What should be looking for to ensure you get yourself a decent massage therapist?!
3 Appt rule
Now, this isn't a hard and fast rule. But if you're going to see someone for a sports massage or manual therapy normally its because there is something wrong and you want it fixed. Which means you're looking for improvement. Bodies are very complex, but as a general rule you should be seeing an improvement within 3 appointments. This might not be becoming completely pain free, or a change in how the symptoms present - but something should be different! You might be able to do more before the pain kicks in, or you recover quicker.
And if you aren't improving by the 3rd appt - your therapist should be able to explain why. There are some situations where this improvement might be slower, but they should have explained this to you in the 1st session.
When you ask a question they're prepared to say they don't know
This isn't to say you want a massage therapist who knows nothing!
But you want a therapist who's happy to be challenged by questions or situations, and will go away and find out for you. No one is an expert at everything. I'm definitely more experienced in chronic pain cases than pitch-side sports massage, like a football match. If someone asks me the best way to deal with their medical condition and I don't know the answer I'll tell them that. I either then refer to a specialist or go away and make damn sure I fill in that gap in my knowledge! Yes I'm experienced enough now to have seen things that are common, and a few rarer things too, its constant learning process. And you want a therapist who is keen to say 'Oh, I don't know....but let me find out for you!'
Treatments are different each time you attend
You're going to see a Sports Massage therapist to change things, improve symptoms. If they are doing a good job then, over time, you'll start to heal and different things will limit your progress. You may have come in with a shoulder injury and your therapist performed Sports Massage on the front of your shoulder to loosen things up. But now they start working on the back of the shoulder girdle to help improve your scapula positioning, helping you recover and reducing the chance of a relapse. This requires different techniques.
The only time this isn't the case is if you're coming in for your regular weekly leg massage to help recover from training - then yes, you will still benefit from the same treatment each time! It's only if you're trying to change something that the treatments should evolve over time.
They can explain what they're doing, in a way YOU can understand
It takes someone pretty good to explain something complicated in a simple, easy to understand way. And take it from me, the body is pretty complex! Think how long it takes to train to be a doctor.
You should be able to come away from your appointments knowing what is wrong, why it's causing you pain and what you can do to help it. It's part of our code of practice to ensure we have informed consent - which also means you should understand what the massage therapist is doing as part of the treatment and why. Although the body is pretty complicated, most of the things that tend to go wrong are pretty simple & common. So ask your massage therapist to explain why they are performing Sports Massage on that area. And if you're coming away confused then they're not doing a good enough job!
If something isn't working, they have another trick up their sleeve
Like when you try a stretch and can't feel it where you are supposed to. The massage therapist should be able to come up with another adaptation for you, or suggest a way to shift your body to intensify the stretch.
This is no indicator of the level of experience but more the way they think. Yes, an experienced therapist will have been there and done that and seen every odd variation of someone trying to do a hip flexor stretch. But even if they aren't as experienced they should understand how the body works. And in which case be able to think and problem solve their way through an issue. There isn't always an answer, but being able to try 2-3 different variations of a movement, or shifting your arm position whilst they are treating your shoulder if you say its hurting your neck, then yes they should be able to do that
They're too busy to have convenient appts free.
Well I guess this is more like too busy to have a same day appt that suits you. Although it's a pain in the backside if someone has limited availability it does mean they're busy. Which also means plenty of other people are trusting them with their bodies. So if someone comes highly recommended to you then don't stress if you can't get an immediate appt with them. It's actually probably a very good sign!
The best way to know if a massage therapist is good?
Find someone that your friends, colleagues or family recommend.
There is nothing higher than a personal recommendation of a therapist. If they've been successful in treating Uncle Frank's frozen shoulder then you know they've done a good job. Because you also know that Uncle Frank is terrible at taking advice, so if they've fixed him, then they really have done a good job 😉
But the other important thing is to be able to develop trust with your therapist. And in my experience, if that friend gets along with the therapist so will you. And that's a big part of the process of getting yourself back on track. If you don't trust the guy and you think he's a bit of a t**t think you're probably not going to take his advice when he says you need to spend 20mins a day stretching!! Even if he is right!