What You Need to Know About Government Regulation of Massage and Bodywork

As a massage therapist, you’re busy with practice and career development; learning about massage therapy regulation is probably pretty low on your to-do list. However, regulation directly impacts our profession, and it’s often misunderstood. Here are some of the basics that all MTs and bodyworkers should know.

Individual States, Not the Federal Government, Regulate Massage Therapy 

The federal government does not regulate massage therapy, and there is no national license to practice massage. Instead, the profession is governed by individual state laws that vary. In many states, a massage therapy board handles the administration of massage therapy law. The board is usually comprised of volunteer board members—some of whom are MTs themselves. The board normally issues the regulations that fill in the details of the state’s massage therapy law and also processes license applications and handles disciplinary matters. Additionally, cities and towns often have their own local ordinances that further regulate massage businesses.

There Are Several Categories of Regulation

There are several ways a state can regulate (or not regulate) massage therapists:

• No State Regulation

Kansas, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Vermont, and Wyoming do not have any state laws regulating MTs. This means you can practice in these states without a state license because there is no state license. However, cities and towns in these states can still regulate MTs if they choose, so check with your city or town government to find out if a local license or permit is required to practice massage.

• Voluntary Certification  

California has a unique system. There is no such thing as a state massage therapy license in California. However, therapists can obtain a voluntary massage therapy certification from the California Massage Therapy Council (CAMTC), which allows therapists to practice anywhere in California without needing to satisfy additional requirements imposed by a city or town. And many cities and towns actually require CAMTC certification to practice there. All California MTs should be sure they understand and are complying with any local ordinances governing massage therapy.

• Title Protection              

Indiana is a “title protection” state, which means a person technically does not have to hold a state massage certification in order to practice massage, but does have to hold the state certification in order to call him or herself a massage therapist or use a title incorporating that term. Since it’s hard to practice massage therapy without calling yourself a massage therapist, most Indiana practitioners obtain state certification. Additionally, cities and towns can impose their own requirements, and therapists should check to be sure they’re complying with those requirements.

• Mandatory License                    

A “license” is permission from the government required to legally engage in some activity (think driver’s licenses). Most states require that a person hold a massage therapy license in order to perform massage therapy legally in that state. The qualifications for mandatory licensure differ from state to state, but commonly include 500–650 hours of approved massage education, plus successful completion of the MBLEx exam. Every state, other than the seven mentioned above, requires MTs to hold a state-issued massage license.

And Then There’s Establishment Licenses

Many cities and towns, as well as some states, require a second type of license—an “establishment license”—for massage businesses. Since establishment licenses cover businesses, not individuals, technically they do not constitute double licensing. In many cases, sole practitioner massage businesses are exempt from the establishment license requirement. Check with your state board and city or town government to see if your business needs an establishment license.

To find out more about your state’s regulation of massage therapy, and the contact information for your state board, log on to www.abmp.com, and click on your state on the Legislative Map under “Career Development” and then “Regulation & Advocacy.”

Nancy Potter is ABMP’s government relations coordinator. Contact her at nancy@abmp.com.

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