When looking for a Sports Massage or Sports Therapy training course, it is important to realise that there are different levels for you to train at, as this will obviously affect what you can do with your qualification. Scope of practice is an important legal and ethical principle that Therapists must observe at all times.

We have put together some Frequently Asked Questions that you may find useful when choosing your course.

Sports Massage, Soft Tissue Therapy, Sports Therapy and Levels! What do they mean?

When looking for a Sports Massage or Sports Therapy training course, it is important to realise that there are different levels for you to train at, as this will obviously affect what you can do with your qualification. Scope of practice is an important legal and ethical principle that Therapists must observe at all times.

We have put together some Frequently Asked Questions that you may find useful when choosing your course.

Q. Is there a difference between Sports Massage Therapy and Sports Therapy?
A. Yes, recognised* Sports Therapy courses now start at Level 5 and go up to Masters Level, whereas recognised* Sports Massage Therapy courses start at Level 3 and go up to Level 5. (*some providers offer unrecognised courses which do not meet the National Standards and will call them whatever they please).

Q. What is Soft Tissue Therapy?
A. Soft Tissue Therapy is an overarching term for manual therapy techniques. The Sports Massage Association (SMA) have a great description on their website which sums it up.

Soft Tissue Therapy is the management, manipulation and rehabilitation of soft tissues of the body including muscles, tendons and ligaments. It is applicable not just to sports people but to anybody wishing to guard against or recover from a soft tissue injury.  The techniques used by sports massage practitioners have been developed to ensure effective and efficient results are gained from each massage given. Soft Tissue Therapy may:
-Improve circulation and lymphatic flow
-Assist in the removal of metabolic waste
-Sedate or stimulate nerve endings
-Increase or decrease muscle tone
-Increase or decrease muscle length
-Remodel scar tissue when required
-Assist in mental preparation for sporting participation

Q. What is the difference in Levels?
A. Each level is set to allow the therapist a ‘remit’ in which they should be working to ensure they are falling within their legal obligations. If we look at the nationally agreed standards it makes it easier to see what you can, and can’t do as a therapist.

Level 3 Sports Massage Therapy has been designed to provide learners with the requisite knowledge, understanding and skills to work in an unsupervised capacity as a sports massage practitioner, with non-pathological (non-injured) tissue. It will provide learners with the understanding, skills and techniques to plan, prepare for and apply a range of sports massage methods to uninjured clients. At this level there should be no treatment of any injury or condition. It is used purely as stated by the Sports Massage Association (SMA) for the related benefits. All injuries or pathological conditions should be referred.

Level 4 Sports Massage Therapy has been developed to enable the therapist to apply massage methods to prevent and manage injury – to include analysing posture and range of movement, applying advanced palpation skills, using a range of advanced massage techniques to prevent and manage injury. The key wording here is ‘to prevent and manage injury’, this is achieved by using techniques to provide the benefits as stated in the SMA descriptor.

Level 5 Sports Massage Therapy is a relatively new qualification and has been developed to allow the therapist to identify and treat minor muscular pathologies. At this level care must be taken when deciding whether to use massage to treat, or when to refer. Treatment techniques will be limited to Soft Tissue Therapy.

Q. So what about Sports Therapy? Why is this different?
A. When answering this, it is important that you understand that the answer we give is related to recognised courses only, and by that we mean those courses that are recognised by the Sports Therapy regulator CNHC. All other courses can claim to be sports therapy, yet not contain any of the techniques that are required.

If you take Level 3, 4 and 5 Sports Massage Therapy, then a Sports Therapy course should contain all of these modules, plus, the additional orthopaedic assessments required to identify a wider range of pathologies. Sports Therapy will also give you additional treatment modalities such as Electrotherapy, Taping & Strapping, Cryotherapy and Exercise Therapy. Sports Psychology and Sports Nutrition should also be included to ensure you can give a more holistic approach to any treatment. Sports Therapists work autonomously, so they would not need to obtain a diagnoses from a Doctor prior to commencing treatment (unless there are obvious contraindications).

Q. What are the key things I should consider when looking for a course?
A. Look at who you want to be working with. Level 3 Sports Massage is best suited to those who are looking for more event type work, offering Sports Massages to athletes. Level 4 Sports Massage is good for those such as Personal Trainers, who want to offer work to help their clients with performance by alleviating postural dysfunction and helping with muscle tone and flexibility. Level 5 Sports Massage is great for those who want to work with individuals with common muscular problems. This could be someone recovering from injury to help alongside rehabilitation using their soft tissue techniques.

Level 4 Sports Massage Therapists can use soft tissue therapy to prevent and manage injuries, so examples of this would be to use techniques to lengthen muscles or to aid flexibility and scar tissue remodelling.

Level 5 Sports Massage Therapists are able to go to that next step to assess for dysfunction, and then use Soft Tissue Techniques to treat.

It should be remembered that at Level 3, there should be NO work done on injured muscles and no ‘treatment’ done. At level 4, you are offering work to prevent and manage injuries. (Treatment definition – Administration or application of remedies to a patient or for a disease or an injury; medicinal or surgical management; therapy).

Working within you remit – a cautionary note.
When you qualify, the first thing you should do before you start to charge people for your services is to obtain insurance. Obtaining insurance is not difficult to do, and your professional association will be able to help with this. What most people do not do is to read the small print, which will tell you that should you work outside your remit, your insurance would be invalidated and therefore if a client complains about you or worse takes action against you, the policy you hoped you had could be cancelled. Whilst the easiest route for some therapists, is to “just give it a go”, if it outside of your remit, DON’T. Referrals are there to protect both you and your client, and is a sign of a proficient therapist rather than a poorly trained one. Working within a remit should always take priority over negligently experimenting. If in doubt, DON’T.