Dec 2013 14

Dummies guide to massage therapists

By: Dave Wheeler

Just how competent is your massage therapist? 

If you need to go to a physio, you know that he or she’s been trained properly and stays up to date; if you need see an osteopath the same goes.  You’d hope the same would be true of your sports & remedial massage therapist. 

You’d hope so, but it’s not necessarily the case.


What’s in a name (or level) – BTEC & NVQ

The 2 important abbreviations to look out for are: BTEC and NVQ.

Both BTEC and NVQ are national bodies that certify vocational training within the Government’s national qualifications framework – they’re exam bodies if you like:


A BTEC or NVQ level 3 is basically an A level,

A BTEC or NVQ level 4 is equivalent to a subject at 1st year degree level,

A BTEC or NVQ level 5 is equivalent to a subject at 2nd year degree level.


It’s worth noting that BTEC level 5 is currently the highest available level of sports massage training in the UK.

So your therapist has a level 5 qualification - it’s the vocational equivalent of the 2nd year of a degree, right? Believe it or not, no!

Unless it’s a BTEC or NVQ level 5, it’s meaningless… for many schools, the “level” is just a made up number that is used to compete with more expensive schools offering the BTEC or NVQ.

So the first rule is: check that your massage therapist is qualified to one of the BTEC or NVQ levels


Sports & Remedial Massage: ISRM & SMA

The two governing bodies for sports & remedial massage therapists are:


The Institute of Sports & Remedial Massage (ISRM),

Sports Massage Association (SMA)


The ISRM and the SMA are authorised by the government backed Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC) to oversee sports massage therapists.  Both the ISRM and the SMA require their members to do a minimum of 15 hours continuing professional development training per year to stay up to date.

The ISRM oversees the award of the BTEC Level 5 vocational qualification in Sports and Remedial Massage Therapy.  To be a member of the SMA you need a level 3 qualification (see below); it also oversees the awards of both BTEC Level 5 and BTEC Level 4 qualifications. 


Deep Tissue & Sports Massage: VTCT & ITEC

Two organisations with their roots in the beauty industry are responsible for most holistic massage (also called a Swedish massage) in the UK.  Both VTCT and ITEC award NVQ level 3’s in massage:


VTCT – the Vocational Training Charitable Trust claims to be “the leading international awarding body in beauty therapy, complementary therapy and hairdressing.”

ITEC - the International Therapy Examination Council says it “is a leading international specialist examination board, providing quality qualifications in Beauty & Spa Therapy, Hairdressing, Complementary Therapies, Sports & Fitness Training and Customer Service.”


VTCT and ITEC do additional qualification in deep tissue and sports massage at levels 3, 4 and 5 that fall within the government’s national qualification framework, though these level 5 courses require “topping-up” to reach the BTEC level 5.


What about online directories?

Online directories are businesses – they’ll take money from anyone who wants to advertise their services, and they won’t check to see whether the advertisers are trained or qualified.

Stay away from online directories, it’s better to do your own research: use Google and check that the therapist you choose is able to do what they claim to do.


The bottom line

If you want a Sports & Remedial massage to fix a problem, go with an ISRM registered therapist as a first choice or an SMA registered one as a close second – that way you’re guaranteed to get what it says on the tin.

If you want a spa-style massage, a VTCT or ITEC qualified therapist is a good choice. If you're looking at an ITEC/VTCT massage therapist to give you a sports or remedial massage then make sure that they have a BTEC or NVQ in addition to their school certificate.  Expect to pay more for a more qualified therapist.

As always, give me a call if you think I can help.