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Sports massage is not hot sauce

 •  • by Paul Ingraham
Weekly nuggets of pain science news and insight, usually 100-300 words, with the occasional longer post. The blog is the “director’s commentary” on the core content of PainScience.com: a library of major articles and books about common painful problems and popular treatments. See the blog archives or updates for the whole site.

Taylor James, RMT, on sports massage:

“Sports massage” is code for one of two things: either they really like strong pressure, or they have a nagging issue that they think is a direct result of their regular fitness routine.

I have always thought the definition and principles of “sports massage” were way too vague, basically just vigorous massage for people who happen to be athletes.

I have a million ways of saying that I’m not much impressed by a treatment effect size. It’s something that comes up all too often in my line of work. This is a fun new one:

It’s like asking if ketchup is spicy. Um…I guess…when compared to water, or nothing at all, but is it hot-sauce? No. Sports massage is not hot-sauce.

The term “massage therapy” is paired with many other adjectives to suggest medical legitimacy and healthcare gravitas — which is just elaborating on the point of calling it “therapy” in the first place. A few decades back, no one had heard of massage “therapy”!

But why stop there? “Medical,” “clinical,” “therapeutic,” “sports,” “deep,” and so on… none of them mean anything specific or consistent. They don’t adhere to anything even remotely like a formal standard. They are all about intent and branding, not a distinct methodology. They are all just intended to make a massage seem more desirable and beneficial to a particular demographic.

Better than what? Better than “mere” relaxation massage, or spa massage, or Swedish massage (even though nearly all massage is dominated by Swedish massage techniques, no matter what you call it). At best, these labels represent an earnest desire to deliver and promote medical benefits; at worst, they represent delusions of grandeur and crass, amateurish marketing.

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