What’s the difference between Soft Tissue Therapy and Sports Massage? Is Soft Tissue Therapy better than Sports Massage?
If you’ve ever asked these questions, you’re not alone – but it means we need to go right back over 3000 years. Thats as far back as historical scholars have found references to massage. It’s hardly a surprise, as massage as a way of dealing with pain is instinctive – you don’t need a qualification in science to know that rubbing a child’s freshly scraped knee helps them feel better.
In the late 1700s into the mid 1800s, thanks to the work of various physicians and athletes, a series of manual techniques to help with movement was formulated. The names of these techniques (effleurage, petrissage, tapotement, and frictions) are familiar to therapists today as “Swedish” or “Classic” massage techniques and still used on clients today.
Although the techniques were seized upon for use in sanitariums, by 1885, medical doctors had decided the manual application techniques weren’t for them – not because they didn’t help, but because “an ordinary course of medical instruction does not confer the necessary qualifications for their successful application; the tact necessary to prescribe and apply them properly is only acquired by long and patient practice, and the labor is excessively severe” (George Taylor MD, 1885) – in short, doctors weren’t taught how to do them, and It was physically hard work! Interestingly, Taylor went on to manufacture mechanical massage machines, presumably so that the techniques could be applied without that “excessively severe” physical labour.
Despite the excessively severe labour, the four techniques (effleurage, petrissage, tapotement, and frictions) became the basis of different forms of massage, with specialist techniques focusing on different structures being developed by physicians, therapists and practitioners to this very day – there are now techniques that focus on fascia and stimulating particular nerve fibres as well as techniques that focus on the body as a whole,
Although initially used as a way of dealing with specific problems, by the mid to late 1900s, massage techniques were being used and developed to enhance the performance of athletes, both pre and post events. Sports people would often become injured, and trainers started to develop techniques (the popular idea of icing an injury can be traced back to the USA and 1950s coaches). This could be classed as the start of Sports Massage – massage aimed specifically at sports people.
In the UK, it was arguably a therapist named Mel Cash who publicised the term Sports Massage, in the 1980s, even going as far to use it as a title in a book. At the time, this would have likely been a useful way of improving the appearance of an industry that, for many at the time, was still linked to more seedy activities. It tied in with the increasing awareness of the importance of exercise in the UK too, with energetic TV presenters encouraging the nation to get up and exercise for five minutes in the new “breakfast TV’ shows.
Although Cash has stepped away from sports massage, describing it as being “deep massage without the assessment and treatment skills need to safely treat any injuries”, (Mel Cash, ISRM), it is still very popular, with huge numbers of people offering “sports massage” and qualifications being available from a variety of educators.
For many people, though, the problem with “sports massage” was that it was seen as being only for athletes, and for good reason. Professional Sports Massage Associations focused on pitch work and helping athletes, and this trickled down in the way a sports massage therapist (the term masseuse is largely abandoned now) advertised themselves. Therapists were often ex-athletes, and a depth of anatomical knowledge often wasn’t required.
By the start of the 2000s, with sports massage being established for athletes, and Swedish Massage seen as an exotic treat, there was a clear need for a treatment that helped people with injuries that weren’t caused by sports, and that weren’t sports people. Their injuries sometimes didn’t have a specific cause in the same way that an athletes would, could be more complicated, and would therefore require a deeper knowledge than might just be needed for treating sports related issues. And so Soft Tissue Therapy was born!
You can read a definition of what soft tissue therapy is, but in short, soft tissue therapy looks at treating the tissues of the body (such as muscle, tendons, ligaments and fascia) that have become dysfunctional, whether that’s through a sports injury or other injury or chronic conditions. It’s not tied to an injury that has been caused through sports, or focused on improving sports related performance. Yes, a soft tissue therapist can help with sports injuries, and some specialise in them, but it’s the same as how a dentist can perform a scale and polish of your teeth…they can also do so much more!
If you are wondering if we can help you – get in touch with us by calling 07788 287098 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us what’s going on. We pride ourselves on honest advice, and if we don’t think we can help, we’ll tell you so!