Sports Massage Therapy: A Massage Therapy Specialty
Athletes can seem to have superhuman ability, but they’re very vulnerable to injury, including the repetitive use injuries that come from using the same group of muscles over and over. This is one reason sports massage therapy can be so instrumental. Another reason: massage can help a person perform at his or her peak. Scott Hamilton, 1984 Olympic gold medalist and 2015 American Massage Therapy Association national conference keynote speaker, credits massage with adding three years to his career (http://www.amtamassage.org/articles/1/News/detail/3193). In an AMTA interview, Hamilton likens the body to an instrument that has to be in tune.
Some sports professionals have reason to be grateful for massage therapy — and some massage therapists have reason to be grateful to the sports industry. It can offer a career far from the traditional. It can be a chance to immerse oneself in the pro sports world even if one’s own physical skills lay elsewhere. Some massage therapists travel with sports teams. Therapy can take different forms: pre- or post- event sessions, maintenance between events, rehabilitation after injury. Massage therapists often interact with other sports health professionals. They are team players in more ways than one.
Sports massage can also take place in a fixed location such as a facility that offers sports medicine and massage.
Sports Massage Credentialing
A sports massage therapist is required to hold state licensing; the license will be in massage therapy, not specifically in sports massage. Typical requirements include completing a 500 to 1,000 hour post-secondary program and passing a licensing examination. It may be helpful to seek certification in particular modalities used in sports therapy, for example, myofascial techniques.
The National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB) has partnered with an international credentialing organization, ITEC, to make sports massage available as a specialty at some NCBTMB-approved schools – and to give graduates additional credentialing opportunities through ITEC. This is a recent development; the coming years may see a number of programs offering this opportunity.
Breaking into the Sports Massage Industry
The American Massage Therapy Association has assembled a resource page for individuals considering careers in massage therapy (https://www.amtamassage.org/career_guidance/detail/196?typeId=10). AMTA advises would-be sports massage therapists that they need above average anatomy and physiology knowledge. A professional also needs knowledge of the body mechanics involved in the particular sport.
Communication skills and people savvy are also important. Joana Brown, massage therapist for a minor league hockey team, shared some career highlights with AMTA and provided advice to those eyeing a career in sports massage (https://www.amtamassage.org/articles/3/MTJ/detail/1772). One of the big lessons behind her list of tips: Massage therapists can do far more than read the job ads. They can create their own opportunities. They may approach sports teams and ask if they have a massage therapist on board. And if there is interest but the service hasn’t been included in the current operating budget, they might try bartering or looking for a sponsor.
Of course these methods aren’t for those who can’t handle a little rejection along the way! There are other ways to get a foot in the door. Some massage therapists gain experience through volunteering at sports events such as marathons. Even massage students may be granted this opportunity. Some AMTA state chapters have their own sports massage teams. In some states, students can actually perform massage under supervision at these events. If the state does not allow students to practice on members of the public, the student may be welcomed but given other responsibilities.
AMTA teams set varying requirements for training. One may need a little sports massage education just to be part of the state team.