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Massage Today
March, 2006, Vol. 06, Issue 03

Sports Massage in the Spa Setting

By Michael McGillicuddy, LMT, NCTMB

I recently attended an American Massage Therapy Association Council of Schools conference. In one of the organized sessions, a question was asked about what aspect of the profession drives the profession the most.

Is it the massage therapists, the schools, the continuing education providers, the employers, or the product manufacturers? I really think the answer is that a little bit of influence from all the groups changes the profession on a daily basis.

Late last year, I had an opportunity to provide an in-service training at a beautiful destination spa in St. George, Utah. The Red Mountain Spa is an ideal place for active people to enjoy a vacation while learning and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. They offer hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, rock climbing, golf and many exercise classes. While you're there participating in all the physical activities, you have to eat healthy, so the chefs prepare delicious and balanced meals. The Spa at Red Mountain is rated one of the best according to Spa Finder Magazine.

So, does Red Mountain drive the massage profession, or does the massage therapist working at the spa enhance the experience of those enjoying Red Mountain? I would say a little of both. Red Mountain shows great insight in providing their therapists with the proper training to keep their guests completely satisfied with the treatments given.

While I was there, I went on an intermediate hike and mountain biked up Red Mountain. I wanted to know from experience what the guests would feel like after participating in those particular activities. During the hike, I learned that a lot of the hiking is done in soft sand. Walking in soft sand causes the heel of your foot to sink lower than the toes, which means your shins work overtime pulling your body out of a hole. During the bike ride up the mountain, I realized that for a Florida boy, the air going up the mountain gets a little thin. It makes you feel a little lightheaded and weak. I also learned that riding down the mountain is a lot more fun than riding up the mountain.

The massage therapists working in the spa need to know those kinds of things in order to treat the guests properly. Knowing which activities the guest has participated in, and what parts of the body those activities affect the most, are extremely important in providing great massages.

Many guests might not be in the greatest shape to participate in the type of activities they offer at the resort, so they probably will experience DOMS. DOMS means delayed-onset muscle soreness. It's caused by participating in activities that cause microtrauma to the muscle tissue, which increases pressure and sensitivity due to swelling. Deep-tissue massage or heavy-handed sports massage techniques during DOMS would not make the guest feel very happy due to the discomfort.

Just teaching sports massage technique and sports massage routines does not properly prepare a massage therapist for providing effective and safe treatments in a destination spa with highly active guests. They must understand the physiological effects exercise causes in the body and what massage techniques are most effective for treatment.

Spas know they must train their massage therapists to provide safe, effective and enjoyable massages to their guests, or it's not good for business. So employers, educators and massage therapists in a cooperative effort will continue to push massage therapy to a constantly evolving, new and better place. What could be better than practicing sports massage in a beautiful place like Red Mountain!

Click here for previous articles by Michael McGillicuddy, LMT, NCTMB.


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