Make the Time to Transform Your Practice

By Anita J. Shannon, Director of ACE, LMBT, CMCE
Originally published in Massage Today, February, 2014, Vol. 14, Issue 02.

Therapeutic benefits of massage therapies continue to be studied and documented. Recent studies have increased the amount of data supporting benefits beyond the wellness aspects and attention is turning to medical conditions.

A truly interesting scroll down the page “History of Massage” on the MassageNerd website reveals evidence of medical uses of massage from ancient times and states that, “before the 1900’s, all massage was medical massage.” It seems that a huge scandal in Britain around 1889, eroded the medical profession’s confidence in massage as a legitimate medical art and the dark shadow cast on the massage field affected English and North American attitudes for more than a hundred years. Medical spas of the world had begun appearing in North America by the mid-1800s but by the 1940’s, “spa as medicine was out, spa as beauty and pampering was in.”

Many of us who started practicing back when massage was considered only a personal service, observed the resulting wellness, healthcare and medical benefits. Some of us even got to experience it personally. In 1982, I was told I was permanently disabled from a severe neck injury and it was neuromuscular massage and Iyengar yoga that I worked with to reverse that life sentence. Contemporary American medicine only had pain killers and the advice of, “learn to live with it” to offer me at that time.

For the second year in a row, 75 percent of individuals in the U.S. surveyed claim their primary reason for receiving a massage in the previous twelve months was medical (43 percent) and stress (32 percent) related, according to the 17th annual consumer survey sponsored by the American Massage Therapy Association. Medical reasons include pain relief, stiffness or spasms, injury recovery, migraines, prevention and general well-being.

Health care providers and doctors are more commonly viewing massage therapy as a legitimate option to address health concerns. Fifty-three percent of respondents in the U.S. said their physician has recommended they get a massage.

Of consumers who discussed massage therapy with their doctors:

  • 14 percent were referred to a massage therapist by their doctor.
  • 48 percent of respondents indicated they were encouraged by their doctor to receive a massage.
  • 13 percent were told by their doctor that a massage might benefit them.

In 2011, ninety-six percent of massage therapists received at least one referral every six months from a hospital or medical office.

Industry trends include:

  • A tenfold increase in the number of massage therapists in the past twenty-five years.
  • Massage therapists average $10 to $20 more per hour for a specialty service.
  • Massage therapy is offered in 35% to 40% of hospitals all over the world.

There is no sound statistic yet found for the number of hospitals in the U.S. that offer massage as an adjunct therapy.

Massage therapy is returning to its original place as a sound and viable CAM (Complementary Alternative Medical) treatment. Therapists have grown more sophisticated and knowledgeable through basic and continuing education and so many amazing modalities have come forward to command the respect of our profession and other health care fields by producing remarkable results.

Begin to pick your new tools and techniques by exploring information and articles online or in industry trade magazines. Attend a convention and receive CEs for attending short introductory classes that will give you a good sense of the educators and the techniques and visit the booths to get on the table and really experience it for yourself.

Research the educators and classes and if they list practitioners on their website. Contact a few of them to ask how they are doing with the techniques. One important question is how the tools and/or techniques affect the therapist, since ease of use leads to longevity of practice. Make an appointment with two or more different certified practitioners and get treatments to experience it for yourself. Visiting more than one therapist leads to a truer understanding, since each of us is unique and will adapt tools and techniques to our own style.

Let’s be honest, the figure of 14 percent for referrals from physicians is a bit disappointing. There is a big difference between a referral and being “encouraged” to get a massage. The challenge is to find a way to improve that number and transform our practices by attracting a larger volume of medical referrals. Imagine finding a stack of fax referrals from your local physicians waiting for you when you get to your office each morning! All you need to do is call the patient to interview and schedule.

Building a healthy medical referral community requires time, dedication and a passion for helping the doctor’s patients. It is also important to have evidence of training or certifications, along with records of past and current client successes. Our skills and successes build as we grow in knowledge and experience. Speaking from that knowledge and presenting sound documentation of our client results can make a meeting with the doctor a lot less intimidating. These meetings are often brief and it is a good idea to offer to bring lunch for the doctor to actually get a few minutes with them. It is even better to ask about their favorite restaurant and what they would like to order.

This is where the documentation comes in. It is easier for the physician to view photos, measurement charts or testimonials while they eat that memorable lunch you brought for them. Leave them a binder with your case studies and any supporting articles or data and ask to demonstrate that your work is essential to their patients with an initial referral of four to six people.

It is so important to reply to the referral by sending a thank you and notification that you received the referral and have scheduled the client for an appointment at your office. Stay in contact with the referring healthcare practitioner by sending updates and SOAP notes for their patient file. If these two steps are not followed, communication breakdown can occur and the medical professional may never know their patient was treated and responded so well. This is the key to continued referrals of both patients and other healthcare professionals.

Transform your practice this year by adding new techniques and tools and then take the steps to interact with the medical community to increase your referrals. There are so many areas of contemporary and traditional medicine that we can participate with including psychiatry and psychology, geriatric care, pediatric care, sports medicine, oncology, gynecology and obstetrics, chiropractic, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurvedic Medicine, and the list goes on. You could even choose to specialize in certain conditions such as diabetes, Parkinson’s, scoliosis, multiple sclerosis and more.

Anita J. Shannon
Anita J. Shannon

Educator Info

  • ACE Founder
  • Director of ACE
  • Massage Therapy Hall of Fame Inductee – 2011


Anita J. Shannon has been a licensed massage therapist and licensed cosmetologist since 1983. She specializes in skin care, body treatments, clinical aromatherapy, and various modalities of massage therapy. She has been a national educator since 1990, appearing at numerous national spa and massage conventions each year. For four years, Anita appeared as a co-host on the television program “Health Options Today” with Dr. Mitchell Ghen.

Anita is the founder and director of Advanced Continuing Education (ACE), an NCBTMB CE provider established in 2001. Anita has presented hundreds of workshops on ACE Massage Cupping and MediCupping therapy throughout the US and internationally since 2002. Anita has been published on the subject of cupping therapy in industry publications such as Massage Today, Massage Magazine, and Les Nouvelles Esthetiques. She has published two educational videos on ACE Massage Cupping bodywork, two on MediCupping therapy and one on TheraCupping home care, and is currently writing a book on VacuTherapies. In 2011, Anita was inducted into the Massage Therapy Hall of Fame.

In 2016, Anita opened ACE Institute Online, an online education portal designed to bring cupping therapy training into the digital age. Since its debut in 2016, ACE Institute Online has introduced the revolutionary techniques found in ACE Massage Cupping and MediCupping to over ten thousand students worldwide.

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