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Five Tips On Sports Massage

1 Oct 2015
Randall Cooper
Sports massage is an integral part of preparing and maintaining people for sport and exercise. Some people perform sports massage extremely well, others not so well, and from my perspective the level of training, education, and experience only goes so far in getting it right. Whether you do a little massage at home, are studying, use it in your practice, or a seasoned professional, here are some of my tips on how to get the most out of sports massage.

1. Prepare

When you start a sports massage, you don’t want to stop. Maintaining consistent contact and tissue temperature is important, and if you need to go and get another towel or pot of cream half way through your session it’s not ideal. Make sure you think about everything you need (or may need) for the whole session in advance and place everything within arms reach.

2. Ask your client what they want

You may think you know what your client wants, but unless you ask the question you won’t know for sure. Open questions such as “what can I do for you today”, or “how can I help you most” will lead your client to explaining why they’ve come to see you. Give them time to talk, but also ask questions to clarify important information such as whether they have any injuries or concerns, or whether it’s a pre event or recovery massage.

3. Use outcome measures

You need to prove to your client and yourself that what you do is effective. Picking the right way of assessing your effectiveness will come back to asking your client what they want. For example, if they want you to loosen up their hamstrings and gluteals, use a straight leg raise or a sit and reach test before and after the session to see whether you’ve made a change. Or in the case of a recovery sports massage, get an overall rating of stiffness/fatigue (usually ask for a score out of 10). Some tests have better evidence than others, but to use a cliché – something is better than nothing. Here’s a great example of a quick assessment-reassessment from sports physio Peter Wells. 

4. Get continual feedback

Everyone is different, and everyone responds differently to sports massage. Some people tolerate heavy deep tissue work, others won’t. Ask questions like “how’s the pressure?” or “are you ok?”, as many people will just try and grin and bear it unless asked. Also, just as importantly, look for non-verbal feedback such as clenching of the hands, screwing up of the face, or talkative person who goes quiet. Your client’s intuition is usually right.

5. If it isn't working, it isn't working

As an experienced sports physiotherapist I see many patients who have been treated unsuccessfully by other health professionals. Obviously these patients are frustrated that their condition isn’t improving, but in many cases they are also frustrated with their practitioner as they kept performing the same treatment despite any positive change in their condition. If what you do isn’t achieving what you want it to do (see Tips 2 and 3) change tact, change your treatment, or refer onto somebody else for another opinion.

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