Do You Need a License to Practice Massage Therapy?

by Kristen Hamlin; Updated September 26, 2017
Almost every state requires massage therapists to hold a valid license.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were more than 120,000 massage therapists in the U.S. as of 2010. Many of these therapists are self-employed or independent contractors who work with private clients or at salons, spas and resorts. Many massage therapists also work in physician and chiropractor offices or at fitness centers, offering therapeutic massages for clients. The BLS estimates that demand for massage services will continue to increase in the coming years.

State Licensing Laws

As of 2011, 43 states require massage therapists to have a license to practice. In Minnesota, massage therapists are only regulated on the county and city level, not by the state. Only Alaska, Idaho, Kansas, Oklahoma, Vermont and Wyoming do not require massage therapists to have licenses. In addition to state regulations, some cities or counties have regulations and licensing requirements for massage therapy, so anyone wishing to practice should check with their local licensing board to determine the exact requirements.

Massage Education Requirements

While exact requirements vary by state and locality, all states will only grant a massage therapy license after a candidate has completed an approved massage therapy training program. Massage therapy programs are offered by private and public schools, and usually include 500 hours or more of classroom education and massage practice. Massage education usually includes classes in anatomy and physiology, organs and tissues, kinesiology, and motion and body mechanics. Therapists are also trained in ethics, and in some cases, particular types of massage, such as prenatal or geriatric.

Examination Requirements

Most states require an examination of some type before issuing a massage therapist license. Some states have developed their own examination, while others accept one of the two nationally recognized tests: the National Certification Examination for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork , or the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination. These exams are designed and administered by independent accrediting agencies. When you complete your massage therapy education, your school or instructor will direct you to the proper examination to meet your state licensing requirements.

Maintaining Licensure

In general, states that require massage therapists to be licensed also require continuing education to keep your license current. Because many therapists use lotions, creams or oils, and generally supply their own massage tables and linens, some states also require periodic health and sanitation inspections of equipment or massage rooms to ensure the health and safety of massage customers.

2016 Salary Information for Massage Therapists

Massage therapists earned a median annual salary of $39,860 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, massage therapists earned a 25th percentile salary of $27,220, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $57,110, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 160,300 people were employed in the U.S. as massage therapists.

About the Author

An adjunct instructor at Central Maine Community College, Kristen Hamlin is also a freelance writer on topics including lifestyle, education, and business. She is the author of Graduate! Everything You Need to Succeed After College (Capital Books), and her work has appeared in Lewiston Auburn Magazine, Young Money, USA Today and a variety of online outlets. She has a B.A. in Communication from Stonehill College, and a Master of Liberal Studies in Creative Writing from the University of Denver.

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