Teaming up with a Soft Tissue Therapist
A question that I commonly get asked is, “How do I go about choosing a soft tissue therapist to refer my clients to?”
My last two blog articles were on the topic of going about obtaining a massage licensure. For some people, this may not be an option as they want to focus on being a great trainer or strength coach rather than “serving to many masters”. This is something I can certainly appreciate, as picking one thing and really trying to own it will always help you more professionally than trying to do everything. That being said, if you are not planning on doing the soft tissue work yourself, the next best thing is to partner up with a good therapist!
Having a soft tissue therapist in your network can be an incredibly valuable tool, as they can be instrumental in helping your clients enhance mobility, so that you can then go in and fine tune the movements you are trying to develop. Additionally, the better you educate the therapist on what you do, your goals and philosophy on training, the more they will be inclined to refer their clients to you for training, as they will realize that you can’t have one (soft tissue work) without the other (training). You really need both to be effective, in my opinion.
With so much information out there about different techniques (Active Release, Myofascial Release, Rolfing, Neuromuscular Therapy, “Sports Massage”, etc), knowing who to select can be a daunting task. So, here is a little cheat-cheat of what to look for in a therapist to ensure that you can find a professional that will prove to be a good referral for your clientele.
- Education - University education is not everything and many therapist that you will encounter may have nothing more than a diploma from a massage college and a professional licensure (always ensure that they have a professional licensure to protect yourself and your clients!). By education, I mean, what do they read? What do they study? Talk shop with the therapist and get a feel for what they know with regard to anatomy and physiology. I have found a few massage therapists that are more educated on the body than those who hold degrees in chiropractic or physical therapy because their commitment to continuing education has allowed them to surpass those in other fields who have gotten lazy since obtaining their degrees.
- Do they workout? - While they may not be as educated as you on exercise programming (remember that whole bit about owning your craft?) you do want to know if they exercise and train themselves. Many masssage therapists that I have run into do very little resistance training and stick with things like yoga or pilates, if they do anything at all. I am not trying to bash on yoga or pilates, but those that are devout followers of these types of exercise typically don’t believe in strength training (of course there are always exceptions to the rule) and usually will not be open to understanding what it is you try and do for your clients in the weightroom. Talk to the therapist and get a feel for how much they understand training. You may additionally want to invite them down for an assessment so that they can get a feel for what you do and how your skills will be a good blend with their skills.
- Get a session - Try out a few therapists and see what their treatment is like. One thing I always like to find out is what happens during the first session, is there an evaluation that takes place? What is their intake paper work like? Do they ask you a lot of questions about any pain you have been feeling, any injuries you have sustained or any surgeries you have gone through? Do they put you through an assessment to determine a treatment plan? If so, what does that assessment consist of? You would be amazed at how many therapists just get you on the table and start working! That would be like having someone show up for a first training session and you just start working them out. That doesn’t happen (or at least it shouldn’t)! You need to ask questions, perform some assessments, and get a general feel for what the individual is capable of so that appropriate training progressions are chosen. During the session, ask a lot of questions. What are you doing now? Why are you doing it? What is the goal of what you are trying to do? How does this affect my problem? Asking questions willl help you get a grasp of whether or not the therapist will be someone you can, or should, refer too. If I am refering my clients out, I want to be able to communicate to the therapist what I am feeling, what I think is going on, and what my training goals are. They should be able to be an active participant in the conversation and not just go by what I am saying. I want them to tell me what they found in their evaluation, what they their course of action is going to be, and any recommendations they have for me regarding exercise progressions based on what they feel or how the client responds to treatment. Basically, I need the conversation to be a two way street, where we can talk shop and discuss the client to ensure that the best possible outcome is achieved. Another good option is to ask if you can attend one of your clients sessions so that you can see how they work and what takes place during treatment.
- What is in their tool box and do they know when to use the hammer or the wrench? - I know that things like ART are all the rage right now, but honestly, it doesn’t really matter what letters are after their name. A good knowledgeable therapist will always be a good knowledgeable therapists, and treatment techniques should be dicated based on what the client needs at the time and not what was learned in this past weekends continuing education course. Therapists should have a tool box of options and know when to use those tools – when ART would be a better choice over some other technique, and vice versa. This part comes down to how well the therapists has developed their thought process and application of that which they have learned. I have seen people get really amazing results with incredibly gentle/superficial techniques and I have seen people get amazing results with really agressive techniques. Techniques are just that, techniques. They don’t tell you when to do something, they just tell you how to do it. The later will get you inconsistent results at best (since not everyone will fit into the mold of any one technique), while the former will allow you to choose wisely based on what you feel, what the client reports, and information gained during the assessment process, ultimately leading to better treatment outcomes.
- Crystals, hot stones, and fancy creams and lotions…………RUN!!!! - There is nothing wrong with spa services and treatments. However, this is not something that I would consider to be essential for your training/athletic clientele. While this stuff may feel good and help you to relax, when you need more clinical based treatments in order to enhance movement, decrease pain, or improve function this is not the way to go. Aside from the fact that these sessions can be extremely expensive, the overall goal of them is to pamper the client, not deliver a therapy session that is specific to the functional needs of the individual. So, if you find yourself walking into an establishment that turns out to offer more spa oriented treatments, be polite, say hello, slip them your business card and perhaps pick up a gift certificate for your significant other.
Hopefully these ideas will help you in making a worthwhile selection for yourself and your clients. If anyone has any other ideas that have helped them select a soft tissue therapist feel free to leave them in the comments section!