An image of a person's arm in a cast is used to illustrate the concept of a sudden injury that would require you to have a backup plan for how you would earn money.

It can happen much faster than you think. As much as you probably don’t want to think about it, you could find yourself in a situation tomorrow where you have lost the ability to work with your hands—temporarily or permanently—and desperately in need of a backup plan. I know because I have been through this scenario in my career more than once.

I have had three career-altering injuries. Two of those happened outside of work and one was due to simple wear and tear from performing massage for three decades. Each injury greatly impacted my ability to earn income as a massage therapist.

One injury was to a finger on my right hand. It had to be surgically reattached after a dislocation at the main carpal joint. Recovery was lengthy; it took me 15 months to come back to work full-time.

The other hand surgery was probably every massage therapist’s worst nightmare come true: My left thumb had to be completely reconstructed. With this surgery, I was permanently unable to go back to massage being my primary source of income and had to look for new ways to support myself.  

There are some good life and career lessons inside my story. My hope is you will realize what you can do today to set up a backup plan protect yourself financially should you suddenly be unable to work.

Disability Insurance Should be Part of Your Backup Plan

If you became injured in a way that would not allow you to go to work and perform massage for an extended period of time, you would need some level of disability insurance to fall back on. We are all simply one injury away from being in this circumstance. By putting off having this type of insurance policy in place as a backup plan, you are gambling heavily with your finances.  

I did not have disability insurance when I injured my right hand. After that incident, I was out of work for over 12 months, which negatively impacted my finances for more than three years. I was simply not prepared to support myself or contribute to my home when I was forced to stop working for a long period of time.

After I recovered and got back to massage full-time, the first thing I did was purchase short-term disability insurance. Short-term disability insurance will not cover your full income, but typically covers about 60% of your wages and lasts about six months or so depending on the policy.

However, what this insurance can do is keep you on top of your major expenses, give you the time needed to heal and return to work, or allow you the time to find another option for earning an income. It is also a more affordable option than long-term disability insurance.  

Many therapists I talk to about disability insurance state they simply can’t afford the insurance premiums. Believe me when I say you can’t afford to potentially stop working without a backup plan in place to financially sustain you through an injury and healing.

More options are available for massage therapists now than in the past, such as through Massage Magazine Insurance Plus and through the Affordable Care Act. For example, Massage Magazine Insurance Plus members now have access to disability insurance coverage whether they are temporarily disabled, out of work or are making less income at a new job after involuntary job loss.

You can also talk with a local insurance agent and see what options are available for short- or long-term disability. Policy pricing can vary, so make sure to educate yourself on what is available, explore different options for coverage and perform price comparisons. 

Create a Backup Plan—Starting Today

It wasn’t until I was injured that I realized part of being self-employed would always include the ongoing creation of more business possibilities. The experience of being unable to work compounded by not having disability insurance taught me that I needed to be continuously pursuing options to fall back on that did not require my hands to earn a living.

Up until that point, I had not really thought about how I could or why I would need to diversify and pursue other avenues of income. I realized creating multiple income streams was necessary for longevity.  

An example of this is what I chose to do during recovery from the first injury. I did the only thing I could think of, and that was to shift my business model to one of employing therapists. I had a large clientele; I just needed therapists to work on them. I immediately hired two therapists to work out of the room I was renting and started training them to offer pain management massage.

Once those two therapists were busy, I hired two more therapists and rented another room available in the same office. Before long I had five therapists working for me utilizing my existing clientele base.

I had never felt driven to be an employer. However, when my options were to work for a much lower hourly wage somewhere else, I chose to explore new options and find a way to create a better income while staying in the massage field.

Because of that experience, I have continued to seek out and work on other options for income. The potential need for opportunity will always exist for those choosing self-employment.

When it came time for my thumb surgery, not only did I have short-term disability insurance to fall back on, but it was also an easy shift over to the options of teaching, coaching and writing that I had built time into.  

Insuring for the potential of a disabling injury, diversifying yourself and continually having backup options running in the background are important business needs. The balance to manage all those options can be tricky at times, but by having these pieces in place you create a more solid financial base for yourself.

Think Ahead

I am going to challenge you to think about what you would need to have in place for yourself if you suddenly lost the use of your hands. Start making a list of viable options you could pursue as a backup plan and start actualizing those possibilities.

I highly recommend looking into companion skills or educational paths you could slowly pursue in the background that could support you if you needed to transition to them.

Planning for options, along with investigating and acquiring disability insurance, are huge steps toward ensuring your financial future is protected.

Amy Bradley Radford

About the Author

Amy Bradley Radford, LMT, BCTMB, has been a massage therapist and educator for more than 30 years. She is the owner of Massage Business Methods, the developer of PPS (Pain Patterns and Solutions) Seminars CE courses and an NCBTMB Approved CE Provider.