Coming from a sports science background, I often look for research. In terms of sports massage, I would love to see studies that scientifically illustrate a benefit (or otherwise!) of having sports massage therapy. I would also like to have clear guidance about timing of delivery and the effects of different techniques. However, this is very rarely possible. That said there are studies within the area, as well as feedback from our clients. This still counts as research.
Much of the data we have is qualitative, meaning verbal and not numerical. When massaging we do our own research:
- What worked well,
- What feedback did the client give,
- How did they feel afterwards,
- Did they book again (sure sign that it helped in some way!),
- Which techniques were easiest to use and most effective.
The list of data that we can obtain is endless! However, just because this information is not quantifiable in nature does not mean that it isn’t valuable. This information will let us improve our own practice when put together. I generally recommend that learners make a massage log. This could include what went well or could be done better from both their own and clients point of view.
The difficulties in obtaining quantitative data come in that, in order to really see the physiological effect of massage on a muscle, we would ideally need to do muscle biopsies. This involves taking a small sample of a muscle tissue that can then be analysed. I don’t know about you, I wouldn’t want to have a sample of muscle taken before I have a massage. Therefore in reality this isn’t practical.
Now there are alternatives including testing parameters before and after massage. These might include biometric testing, muscle length, etc. These can be, and are, utilised alongside the qualitative data obtained. This can give a really good indication as to the effects and benefits of sports massage.
Additional Challenges to Research
There are other challenges to consider in gathering data. These include:
- The sport undertaken,
- Fitness of the individuals,
- The practitioner,
- How used to massage the subject is.
In my view, all of these factors will impact on the outcome.
Take the practitioner. Even if I perform a near identical massage on two individuals (not what I would advocate in normal practice), there are bound to be changes in technique and pressure. Also each individual responds differently. Some people with very hyperactive muscles require less pressure and perhaps more effleurage, than others. This will make a difference to the outcome of the clinical trial. It is very difficult to have a placebo, a repeat pattern or a control. This again makes accurate research very difficult.
So in summary, really good studies into sports massage are very difficult to undertake. This means that although there is research in the field, it is limited. There are some good studies, but other should have their results considered carefully. Therefore for the time being, in my opinion, some of the best and most useful research available to us as sports massage therapists, is actually the qualitive data that we obtain.