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Practice Sustainability

Fresh-faced and percolating with enthusiasm, new grads are a susceptible bunch. We’ve all been there. Swayed by dollar signs after digging deep financial ditches to attend college, it’s difficult to rationally navigate the barrage of advice we receive from friends, family, colleagues and educators. Deciding on the right thing to do to ensure success in our chosen careers as RMTs can be an emotional quagmire.

December 27, 2012  By Jules Torti

Fresh-faced and percolating with enthusiasm, new grads are a susceptible bunch. We’ve all been there. Swayed by dollar signs after digging deep financial ditches to attend college, it’s difficult to rationally navigate the barrage of advice we receive from friends, family, colleagues and educators. Deciding on the right thing to do to ensure success in our chosen careers as RMTs can be an emotional quagmire.

Jumping into heavy workloads to impress a new employer is an easy trap. Neglecting self-care is even easier. There are many elements to consider when entering the massage therapy profession but setting a healthy and attainable precedent early on is best.

When I first began practising, I took great pride in killing my clients with pressure. Muscle-bound men marvelled at how strong I was, and if a deep tissue treatment was requested, I was deep right down to their bone marrow.

The smarter and wiser me, 13 years later, realized that such showboat ways were a sacrifice to my career longevity. I compromised body mechanics to really dig into iliotibial bands and stretch out the QLs of NHL hockey players with quads as thick as my torso.


In school, you acquire a toolbox of techniques; isolate what works most effectively for you and your client. Any technique that strains you should be eliminated from your repertoire. Expose yourself to different styles of massage to pick up new design ideas. Receiving treatments from different therapists is a solid reminder of how certain techniques feel. Your massage should remain fluid and adaptable, but remaining aware of your style and how it translates is key.

Don’t be a massage therapy casualty. We constantly advise our clients about the consequences neglecting silent injuries and the dangers of overuse.

Injuries wait for a weak moment to surface and that moment is never at an appropriate time. It may happen in December, just as your clients are clogged with year-end insurance claims. It could happen in the patchy summer months when bookings are less predictable and wallets are slim.

Sacrificing self-care for earning power might appear to be an avoidable mistake, but we’ve all blindly participated. Whether it’s fuelled by plans for an all-inclusive week in Turks and Caicos or a daughter who needs orthodontic work, it’s easy to justify the addition of “just one more” client or another full day to your schedule. This translates into paid Visa bills, on-time mortgage payments, dog kibble and take-out Thai food on a Friday night. It’s a vicious circle.

My co-worker Suzanne Gregory wonders how many of us genuinely follow the advice we give clients. Her prevention plan includes “massage therapy in addition to complementary health-care treatments, strict stretching and strengthening routines, specific self-care (hydrotherapy), fluids, rest and stress management. The things I care about now – integrity, responsibility, professional longevity and personal health – were not at the top of my list as a younger person with different priorities.” After 20 years of practice at her own clinic/yoga studio and Body Blitz Spa in Toronto, her voice is one of reason.

Rodney Osigna, a 2009 massage therapy grad, wishes he had gone to the gym more frequently when he was a young therapist. A proud dad of two adopted children and owner of a hopping home business in Cabbagetown, Osigna regrets not utilizing the time when he had it.

“I had the time then. I should have taken better care of myself, corrected my posture, built up a balanced strength before the years of being hunched over a table had completely shrunk my hamstrings, overstretched my mid-back and rendered my abdominals to mush. Now with limited time between family and a constantly full work schedule, I struggle with pains that could have been avoided. I have to pay for massage treatments, expensive Pilates classes, and even admit to needing a physio from time to time. I think that I might have been able to avoid some of that with better self-care and really focusing on massaging with a better posture.”

At 40, Osigna believes he has another solid 10 years of practice in him. But he recognizes a shaky future, “The question is, what the hell am I going to do for work when I’m 50 and not massaging anymore? Yikes!”

Turning 50 is not unexpected, but sudden injury or chronic issues can be. As a new therapist, it’s easy to feel invincible and ignore nagging concerns, but a spontaneous Saturday snowboarding in Banff could leave you in a cast up to your elbow. The consequences of being knocked out of work for six weeks, or longer, is something every therapist should consider. What’s your modus operandi if you injure yourself? Do you have savings to support this amount of time off work?

Speak with a financial planner about setting up an automatic withdrawal for a savings account or Tax Free Savings Account. Aside from ensuring that you can cover living expenses for a certain time period, you can start building a nest egg for continuing education.

What if you couldn’t return to hands-on work though?

Gregory recommends purchasing disability insurance. “The monthly premium can be less than the price of one massage treatment and worth the investment to cover basic expenses if retraining is required for another profession.”

Consider alternative career options that you could pursue and recognize the transferable skills you already have that could be applied to employment outside the massage industry.

After a jammed week, it’s natural to feel a bit jaded and exhausted. If you are listening to client concerns with crossed arms and are inwardly thinking, “Yeah, well, I bet your low back isn’t throbbing like mine,” it’s time. You need a massage!

Set up a network of colleagues so you can participate in exchanges. Or, if you don’t want to commit to “owing massages,” budget your time and money for regular appointments outside your workplace. Try different modalities like Tuina, Moxa, traditional cupping or Gua Sha. Any type of body work or pampering is going to be fruitful – don’t forget to practise what you preach!

The most important element is that receiving massage treatments yourself will remind you of how it feels to be a client on the table. Clients look forward to massages so far in advance; they are spending a sizeable amount of money and entrusting us to declutter their mind and muscles. Maybe they are celebrating a birthday or an anniversary. Sometimes they have scheduled an appointment because the anniversary is a sad one, the death of a parent or a cancer diagnosis. Clients may share this with us, or not. So, always ensure that you are creating a reliably wonderful and thoughtful experience.

As a rabid traveller, I am well aware of the restorative effects of “time away.” Whether it’s lying prone on the beach sucking back boozy drinks, or sitting on the dock at a friend’s cottage with a stack of books, taking a time-out is paramount.

At 57, Debbie Sherwin is in her 17th year of practice in Beaverton, Ontario, and contemplating a third career. “Life is a journey. One of the things I’ve learned to do to prolong my RMT career is to take a week off every five weeks. And, every couple of years, I take myself on an extended ‘walkabout’ to get away from the familiar routines and demands, to give myself some solitude.”

I have taken similar sabbaticals to Africa to pursue volunteer internships. Stepping away from the rigors of massage to immerse myself in a completely different place was the best thing I could have done for my career. I returned with renewed ambition – most of which had evaporated prior to my time away.

Sometimes you can turn that dreamy vacation spot into your new business venture like Michelle Bourdeau did in 1999. Bourdeau established Cabarate Massage Therapy (now Andari Spa) and began working with a niche clientele in the Dominican Republic – windsurfers, kite surfers and other extreme athletes.

Bourdeau says, “I took my hands on vacation and never came back, settling for life and a massage career in the Caribbean. It doesn’t change the truths about our profession though.” Her morning coffee does double duty, even in the Caribbean – it wakes her up and it acts as a warming device to get her fingers moving enough to work.

Word of mouth is where it’s at. If you are new to a city and eager to get your name out there, fundraising events are a quick ticket and networking will get you everywhere.

“Doing fundraising events never really seemed to bring in much business directly, but it got my name out there, in a niche market,” Rodney Osigna reflects on his formative years at Southern Comfort spa in Toronto’s gay village. At the same time he worked at a small clinic off Yonge Street. “I saw how a small massage business should run: they had great marketing strategies, awesome personal service, great therapists and were very supportive bosses. I even house-sat for the one couple. The clinic did teach me how to be professional/personal with my marketing letters, calls, holiday gifts/cards too.”

There are several platforms to catapult your business from. Depending on your clientele and target audience, a Twitter feed, LinkedIn account, Facebook fan page or blog site can be savvy options for keeping communication channels open with existing and new clientele. Keep information current, accurate and professional by setting the tone from the beginning.  Check out the slick, client-friendly design of Yellow Gazebo Natural Health Care ( and Mark Stables’ Toronto-based Benchmark Group ( You can pay to have someone design a site for you, or, with a little patience, build your own web presence with free blog sites like

Jen Gauthier, a nine-year veteran who specializes in brain injury rehab at Active Living and Physiotherapy Centre in Peterborough, Ontario, increased her web traffic using Google AdWords. The tool allows you to enter keywords that will automatically link Internet users to your ad. The cost set-up is flexible and you’re only charged if a user clicks on your site.

Probably the most damaging mistake we can make, beginner or not, is to shut down our communication network with our colleagues. Each of us brings varied and valued experience to the table. After graduating, Gregory gained insight into difficult cases by scheduling meetings with an instructor from her college. “In retrospect, a less expensive and more sustainable choice of regular meetings with colleagues would have helped too.”
Plan to make your career sustainable from the get-go by avoiding beginner’s mistakes. Do you have tips to share? Open a discussion with your colleagues today.

 Tips for avoiding beginner’s mistakes in massage therapy

  1. Modulate the intensity of massage you offer from the beginning of practice – Incorporate a variety of techniques you learned in school and take on new ones to preserve your own strength and avoid overuse injuries.
  2. Self-care – Do it from the beginning! Walk your talk – eat well, take care of your spirit, create get-away opportunities.
  3. Get massaged – It’s a great self-care tool and a reminder of what it’s like to be a client, thus making you a better (not bitter!) therapist.
  4. Save for the unexpected – Look into disability insurance to protect yourself when incidents require you to step down from hands-on practice.
  5. Plan ahead – Consider complementary income sources or alternative practice models as a therapist to save your hands and body. Think about a career transition rather than pushing yourself to continue doing massage when your body is saying “no!”
  6. Get the word out about your practice – Word of mouth, fundraising events, social media portals and an impressive website can make you a staple in your community from early on.
  7. Talk with your colleagues – Communicating with other therapists can be therapeutic for you and can garner ideas and suggestions for practice sustainability.


Jules Torti has been an RMT since 1999 and an industrious freelance writer since age six. She has worked in hotels and spas in both Ontario and British Columbia. In between massage engagements, she travels to Africa to be with chimpanzees and writes about her zany travels for Matador Network.

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