For many massage therapists, it’s tempting to try to do everything for everybody.
Deep tissue one session, craniosacral the next, plus that new modality you just learned. Wouldn’t specializing in just one thing make it harder to find clients?
No way, says Matthew Nogrady, LMT. This Maitland, Florida, massage therapist has chosen to specialize in one area — headache massage — and business is booming.
A Market for Headache Massage
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that nearly half the world’s population has had a headache in the last year, with 30 percent of headache sufferers having migraines, severe recurring headaches that limit a person’s daily activities.
Massage therapy, with its focus on both isolated areas of the anatomy and overall wellness, is well suited to address headaches. Nogrady’s practice, Headache Massage Inc., is thriving and he has earned a reputation as the go-to man for headache massage in his area.
Thinking about specializing? Several action steps Nogrady took are critical to success.
1. Find a Need
Nogrady’s first experience with his chosen field was as a headache sufferer. “I’ve had migraines ever since I was a kid,” he said. “And I still get them all the time.”
A massage therapist for over 20 years, he made the leap to specialization in late 2015 after taking a medical massage class on headaches.
“There’s a reason people specialize,” he said, “and it’s because every part of the body is so complex. I thought I’d be a better therapist if I focused on headache treatments and on this type of pathology.”
But it wasn’t just a matter of having the urge. He also felt it out by talking with his clients. At the time, Nogrady did massage out of a chiropractor’s office, which brought him into contact with a lot of headache sufferers.
“One of the things that made me think I could focus on [headache massage] and make it a viable business is that I was using those techniques with patients and I was talking to them. And I would tell them I was thinking about focusing on headaches. And the feedback I got from everyone was very positive. And that was a big inspiration.”
2. Figure Out What Sets You Apart
Over time Nogrady’s unique headache massage method began to emerge.
“I do integrative work. On the one hand I do craniosacral therapy, and then I have Micro Point Stimulation units that I use, and then I do a very specific Swedish medical massage technique. I use all three techniques to create something unique.”
This “something unique” is valuable to clients like Shan Bryant. Bryant suffers from severe hemiplegic complex migraines, which can paralyze one side of her body.
“I tell [Matthew] he has magic hands,” she said. “He’s been a huge help in sustaining my quality of life.”
Nogrady notes that currently there is no standardized way to perform headache massage. Rather than considering this a drawback, Nogrady sees it as an opportunity to innovate.
“I could have a headache and go to 10 different massage therapists and get 10 different treatments,” he said. “There isn’t any standardized treatment.”
3. Respond to Clients’ Needs
The need to create his own protocol for headache massage led Nogrady to make several innovations in his practice, one of which is the 30-minute treatment.
“I’m stepping out of the typical model of 50-minute massage and 90-minute massage by including a 30-minute treatment,” Nogrady explained. “And people love it.”
Nogrady’s past experience in a chiropractic office made him understand that with pain sufferers, immediate relief is the chief goal.
“If the pain is acute, you’ll want the patient to come in three to five times a month, especially at the beginning. And then you can spread out the treatments more as they improve.”
In addition to keeping clients happy, a fortunate side effect of offering shorter sessions is that clients started coming back much more often.
“Instead of spending $90 for one massage, they can spend that and get two massages,” he said. “And it’s better for my business, because now, instead of coming in once a month, people are coming in once a week.”
4. Personalize Your Services
Nogrady puts a special emphasis on the intake process and being flexible when it comes to approaching the different types of cases a headache massage specialist will encounter.
“When someone comes in, I look at their range of motion. I do all their intake information. I find out what their goals are. And then I reassess at the end of the treatment. And then finally I use some PNF [Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation] stretching.”
People suffer headaches for a wide variety of reasons. Nogrady emphasizes being able to adjust his approach and use great care when it comes to assessing clients with special injuries causing their headaches.
“Even stretching techniques can be very technical. If I had a patient who had been in a car accident who had headaches due to whiplash, I would only do a very specific type of stretching,” he said. “And as they get out of that acute stage, and start getting their strength back, I would evolve the type of stretching technique … and that will have a better outcome.”
5. Be Flexible
Nogrady changes up his protocol depending on whether or not the client is experiencing a headache when they come in. “If the patient doesn’t have a headache, they start off prone. If they do have a headache, they start off face up.”
This flexible approach has worked well. “He figured me out on the first visit,” said longtime client Bryant. “We had a conversation before he even put his hands on me. And when he did start working on me, he would ask, ‘is this working?’ and ‘what about this?’ and so on.”
6. Time Your Jump
Another factor that worked in Nogrady’s favor was his timing. He took the time to educate himself in his specialty and test the potential pool of clients to see if there was a demand for the service he had in mind. When he determined there was, he moved cautiously.
“Timing is everything, in business and in life,” he said. “And this is one of the reasons I haven’t done any marketing, at least not yet. It’s because I didn’t want to put advertising out there and then be overwhelmed by the response and not be able to handle 40 new clients in one week. I would fall on my face if I did that. After all, I’m a one-man show.”
Nogrady refers to his cautious approach as scaling his business, and emphasizes growing your practice only as fast as your resources and energy allow.
“Part of this process is learning how to scale your business and do it efficiently, instead of ending up with clients who write bad reviews because you didn’t return a phone call or because you double-booked them.”
7. Reap the Benefits
When asked about the benefits of specializing in headache massage, Nogrady said, “Working as a specialist, I am better equipped to help people. I can be more focused in the treatments and get better results.
“A secondary benefit is that I know what I’m going to be doing each day. When you don’t specialize you have no idea what your day will be like,” he continued. “You might have one patient who needs a foot massage and another patient who has a shoulder problem and another who has a lower back problem. And you’re kind of jumping all over the place. This way I know just what to expect, within a certain spectrum, of course.
“The challenge of specializing in a specific form of massage is that you have to be very good at it … People are paying good money. They expect you to be the best.”
About the Author:
Phillip Weber is a San Diego-based writer and co-founder of The English Adept, a language-learning website where he blogs frequently. He has written several news and feature articles for MASSAGE Magazine, including “Grief Massage Therapists Help Clients Cope” and “The World Championship in Massage: Building an International Touch Community.”