Making It in Sports Massage

Get to know AMTA member and experienced sports massage therapist Esteban Ruvalcaba. Read Esteban's story and find out what it takes to make it as a sports massage therapist.

What experiences led you to massage therapy?

A series of serendipitous experiences led me to the massage therapy profession, and to sports massage specifically. A little over 32 years ago, my wife entered the nursing profession. She would regularly come home with a sore back. I took a couple of massage workshops at the only massage practice in Columbia that I knew of. Not only was I able to help her back pain, but the owner of the practice offered me a job when I was done with the second workshop. After working at the Swedish Massage Center for about six months, its former co-founder returned to Columbia and offered a workshop in sports massage. His workshop opened my eyes to a world of work I had never imagined—precise treatments for specific problems and injuries. I focused of this kind of work.

What types of education have aided in your success?

I had a strong science background in school, which has helped in my work, but it is the training in graduate school which has been most helpful. Aside from the specific discipline, graduate school teaches you how to learn and how to ask questions that lead to answers. My specific massage education was limited. Thirty-two years ago there was little formal training available in Missouri. Now it is fairly widely available in many professional, proprietary, and even in some public school. Much of my early training involved taking workshops through a variety of groups, including the state AMTA chapter meetings. I augmented this learning with self study in anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, histology and biochemistry. I also read widely in the Journal of the American Physical Therapy Association and in the Journal of Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy. Now I read more widely; you can never know enough.

Describe your current work environment. 

Currently, I work in my own clinic in a professional office complex with physicians, chiropractors, dentists, lawyers, counselors and insurance companies. New patients are referred by their doctors, physical therapists, trainers, coaches, and other patients. A little more than half of my patients are athletes of varying capacities, ranging from weekend warriors to professionals. The balance of my case load, typically referred by a physician, consists of individuals who suffer from a variety of orthopedic complaints that may not require surgery or are post-op. I like the challenging aspect of the work with both types of patients: the problem solving involved in working closely with them to help them achieve their treatment goals.

What advice would you offer breaking into sports massage?

Sports massage is a demanding field of work because it requires that the practitioner keep learning about injuries and recovery, normal treatment protocols used outside of massage, research in the field and in related fields, changes in training methodologies and more. Of course at the core of all this continuing education is a sound and growing understanding of anatomy and physiology.

Someone wanting to break into the field should consider working with an established practitioner or volunteering (though volunteering should be limited so as not to diminish the value of the services). It can also be useful to work out of a gym, provide mini workshops on the effects of sports massage on the training regimen as well as on performance and injury prevention.

How has being an AMTA member impacted your career?

Being an AMTA member has been a positive for my career in as much as doctors who refer patients to me, and many of the people who first come to me know that I adhere to a code of ethics and that I belong to an association that appreciates, promotes and provides continuing education. The best practitioners I have dealt with at various athletic events have all been AMTA members, and they have always been ready to share their expertise on difficult cases. They are a wonderful group of peers that I am proud to be around and to work with.

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Sports Massage Therapy: An Insider's Perspective

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"AMTA and my chapter have already given me back so much that I cannot believe I ever considered another group."

Chris B., AMTA member since 2012

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