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Can I open a massage business...without a massage license?

Massage therapy is a way for clients to achieve relaxation, but certain types of massage, such as therapeutic massage, can also have medical benefits for the human body when received from a trained massage professional. Some massage professionals even choose to expand their scope of practice with alternative healing methods such as reflexology or reiki.

If you recognize the need for a great massage therapy business in your area, you may be excited about the prospect of opening a massage therapy business. However, your ability to do that may be determined by whether or not you hold a massage therapist license.

In this article, we look at whether or not you need a license to engage in the practice of massage therapy or open a massage therapy business, as well as licensing requirements, the difference between a business license and a massage license, and massage business best practices like proper business insurance coverage. Let’s dive in.

What is the difference between a massage practitioner and a massage therapist?

Massage practitioners usually must go through the same licensure process as massage therapists unless specific exemptions apply. The difference is that practitioners complete fewer training hours than therapists and usually do not have the same continuing education requirements.

Terms can be used interchangeably in the massage world sometimes. Technically, therapists can use the term “practitioner” to describe themselves, but practitioners cannot give themselves the title of "therapist" in their business, as they have not achieved the level of training to qualify them as either a certified massage therapist (CMT) or a licensed massage therapist (LMT).

What is the difference between a CMT and an LMT?

CMTs are certified through an educational body such as a massage therapy program or school, whereas LMTs are licensed through the state government. LMTs often engage in the most rigorous training and must fulfill certain continuing education credits throughout their time in practice to maintain their license.

States such as Delaware differentiate between LMTs and CMTs and allow both, with different requirements. However, many states mandate licensure through the state government, so be sure to check your specific state’s requirements when determining which educational path to take.

What’s the difference between a massage therapist and a masseuse?

A massage therapist is a licensed massage professional who has gone through a lot of training and thorough examination. A masseuse is a French term that refers to a female massage practitioner. A male massage practitioner would be a masseur. These terms are rarely used in America today to describe someone who practices massage.

Can I be a massage therapist without a license?

In most cases, the answer is no. You need a massage license to practice massage therapy. In some instances, you cannot even run a massage therapy business with a team of licensed therapists unless you are also licensed.

For example, in Washington State, you must hold a massage license to run a massage business unless you are a health care professional who holds a higher degree of medical training. Chiropractors or kinesiologists are examples of healthcare professionals who may offer massage as part of their practice without massage-specific licensure. However, there are some states in which you are not required to have a massage therapy license.

Why do massage licenses exist?

If there were no licensing requirements in America, anyone could open a massage business and call themselves a massage therapist. This would open the door for far more illegal activity, as there would be no recourse if a person were found to be offering massage services without a license.

Even with regulations and licensing requirements mandated by the state, some illegal massage establishments still exist. Human trafficking continues to be a problem in the world of massage, with massage parlors throughout the country operating illegally to exploit unpaid workers for profit.

With tight regulations in place, law enforcement can better identify and disrupt human trafficking rings. In turn, legitimate massage professionals can easily identify themselves in the marketplace when they obtain a professional license.

Which states don’t require a massage therapy license?

You can practice massage therapy without a license or certification in:

  • Kansas
  • Minnesota
  • Vermont

This is not to say that there are no requirements to practice massage in these states. In Kansas, for example, you must still prove that you have completed at least 500 hours of training to qualify as a massage therapist.

In other cases, a license may be encouraged but voluntary. Let’s take a look at some of these special situations.

Practicing massage without a license in California

State licensing is voluntary in California, meaning an unlicensed person can practice massage therapy. However, 250 hours or 500 hours of training are still required for practitioners and therapists, respectively. Should you desire, you can achieve certification through the California Massage Therapy Council (CAMTC).

Certification from the CAMTC relieves you of additional requirements you may otherwise have to fulfill in certain cities or towns in California. On the other hand, if you choose to practice massage in a California city or town devoid of specific licensing or certification requirements, you do not need to possess either to practice.

Indiana's Title Protection Law

Indiana's state law does not require you to have a license or certification to practice, but you cannot use the title “massage therapist.” This is called “title protection.” It differentiates an unlicensed massage professional from one who has achieved their license.

Every state has a different set of regulations. You can check with the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) to learn about the specific requirements in your state.

What happens if you get caught running a massage business without a license?

Except in the aforementioned rare situations, you do need to be licensed or certified to practice massage. If you choose to practice without the proper license in place, you could face disciplinary action such as fines or even jail time. Each state has different laws that determine what actions constitute a crime.

For example, Oklahoma considers even the use of the word “massage” in a business that does not have a valid massage license to be a misdemeanor. New Yorkers can expect to be brought up on felony charges if they practice massage without a license. These legal ramifications can be severe—all the more reason to follow your state’s regulations and protect yourself with comprehensive business insurance.

What are the requirements to get a massage license?

There is no national certification for massage therapy. Instead, certification and licensing come from the state or a state-certified educational body. In general, you’ll need the following to achieve your massage therapy license:

  • Complete a set number of hours of training (varies by state, but usually somewhere around 500 hours of training)
  • Pass the Massage & Bodywork Licensing Exam (MBLEx)  

What will I be tested on when I take the MBLEx?

The test is administered by the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards. It’s available in Spanish and English and consists of 100 multiple choice questions across multiple subjects. You can expect to be tested on:

  • Anatomy and Physiology (12%)
  • Kinesiology (11%)
  • Pathology, Contraindications, Areas of Caution, Special Populations (13%)
  • Benefits and Physiological Effects of Technique that Manipulate Soft Tissue (14%)
  • Client Assessment, Reassessment, and Treatment Planning (17%)
  • Overview of Massage and bodywork Modalities/Culture/History (5%)
  • Ethics, Boundaries, Laws, Regulations (15%)
  • Guidelines for Professional Practice (13%)

You cannot take the test until you can prove that you have completed training in all areas of the MBLEx outline. You may bypass that requirement if you can show that you graduated from an approved massage therapy school or program.

During the test, you’ll have 2 hours to complete as many questions as you can. The results are graded as pass/fail.

Can you get a massage license online?

Some schools market themselves as 100% online, but you must complete a hands-on component to qualify for a massage license. If you prefer to receive your academic training online, you can do so, but be prepared to take your hands-on training in person. You will likely need to source a local massage therapist willing to let you apprentice with them to fulfill the hourly training requirement mandated by your state.

Do I have to earn continuing education (CE) credits?

Some states require that you complete a certain number of credits at a cadence of every 12 to 24 months, while others allow you to complete some courses online. Check with your state to see if you need CEs at all. If you do, the AMTA is a great place to find classes you can take.

Massage therapist license vs. a business license

A business license allows you to operate a business legally in your state. A massage therapy license allows you to practice massage in your state. You can apply for a business license with your state’s Department of Revenue. You will be required to submit certain documentation about your business and pay an application fee.

Can I run a massage business from home?

Nearly a third of all massage therapists operate out of their own residence. This is a popular choice as it allows you to cut down on commuting time and additional rent.

Can I meet massage clients in their homes?

Yes. In fact, most entrepreneurial massage therapists do not have a regular office or a home office and prefer to come straight to their client’s homes for their sessions.

What insurance do I need to run a massage therapy business?

Small business insurance is essential for massage therapists. Each state has specific massage therapist insurance requirements to operate a massage therapy business, and you should check your state’s requirements when considering various insurance policies.

However, one type of insurance coverage you will need if you intend to hire employees is workers’ compensation insurance. Workers’ comp is almost always legally required as soon as you hire your first employee. In some cases, you may only need workers’ comp after you have 3 to 5 employees working for you, but it is still a good idea to have in place even if you only have a single employee to start. This is because the policy protects you from financial damages resulting from your employee getting sick or injured on the job. Without workers’ comp, you will likely face a potentially devastating lawsuit should your employee get hurt while working for you.

Get stress-free workers’ comp insurance coverage with Huckleberry

At Huckleberry, we understand that a lot of time and effort goes into achieving your massage therapy license and starting your practice. That’s why we’ve made it simple to get the small business insurance coverage you need.

With Huckleberry, you can get a quick and easy workers’ comp quote or even get insured online in minutes.

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