If I had a pound for every time that someone asked me the difference between Physiotherapy and Sports Massage I’d be a rich man! I know the answer but then I’ve been working in the industry for a very long time. But more important is that you understand the difference so you can make the right decision to find out what kind of therapist is best placed to help you.
In this article we’ll give you a very honest account of what the difference is between the two disciplines. At our Physiotherapy & Sports Therapy clinic we of course offer both. However, as a sports therapist the sports massage techniques I use overflow into physiotherapy techniques and my colleague Mark who is a physiotherapist uses sports massage as one of the many options within his physiotherapy treatments. Clear as mud? Let’s get going.
Physiotherapy in itself is a huge subject and roughly speaking splits into 4 different areas. Greatly simplifying there is Musculoskeletal – when bits hurt, Neurology – when nerves stop behaving themselves, Respiratory – when you have problems with your breathing and Orthopaedics – for post surgery recovery.
So where does sports massage fit into this? The best fit is the musculoskeletal part of physiotherapy. Sports massage can greatly help with musculo-skeletal conditions. But it can also help with nerve symptoms, post surgery and, when applied to the right area with the right expertise, improve the efficiency of your breathing!
Sports massage is just one technique that a Sports Massage Therapist can use to help you get better. They can also use fascial release, exercise based rehabilitation, joint mobilisation, muscle activation and a lot of other techniques that a physiotherapist might choose to use. There are two exceptions. Acupuncture and joint manipulation (for those that don’t know this is the technique when the therapists make your joint crack – most commonly associated with chiropractors and osteopaths).
Why these two? It’s an insurance thing. Sports massage therapists can’t get insurance to do these techniques. Why? I don’t know. Perhaps they are considered more medical. Perhaps they are considered to be possibly more dangerous and so the perceived greater medical knowledge of physiotherapists may be a factor here?
What’s The Difference In Physiotherapy and Sports Massage Qualifications?
Physiotherapy is degree level entry usually followed by at least a 2 year stint in the NHS working out what you want to specialise in. Sports Therapy is not technically degree level entry but in most cases now is. For example yours truly is the holder of merely a diploma in Advanced Clinical Sports Therapy, but I claim there’s no substitute for experience!
When Sports Therapy becomes state regulated – as in governed by the health care professional council (HCPC) – if will become degree level entry. Thankfully I will be able to join the party by what’s called a grand parenting scheme. That is people who are already qualified and can show the appropriate level of knowledge and skill will be allowed to continue in their field. Phew! This is exactly the process that physiotherapy went through many years ago when they became state regulated.
There is huge overlap in Sports Therapy and Sports Massage and what people would associate with physiotherapy. And this is where things get confusing. Sports therapists and sports masseurs have strict rules about how they use the term physiotherapy so as not to imply they might be a physiotherapists. With Sports Therapy and Sports Massage specialising in musculoskeletal conditions we like to tease our physiotherapist friends that we’re the real experts!
That’s physiotherapy and sports therapy qualification covered. Sports Massage on the other hand is usually Diploma level. So point of entry knowledge may not be to the same level as Physiotherapists and Sports Therapists. However, that’s not to say there aren’t some fantastic Sports Massage Therapists out there. And I know quite a few.
I’m a strong believer it’s not what your qualification is, it’s what you do with it. As with most occupations your qualification is just the beginning of your learning. There is so much more information out there that can help so many people. That’s part of the fun of the job. Finding new and different way to help people recover.
Is Sports Massage State Regulated and What Does This Mean?
State regulation enables Physiotherapists to use the term Chartered. Whereas Sports Masseurs can’t. It means that the government has deemed it appropriate to ‘protect’ the title of a specific profession for the safety of the general public. So if you’re going to see someone calling themselves a Physiotherapist then you know they will been trained to a suitable level.
Sports Therapy (and I assume Sports Massage by association) is on the list of occupations to be regulated but as yet this has not been the case. This is simply because Sports Therapy is a newer discipline having been created as a breakaway from physiotherapy back in 1990. Conversations with our professional body The Society Of Sports Therapists and the government continue. The body that decide such things the Health and Care Professions Council have stated that Sports Therapy needs to be regulated many times. But these things take time.
There’s more information on Sports Therapy and the state regulation on the Society of Sports Therapists website.
What’s The Difference In Practice Of Sports Massage Therapists and Physios?
As you’re probably now seeing the difference between the disciplines is not black and white but various shades of grey. One rule of thumb I like to use is that Sports Therapists and Masseurs are more hands on. That is we try to help you move on from your condition with hands on treatment on a couch. Whereas physiotherapists can be more hands off and give you exercises to do to fix yourself.
But that’s not to say you can’t get physios who are very hands on. Our very own Mark Gilmore I would describe as a very hands on physiotherapist. Equally I would describe myself as a Sports Therapist using lots of physio type exercises or techniques with lots of hands on work to help the process along. So if you prefer hands on treatment maybe a Sports Therapist or Sports Massage Therapist might be a better place to start looking for your ideal therapist.
What Difference Does That Make To Me?
Not much, unless you’ve got private medical cover. Most insurance companies will usually only pay out for Physiotherapy treatment. That said many insurance companies will now cover Sports Therapy and Sports Massage services. If you do have private insurance it’s worth checking. We are sometimes categorised under the alternative therapies section.
So no down the crux of the article…
Should I See A Physiotherapist Or Sports Massage Therapist?
The truth of the matter is it’s all down to personal preference. We’ve highlighted the subtle differences in the trades above. Beyond that here’s some other points to consider when choosing your physiotherapist or sports massage therapist.
Obviously you want them to be knowledgeable and passionate about their subject. You don’t want someone just going through the motions and you feel like just another person for them to ‘get through’ before the end of their day.
This passion should come through in their website. It should look professional and give you a clear understanding of their ethos and you should be able to pick out their enthusiasm in their work. No two physiotherapists and sport masseurs are the same just as not two client are the same.
A little bit more old fashioned is of course is personal recommendation. As therapists we absolutely love this way of meeting new clients. It really is the best way. A certain level of trust has already been set up and so the treatment can begin at a deeper level and we can get you moving towards where you want to be faster. Ask your friends who do similar activities to yourself if they have any recommendations. Ask lots of different people and see whose name comes up most frequently.
Instead of, or as well as, personal recommendation check out testimonials on their website. Even better and probably more realistic check out their Google reviews. We know how hard we’ve worked to get our Google Reviews and there really is no place to hide!
Whether you have a personal recommendation or not we recommend speaking to your therapist before booking in for a session. You can check out whether they sound knowledgeable and have experience of your condition. Possibly even more importantly whether they sound friendly and whether you like them or not! A therapist you don’t like will never be able to help you.
The scoop from the inside is that this process works both ways. We’re screening you guys too. We know the conditions we can help, what we’re good at and what we’re not good at and what kind of people respond best to our work. We ask questions to figure out very quickly if our prospective clients are the ‘right’ kind of clients that we will be able to help. We’re not going to say we think we can help when we can’t!
This is why we have a request a call back option on our Booking page. This is where we encourage you to speak to either myself of Mark before you book in with us so we can get to know you and find out if we’re going to be a good fit for each other. Whether you’re considering coming to us or any other practice we’d recommend you speak to any prospective therapist before booking in for an appointment.
When you eventually you go along for your session see if that rapport and trust grows. In the trade we always say that it is our clients assessing us, not the other way round! We like to think we’re very open and likeable kind of guys. But ultimately that’s for you to decide.
What If Physiotherapy or Sports Massage Doesn’t Work?
In the first instance speak to your therapist and let them know that the treatment is not working for you. Before you do though be honest and ask yourself “Have I done everything that I have been asked to do?” We call it compliance in the trade. It’s well researched that people who do what they’re asked have better outcomes than those who don’t. It may be the odd stretch or exercise here and there or a slight change in posture. Maybe even a tweak in your lifestyle. We do as much of the work for you as we can and sometimes that’s enough. But more often than not we need our clients help. It’s a team effort.
If you can honestly say you’re doing all you can, or you’re not able to do what you’ve asked to do (for whatever reason), then tell your therapist. Keep that communication open and honest. Your therapist may well have a few different ideas or approaches that may work out better for you. If they run out of ideas still do not despair. There are so many therapists out there all with a whole manner of different approaches and specialisms. Start the process again. Speak to the next therapist and explain what treatment you’ve had and if they have any different ideas that can help you.
We find we get the best results with Muscle Activation, fascial release and educating people about their conditions. We this even more effective when we combine them with Sports Massage and more conventional physiotherapy techniques such as joint mobilisation and rehabilitation exercises too. In our experience there’s no one thing that is the magic answer to everything. That’s why all of the most dedicated physiotherapists and sports massage therapists and constantly learning in and around their subject.
My view is there will always be something out there that works for everyone. You just need to find out what that is for you.
What Should I Do About My Condition?
I’m hoping the all for the above will have helped you go about choosing the right therapist for you in what is a very confusing series of grey areas. The best thing you can do to help your condition is to do something about it, preferably now. If you don’t do something different chances are you’ll stay exactly as you have been. Whether it’s physiotherapy or sports massage or anything else that is the right way forward doesn’t really matter. Just start by taking some action. As I mention above you can always change therapists if things don’t work out.
If you don’t believe you can be fixed then you won’t be. If you believe you can be fixed then you will. You just need to be helped in the right direction by the right person. Whoever that may be and whatever that their qualifications are doesn’t really matter so long as you are able to work together in an open and honest way.
If you are struggling with any condition and you’re not sure if you can be helped click the Get In Touch button below where you can request to book a session or arrange to speak to either myself or Mark.
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