Any massage therapist practicing for a length of time typically confronts two obstacles: work capacity is limited by the strength and endurance of the practitioner and second, income is directly limited by work capacity. Subject to fatigue and wear-and-tear from years of caring for others, a massage therapist's work capacity and income can descend a slippery slope over the length of their career.
By Don Quinn Dillon
Andrea Dixon, RMT, confronted those obstacles early on, taking a big leap to adopt low-level laser therapy (LLLT). Low-level laser therapy is widely applied for musculoskeletal and dermatological conditions.
At the time, Dixon was nervous about the investment. The technology was new and expensive (it has since dropped in price considerably) and she wondered how her patients might adopt it. She decided to offer trial therapy to six test subjects – tough cases she had been treating with massage therapy with only moderate improvement. Dixon wanted to see if the LLLT could produce larger gains.
The trial went very well, and the subjects signed on for more treatment and referred others. “I didn’t do any advertising,” Dixon states. “Those initial cases referred many people to me for LLLT.” Dixon looked into the scope of practice and spoke with the College of Massage Therapists of Ontario directly to ensure her treatment and billing practices were in line with regulations. She has found auto insurance adjusters are quite favourable when LLLT is part of the treatment plan.
Dixon has gone on to purchase four systems, and books specific blocks of appointment times where she can alternate between two patients. Once set, the LLLT arrays require little adjustment, so a practitioner can easily attend to two patients at a time. Dixon was using BioFlex, developed by Toronto-base Meditech. The LLLT arrays cascade red and infrared light, followed by the practitioner applying a laser probe to penetrate more deeply into tissues. Protocols are typically 30 to 60 minutes, depending on the area treated. Dixon lauds the excellent support from the technology provider early on when she was adopting and learning how to effectively apply the LLLT.
When Dixon was considering the hefty investment, her husband assured her that, if all she did was maintain herself with the LLLT, it would be worth the investment. Dixon admits to an active life with many injuries – tumbles off her mountain bike, kicked by a horse, cuts to fingers during food preparation – all while maintaining a thriving massage therapy practice. Dixon states she’s experienced “very little downtime” by applying the LLLT treatment to herself.
Laser therapy provides irradiation to injured or diseased tissue, using a combination of red and near infrared light in sequence. This light stimulates physiologic response within the cells, promoting normal cell structure and function. A number of clinical studies demonstrate efficacy.
Sue Conway, senior account executive at Meditech states that registered massage therapists are second only to chiropractors in purchasing and incorporating the BioFlex in their practices.
I asked Dixon about return on investment. “I’m not a great business person,” she laughs, and admits her adoption of the LLLT was largely to care for herself and to try on difficult cases. It soon became apparent having multiple units was necessary to meet the demand. She still provides a lot of massage, but the LLLT units have paid for themselves many times over. She estimates adding LLLT to her practice has generated about $1,500/month in additional income.
When asked about treatment plans and protocols, Dixon says emphatically, “People like a game plan.”
She applies a protocol of three LLLT treatments per week, plus two massage therapy treatments intensively for several weeks to people with difficult-to-treat conditions. The LLLT is phased out and she incorporates remedial exercise to continue the progression from acute pain and impairment to active and functional.
Andrea Dixon was recognized by Meditech in 2013 as Practitioner of the Year. She encourages massage therapists to go beyond their standard treatment protocols and consider adopting technologies that will protect the practitioner from wear-and-tear while improving patient outcomes.
BioFlex was developed by Dr. Fred Kahn, a medical doctor. Kahn, a former surgeon and vascular specialist, was featured in Norman Doidge’s, The Brain’s Way of Healing, for his innovative use of low level laser therapy for the treatment of concussions and neurological conditions.
Donald Quinn Dillon, RMT is a practitioner, speaker and mentor. His column, Practice Points, is a regular feature in Massage Therapy Canada magazine.