I often get asked the difference between a sports therapy and sports massage therapists.
It’s not surprising many individuals become confused..
However, there is great difference between the two.. but work very well together as a pair.

Physiotherapist, Sports Physiotherapist, Sports Therapist or Sports Massage Therapist – all similar disciplines but what’s the difference? Who is going to be best placed to help you with your injury or ailment? Does it even matter? Here we explain the difference between the grey areas so you can make an informed choice when choosing who can help you reduce your pain and start living and playing pain free again.

As Sports Therapists we are often referred to by the public as one, or all, of the titles above. Technically speaking we are a different discipline again. We like to think we take the best parts of all of the above and spin into our own special progressive treatment style. But before we talk more about what we do let’s put the disciplines into context.

Physiotherapy.

Physiotherapy is a really big subject. I mean really big. It is normally what you, the public, associate with your needs when you have an injury. Technically it is defined as: “The treatment of disease, injury, or deformity by physical methods such as massage, heat treatment, and exercise rather than by drugs or surgery.”

Which is a pretty loose definition. Physiotherapy is the discipline that has been around the longest and this is why you might associate injury treatment with Physio. However, there are large subsections within the subject of Physiotherapy, namely:

  • Musculo-Skeletal – when muscles and bones hurt
  • Neurology – rehabilitation from serious stuff – heart attacks, strokes
  • Respiratory – help with lung related issues
  • Orthopaedics – pre or post operative care when you’ve been cut open by a surgeon

Most Physiotherapists at University are taught an exercise based approach to treatment. This is widely used in the NHS hence the legendary “here’s a sheet of exercises for you to do to help fix yourself.”

Sports Physiotherapy.

A Sports Physiotherapist or Sports Physio is someone who is qualified as a Physiotherapist but specialises in Sports conditions. Hence the confusion with Sports Therapists! They may or may not have additional Sports related qualifications.

They are also governed by the CSP and are Physios who have chosen to specialise in the musculo-skeletal side of things. Specifically sports related injuries or conditions. Which is exactly what we as Sports Therapists specialise in.

Sports Massage Therapists.

A Sports massage Therapist is someone who is trained in solely sports massage skills. They are not qualified to diagnose conditions in the same way as a Sports Therapist or Physiotherapist would be able too. However, a Sports Therapists has huge roots here and always remembers this is how they start a great worthwhile career.   

Sports massage therapists at level 3 are trained around 6 months to gain their certificate/diploma qualification, and massage mainly as a compound muscle to the area of your complaint. Level 4 sports massage therapists are trained additionally to the level 3 around 6 months, and are able to treat minor/non complex complaints and give advise to relieve dysfunctional soft tissues. Sports Massage Therapy encompasses the knowledge of manual therapy skills relating to soft tissues and their functions, the effects of manual therapy and exercise on normal, and tight tissue.

Sports Therapists .

My discipline Sports Therapy concentrates on the musculo-skeletal side of things from the outset. Our entire qualification focuses on trying to help you with the bit that hurts. We are much newer to the arena than Physiotherapy.

As an occupation we were created in 1990 by Physiotherapist Graham Smith. Having set up the centre of excellence at Lilleshall Graham felt that Physiotherapy was moving too much towards exercise based rehabilitation and too far away from a hands on approach. He founded Sports Therapy to redress this balance.

We use massage as a Sports Massage Therapist would, we use joint mobilisation as a Physiotherapist would, we use exercise prescription related to your Sport as a Sports Physiotherapist would. Can you see where to confusion comes from now?!

What I love about Sports Therapy is that we are not bound by specific guidelines and we can just use the best methods for each individual. We are able to mix and match our experience and techniques to suit the need of the individual to get them the best possible result.

In fact we frequently use many techniques from Kinesiology. Which in my less informed youth I would have dismissed out of hand as a load of tree hugging hippy rubbish! Thankfully for everyone I have mellowed and now encourage what I term egoless treatment. I don’t really care where the technique comes from so long as it helps the patient. When you put aspects of all disciplines in your treatment we find you’re in the best position to help people.

Sports Therapist train between 3 years plus.. rehab knowing how to manipulate the system in a safe effective way for fastest recovery. Using a range of techniques and modalities to ensure individuals involved in sports are competing effectively and safely.  Providing immediate response when sports and non-sports injuries occur and rehabilitate the patient back to full fitness.

Sports Therapy entails a higher level of training that includes a wider set of skills and supporting knowledge. There is general agreement within the UK of some core areas which are essential to sports therapy although the emphasis will vary amongst training providers with some favouring soft tissue therapy and others leaning towards rehabilitation or emergency care. It is widely accepted that sports therapy includes:

Advanced Anatomy and physiology in knowledge of all systems
Sports massage as stated above for level 3 and 4
Biomechanics and range of motion
Advanced Manual Therapy Skills
Injury assessment and treatment
Gait analysis
Rehabilitation from minor/major injury and trauma
First Aid and advanced trauma care
Pitchside first aid
Taping for Sport
Kinesiology taping for injury
Electrotherapy, Strength & Conditioning, and/or Sports Nutrition.
Rehabilitation knowledge of when and when not to overload
Concussion management

Sports Therapists will also work in is to help individuals and club teams to progress from being able to perform normal daily physical functions to sporting and highly skilled activities, recovering from trauma.
Also allowing sports therapist to work at 1st team levels of running sports clubs.

The Verdict

As you can see the borders between the disciplines can only be described as grey. With each discipline overlapping the other one. I believe this can only be a good thing. If we just concentrate on what we’re doing with our patients and clients and work together and be open to as many ways of helping people as possible this can only be a good thing for the industry as a whole. As Sports Therapists we’re just trying to reach as many people as we can with our Progressive approach trying to use the best of all approaches out there to help you with your condition.

For us it doesn’t so much matter whether you see a Physiotherapist, Sports Physiotherapist, Sports Massage Therapist or Sports Therapist but that you find someone that you can trust and like and has the knowledge and experience to help you get over your condition.

Either way, sports therapists and sports massage therapists are both of great benefit, but depending on the level of treatment you require, you need to decide what type of therapist suits the level of injury /treatment you require.

Making sure therapists are not working out of their scope of qualification and are fully insured.. always ask what level of qualification a therapists has if you require treatment and rehab on a more complex injury.

Personal recommendation is a great way of finding someone. We get most of our clients this way.