athlete and the athlete’s body on game day before, after and even between events. Their due diligence is a vital component with the teamwork involved ensuring the athlete’s success.
Having completed the written and practical exams associated with this qualification, the Massage Therapist (known colloquially and previously as a Sport Massage Therapist) is now officially designated as a “Sport Fellow”. They work primarily in the clinical environment but, when called upon, work at training camps with athletes and teams or even travel with them. The Sport Massage profession, as an entity, holds its own annual national and provincial conventions and professional development courses focused on the needs of its members. The knowledge and skill-set that I have acquired from my sport massage affiliation are frequently included in some capacity in my clinical practice.
Having been officially established in 1987, the sport massage association and its members are recognized as a vital component of the Sport Medicine team and continue to grow in number and in scope. I continue to be a contributor as Education Chair of the Canadian Sport Massage Therapists Association.