Our journey began in September 1989 when LSSM started the first Sports Massage qualification in the UK. It was based on the first book on Sports Massage which I wrote and had published the year before. It was a 6-month course and although it was called “Sports Massage” it already included some advanced techniques such as Muscle Energy Technique and Soft Tissue Release. It was also the first externally validated qualification of its kind.
In those days Sports Massage was a good fun job and we were kept very busy because there were not many of us around. But that soon changed as other schools jumped on the bandwagon, still teaching basic routine massage but with a bit more ‘force’ and they calling that ‘Sports Massage’. So there were more and more therapists chasing the same amount of work. We were also realising that although it was a fun job, because clients mostly wanted treatment in the evenings and weekends this wasn’t giving us such a good personal lifestyle.
As Sports Massage Therapists we were not trained to treat injuries but this didn’t stop injured clients turning up for treatment. LSSM were the pioneers of this new profession and we were still learning and developing our clinical skills. To be able to treat injuries we were told we had to become Physiotherapists, Osteopaths or Chiropractors but our injured clients had often been to see these therapists already but it had not been effective (not to imply that these therapies don’t work, just that they don’t always work). So why should we train in the same way to fail the same people? We needed to find our own solutions.
We further developed our clinical skills so we could better meet the needs of the injured clients who were coming to see us, and with this we were achieving better results with a broader range of musculoskeletal problems. This opened our doors to a much wider clientele with more and more non-sports people seeking our help. This was also giving us much better lifetime career potential. So, in 1995 we extended the course to 9 months with more advanced clinical skills and we re-named it Sport & Remedial Massage (BTEC Level 4).
The start of the 21st Century saw other changes with financial pressure on the NHS making it less able to fund the treatment of minor and chronic musculoskeletal injuries. Alongside this there were also changes in the way Physiotherapists were being taught, with less hands-on skills and, without the demand from the NHS, less emphasis on treating minor and chronic injuries. So people with these problems were finding it harder to find good effective treatment.
In response to this we continued to develop the qualification and in 2008 extended it to one-year and BTEC upgraded it to Level 5. Since then we have further refined it with more assessment, treatment and rehabilitation subjects and in 2015 the qualification was renamed ‘Soft Tissue Therapy’.
This new title more accurately reflects what we now do because we are no longer defined by the word ‘massage’. We use an extensive range of other hands-on techniques and, when necessary, can perform highly effective treatments without using any conventional massage strokes. We also include a lot more exercise, movement and active lifestyle advice. We now offer a new type of therapy that can effectively treat a wide range of physical injury problems with people of all ages and from all walks of life.
So where do we go from here?
Our Soft Tissue Therapists are now the only ones in the UK who are properly trained to treat minor and chronic injuries using these traditional hands-on methods. Gradually more and more of the general public should recognise this and be able to benefit from it. Doctors who see patients with these injuries have limited options within the NHS. Most know that a long wait to see a Physiotherapist who is exercised-based and does not offer hands-on treatment it is not the best answer. They should consider referring these patients to our Soft Tissue Therapists who have both the time and the skills to provide the best care for these patients.