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Massage Today
April, 2011, Vol. 11, Issue 04

Your Backup Plan: When Life Interrupts Your Practice

By Jenn Sommermann, LCMT

Being a massage therapist is physical. I don't have to tell you that in order to do this work well, it takes a strong body, a clear mind and endurance. Even if you only practice part time, you must inhabit a high state of health to care for your clients.

Of course, there are differences, i.e., you travel with your table, perform sports massage, have to work around a hospital bed with less than optimal ergonomics or have a private practice where clients come to you.

I am not referring to any particular type of practice but am speaking in general. You must have a certain level of fitness to be a massage therapist. I often joke that I am in the best shape of my life and it is because I have been a massage therapist for almost 20 years.

But then life happens. Sometimes you get sick. Sometimes you get injured. Sometimes you have emotional issues that leave you less than grounded and present for your clients. It isn't realistic to think that you can be strong, sound and able, year after year, client after client, without interruption. If you have practiced for any length of time, this issue may have already occurred. The question is what to do about it so that you can maintain your practice, your income and your reputation.

Plan B - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark One morning this winter, I woke up injured. The distal joint of my fifth finger on my right hand was bent at 90 degrees. I have come to learn it is called a "mallet finger". There was no injury or trauma; I simply woke up with a crooked finger. As I make a portion of my living with my hands, I panicked and rushed to a hand surgeon. He told me this is a common injury and probably occurred while pulling up the sheets in bed. Really? Didn't I just say I was in the best shape of my life? How on earth could this happen? After consoling me, I was put in a splint to be worn 24/7 for eight weeks.

As of this writing, I am still splinted and hoping for a positive outcome. Surgery is the next option and one I don't care to bring into consciousness. And then the reality sets in: I am impaired. I cannot use one of my fingers and moreover, need to keep it out of the way of the other fingers. How will this affect my work? Can I work? I asked the doctor. He merely stated, "Try it and see how you feel". I hated this answer but realized he couldn't say anything else.

I decided to take the first week off to heal and come up with a plan. There are options when you are sick or injured and it is important to consider them, even before you need them. A backup plan is one you hope you will never need to use but is good to have ready, just in case. A backup plan for a massage therapist may include:

  • Practicing another modality that doesn't affect the injured area or won't cause further damage.
  • Using other body parts to massage (elbows, forearms).
  • Covering the injured area, if broken skin or bandages are an issue.
  • Hiring a colleague to take over your shift and perhaps negotiating a percentage.
  • Referring to another therapist whose work you trust.
  • Taking time off to heal with loss of income.

It should be noted that there is always a risk if you stop seeing your clients for a period of time (either because you took a break or referred them elsewhere) that they may not come back to you when you are able to work again. I truly believe there is enough work to go around and chances are if the relationship is well-established, it can survive a hiatus until you return. That being said, the risk is real and must be considered.

Once the options are weighed, implement your decision. Remember if the decision does not work out, you can change your mind. For example, if you find that you cannot work with the injury or illness, inform your clients immediately so they can seek care elsewhere. It really is OK to change the plan. Your health is paramount and if you don't take care of yourself, how are you to take care of others when you are well again?

I am back to work again. My finger is splinted and bandaged. I have also chosen to wear finger cots that are changed between clients. For the most part, I keep my finger out of the way of the other nine but it occasionally comes along for the ride. I have adapted; the first few massages were shaky. Most of my clients have no idea that anything is wrong with my finger. I am not trying to hide it and if they "see" it, I tell them. But I don't want it to be the focus. The care is about them and I want to focus on them.

Whatever ails you, be it physical, emotional or spiritual, your work can be impacted. If it is too much of a burden, you may need to consider options. A backup plan is a good thing to have in place. My wish for you is that you never need to call on a backup plan. But in case you do, you'll be glad you planned ahead.

Stay focused.

Click here for previous articles by Jenn Sommermann, LCMT.


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