Roles Of A Sports Massage Therapist: Everything You Need To Know (2024)

sports massage therapist

Whether you’re looking to start your sports massage therapist training or are looking to refresh your knowledge on the roles of a sports massage therapist, we’ve got everything you need to know! 

We’re going to go through everything you should be aware of before stepping into your new career, including the duties and responsibilities of a sports massage therapist across each of the different work settings.

Before we begin, if you're keen to become a sports massage therapist, enquire about our Ofqual-regulated Level 3 Sports Massage Therapist here.

Want to learn more? Download our free course prospectus to learn more about OriGym's industry-leading health and fitness qualifications.

Roles & Responsibilities of a Sports Massage Therapist 

Ever wondered ‘what are the roles of a sports massage therapist?’ 

We can’t blame you for asking as the answer isn’t made entirely clear, especially with sports massage being such a niche career path. 

post event sports massage

This is why we took it upon ourselves to put together the right information for anyone wanting to know each of the roles and responsibilities of a sports massage therapist. Whether you’re an aspiring SMT or you’re already practising and wanting to freshen up your knowledge, we’ve covered all of the information out there in one place. 

One thing to remember is that the roles of a sports massage therapist can differ depending on whether or not the SMT has set up their own business, along with a host of other factors. We’ve kept this in mind and covered every plausible work setting. 

NOTE: for the sake of this article, we’ve split the roles into different sections to make it easier for you to digest the information as there is quite a lot out there! 

Each of the roles technically fit together under one section, but we’ve split them up into the sections that we saw fit/made the most sense. 

When we say that a massage counts as one of the physical roles, we are aware it links back to knowledge and skill too, and even personal attributes. It’s just easier to categorize the roles and responsibilities this way to get the info across in a way that doesn’t overwhelm you! 

Physical Roles of a Sports Massage Therapist 

When we talk about the physical roles and skills that a sports massage therapist must adhere to and possess, we’re referring to the physical duties of their job. 

It’s easier to break things down as there are many different roles for them to carry out, so stick with us to hear about each one! 

Let’s take a look at the physical side of things for now since this is the main thing that pops up in FAQs about the Sports Massage Therapist career path, and the most obvious element to explore. 

Pre-event Massage 

pre event sports massage

Administering a pre-event massage counts as one of the physical roles of a sports massage therapist more than it does others, as it will be something that an SMT will physically carry out once they have fulfilled their other roles (like gaining the skills and knowledge to enable them to administer any treatment). 

For a pre-event massage, the SMT will conduct treatment on the day of the event, usually not long before it begins. The massage will last for approximately 10-15 minutes and will aim to stimulate and energise the muscles rather than relax them. 

The closer the massage is to the beginning of the event, the less intrusive it should be. The movements should be focused on outer tissue massage and light stretching and stimulation, as opposed to massaging too deeply and straining the client. 

The SMT roles for a pre-event massage include:

  • Using minimal oil or cream (as too much can clog the pores and reduce sweating, which isn’t good before a sporting event) 
  • Using friction to heat the soft-tissues 
  • Compression techniques to encourage blood to flow through to the muscles 
  • Tapotement to gently stimulate the muscles (rather than relaxing them)
  • Moving the joints through their ROM to aid lubrication and remove stiffness
  • Preparing the muscles for activity through minimal stretching 


Become a Sports Massage Therapist with OriGym

Begin an exciting career with our Level 3 Sports Massage Course!

Post-event Massage 

In the case of a post-event massage, the main roles of a sports massage therapist are to ensure that the client can begin training again as soon as possible and to prevent them from suffering from DOMS.

roles of a sports massage therapist - post-injury massage

Along with this, other roles include using deeper sports massage techniques to flush out lactic acid buildups and to relax tight muscles/promote blood flow to strained areas. 

However, something extremely important to note is that before any of this, an SMT should judge the situation appropriately. They must check with the client to decipher whether they are in any sort of pain, as this could be something that should be left for an on-site medical professional to check out. They should also allow them time to re-hydrate before the massage begins. 

If a pre-event massage happens there and then after an event, it should last around 10-15 minutes and focus on:

  • Soothing the nervous system with effleurage
  • Relaxing the muscles with petrissage to prevent any tightness or soreness
  • Using compression to promote blood flow to the muscle fibres and body in general 
  • Incorporating compressive effleurage to finish, so that the body is left soothed by the treatment

An SMT should always be mindful of any injuries the client could have sustained and refrain from massaging them if they discover anything beyond their expertise. 

It’s normal for a client to experience muscle cramping and an SMT can go ahead with the massage if this occurs in single muscles, but should always stop if it becomes too painful or the cramping occurs in various muscle groups. This could be a sign of dehydration and the SMT should seek the advice of a medical professional. 

Massage During Injury Recovery & Rehabilitation 

recovery massage

Ever wondered what is the role of a sports massage therapist when it comes to injury? 

If you’re interested in becoming a sports massage therapist, then you’ll definitely want to know more about this one. 

The first thing to note is that before administering sports massage to a client who is injured, it is the role of a sports massage therapist to ensure that it’s safe to do so

We’ll talk more about this in the knowledge section, but for now, let’s continue with the physical job role of a sports massage therapist during recovery or rehab, assuming that it’s fine to go ahead with the treatment. 

Once the SMT has established that it’s safe to massage the client, their key aim will be to aid the body in its journey back to health. 

They will focus on heightening the body’s natural recovery process, rather than heading in with rough movements at first. The best way to approach a client with an injury is to ease into the massage, constantly checking with them to ensure that they aren’t experiencing any discomfort. 

Usually (but not always depending on the client), a rehabilitation massage will consist of:

  • Easing muscle strain and tension 
  • Promoting circulatory movement 
  • Aiding the flow of nutrients and oxygen to the vital organs and tissues 
  • Removing swelling in joints 
  • Reducing scar tissue in the site of injury 
  • Cleansing the muscles of metabolic waste and lactic acid 
  • Reducing stiffness and improving mobility
  • Helping to manage pain at the site of injury/in the body in general 

As we mentioned earlier, each area of the roles and responsibilities of a sports massage therapist links together. While the above sections are classed as physical roles, they also link to each of the others. 

Moving away from the physical roles regarding the types of massages themselves, there are other roles that are more to do with running or being a part of a business (if this is what you’re planning on). 

massage therapist admin roles

For example, if you set up your own SMT business or you join one, it’s more than likely that you’ll have to dabble in other tasks to keep the business running that deviate from the massage treatment itself. 

Physical roles like this would include:

  • Sending and receiving emails
  • Keeping client records to keep up-to-date on their treatment 
  • Storing client information in a safe and legal way 
  • Liaising with health professionals (when clients need referral) 
  • Managing the business website and social media channels 
  • Ordering the stock that allows the SMT to do their job (massage oils and equipment) 

On top of the administration and marketing side of things, the SMT should ensure that the treatment environment is appropriate and comfortable for clients. 

They should stock up with a comfy, high-quality massage couch that has an adjustable height, and a pillow or two wouldn’t go amiss! 

Privacy screens are essential. They allow clients to change in private and also grant you a little extra protection when it comes to the complications that can arise (we’ll talk more about this in the knowledge section). 

Ordering massage creams and oils is also a must, and is essential to the running of any sports massage therapy business. You should also ensure that you’re stocked up on towels. It’s paramount to order good-quality products too, for client health and safety. 

The administration and organisation side of things is definitely something to keep in mind when pursuing a career in sports massage therapy. It’s very rare for an SMT to be massaging clients full-time! 

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Knowledge and Skill-Based Roles of a Sports Massage Therapist 

roles of a sports massage therapist graphic two people talking

As we move forward in tackling the question: what is the role of a sports massage therapist?, we’re going to look more at the knowledge and skill-based roles that the job includes. 

For starters, a fully-qualified SMT will know the effects of and how to administer each of the different techniques of sports massage. These are effleurage, petrissage, tapotement, friction and vibration and shaking.

Paired with this knowledge will be an in-depth awareness of physiology and anatomy, as well as in:

  • The principles of exercise, health and fitness
  • Soft tissue dysfunction 
  • Biomechanics
  • Sports movements and skills
  • Professional practice in sports massage 

Since we’ve already skirted over the knowledge behind the actual treatment, let’s take a closer look at the professional practise side of things. 

This is just as important as knowing the ins and outs of the actual treatment if you’re going to be practising as an SMT, and could be the difference between your career taking off or landing in a heap. 

Not to scare you away, but if you take the time to understand the following info you won’t have anything to worry about! 

Safe Practice

massage therapist with a clipboard

One of the most important knowledge-based roles of a sports massage therapist is to maintain safe practice for their clients. 

Health and safety is the first thing that should be considered. 

Firstly, you should know your limits as an SMT, and alert yourself to be hyper-aware of any signs pointing to the client needing alternative treatment. 

The role of a sports massage therapist requires you to know when to refer your client elsewhere, not only for your own protection but for their wellbeing which should always be your priority. 

Even if they’ve notified you of every condition or injury they’ve suffered from, you should still watch out for any signs that they are in pain or discomfort. Once you’re qualified in sports massage, you should take it upon yourself to recap on these signs and keep yourself informed. 

Always look out for conditions that may be contraindicated by sports massage, as you could be liable if the client is injured further. 

roles of a sports massage therapist health and safety

Following on from this, you need to maintain correct health and safety standards, especially if you’re opening your own sports massage business. This ranges from simple things like having a wet floor sign in case of any spillages, all the way to the hygiene of your equipment. Even small things make a huge difference when it comes to health and safety! 

Speaking of hygiene standards, these tie in directly to safe practise for you and your clients. 

You should ensure that you know how to properly wash and sterilize your hands, as well as how to keep your massage equipment and the premises in general clean to national standards. 

Clue up on national health and safety regulations, make sure you tick all the boxes, and you’ll be good to go.  

Self Practice 

While we’re not going to go through every legality that falls under the roles and responsibilities of a sports massage therapist, it’s a must to keep yourself up to date with this when you’re practising as an SMT. 

Ask yourself questions like:

  • What implications or accusations could a massage be a threshold for? 
  • Do you customers have a right to complain even if nothing occurs?

If you don’t gain at least a basic knowledge of consumer rights, then you could be in for a shock.

Once you’ve done this (and before you start practising), you should also gain some sports massage therapist insurance.

You can read more about this in our guide to becoming a sports massage therapist, but in a nutshell insurance will protect you from most things, including client claims, loss of income and damage to equipment. 

Personal Attributes & Skills

two people conversing about the roles of a sports massage therapist

This may sound less professional than the rest of the information we’ve gone through, but believe us it’s just as important! 

If you’re not likely to enjoy a career in this sector, then you won’t be able to fulfil the roles of a sports massage therapist as they should be. Not only is this risky for yourself, but your clients won’t thank you for not being passionate about your career either. 

To properly fulfil your role, you should be:

  • Highly professional
  • Great at communicating 
  • Reliable 
  • Trustworthy 
  • Respectful
  • Keeping a good appearance and hygiene 

In general, you should uphold good ethics and values and enjoy helping others, and making a positive difference in their lives. 

As we mentioned earlier, your personal attributes and skills link directly to the previously mentioned roles of a sports massage therapist. Your willingness to keep up to date with health and safety legislation, for example, portrays how much you care for clients and their safety. 

What is the Difference Between a Sports Therapist and a Sports Massage Therapist? 

As a quick finisher (and because it’s such a frequently asked question), we’re going to answer the question of what is the difference between a sports therapist and a sports massage therapist? 

sports therapist vs sports massage therapist

Despite having similar names, both of these professions are considerably different from one another, and have different roles. While sports massage therapy focuses more on supplying tight and fatigued muscles with relief, sports therapy is more involved with rehabilitation post-injury and injury prevention. 

That being said, they are known for helping with elements of each of these things but in different ways. 

Where sports therapy aids injury prevention or rehabilitation through monitoring the exercise, diet etc. of an athlete prior to a big event, sports massage would be administered on the day of the event to prepare the muscles (and therefore aid in this process too). 

Thus, the roles of a sports massage therapist include similar aspects to those of a sports therapist, but they are reached differently. 

Hopefully, you now know the answer to the question 'what is the difference between a sports therapist and a sports massage therapist?' and understand how they work well together for achieving similar end goals for clients!

Before You Go!

Now you’ve gained a good understanding of the roles of a sports massage therapist, you can get started with our Level 3 Sports Massage Course by downloading our course prospectus or contacting us today.


Become a Sports Massage Therapist with OriGym

Begin an exciting career with our Level 3 Sports Massage Course!

Written by Chloe Twist

Fitness Content Executive, OriGym

Join Chloe on Facebook at the OriGym Facebook Group

Chloe graduated with a BA (Hons) English and Creative Writing from Liverpool John Moores University and prior to OriGym worked at J&R Digital Marketing Agency on the Liverpool 'Female Founders' series. Since joining the company, she has become a qualified Personal Trainer and advanced Sports Nutrition Specialist. Chloe’s professional interests intersect content-development and the world of online fitness, especially across social media and YouTube, and Chloe has herself contributed pieces on fitness and weight loss to sites including the Daily Star and The Express. Outside her day-to-day role, Chloe enjoys playing the guitar, gaming and kettlebell training. 

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