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Massage Today
September, 2006, Vol. 06, Issue 09

Massachusetts Passes Massage Legislation

Legislature overrides governor’s veto; state becomes the 37th to license massage therapists.

By Kathryn Feather, Senior Associate Editor

The legislative process can be an arduous one at best, often taking years to get an agenda advanced beyond committee.

On June 27, 2006, the massage community in Massachusetts breathed a sigh of relief and took a victory lap as it became the 37th state to enact massage therapy regulation.

The Massachusetts House and Senate both voted to override Gov. Mitt Romney's veto of S.B.2258 to pass the bill, which creates a new state board to regulate Massachusetts' estimated 5,000 massage therapists. The new legislation requires massage therapists to meet certain educational or "hands on" experience requirements in order to be licensed to practice in the state. As the current law stands, the process of regulation is left up to the local boards of health. As of press time, S.B.2258 is set to become law in 90 days, effective in late September 2006.

In section 98 (a), the bill states, "There shall be within the division of professional licensure, a board of registration of massage therapy. The board shall consist of seven members who shall be appointed by the governor for terms of [three] years. The members appointed shall be residents of the commonwealth, three of whom shall be licensed massage therapists who have been actively engaged in the practice of massage therapy in the commonwealth for at least five years immediately before their appointments; one of whom shall be a health agent, board member or other health professional employed by or elected to a municipal board of health within the commonwealth; one of whom shall be an individual who is actively engaged in the operation of a licensed massage school; and two of whom shall be consumers who are familiar with the massage therapy field."

The duties of the board include adopting "rules and regulations governing the licensure of massage therapists, the practice of massage therapy and the operation of massage schools to promote public health, welfare and safety of citizens of the commonwealth, to establish standards for continuing education reflecting acceptable national standards and to investigate complaints, conduct inspections, review billing and treatment records and set and administer penalties as defined ... for fraudulent, deceptive or professionally incompetent and unsafe practices and for violations of rules and regulations promulgated by the board."

The bill also authorizes the board to make public a list of licensed massage therapists, as well as to publish a code of ethics. The bill spells out several definitions regarding the profession and defines massage as "the systematic treatment of the soft tissues of the body by the use of pressure, friction, stroking, percussion, kneading, vibration by manual or mechanical means, range of motion for purposes of demonstrating muscle excursion or muscle flexibility and nonspecific stretching. Massage therapy may include the use of oil, ice, hot and cold packs, tub, shower, steam, dry heat or cabinet baths, in which the primary intent is to enhance or restore the health and well-being of the client." The bill also defines what massage is not: "Massage therapy shall not include diagnosis, the prescribing of drugs or medicines, spinal or other joint manipulations, nor any services or procedures for which a license to practice medicine, chiropractic, occupational therapy, physical therapy or podiatry is required by law."

A licensed massage school is defined as "a facility which is licensed by the board after meeting minimum standards for training and curriculum." A massage therapist or practitioner is defined as "a person licensed by the board who instructs or administers massage or massage therapy for compensation."

S.B.2258 does make provisions for current practitioners. Therapists currently working in the state, have until approximately April 30, 2008, to qualify for a license under the grandfathering provision established within the bill. Current practitioners will be required to complete an application, pay all necessary licensing fees, provide proof of liability insurance and satisfy one of the following additional requirements:

  • Practitioners must provide documentation acceptable to the board demonstrating that the applicant has performed at least 500 hours of massage to the public for compensation.
  • Practitioners must be authorized to practice massage therapy by the municipal board of health within the commonwealth, with the authorization being valid within two years of the application date.
  • Practitioners must have passed a board-approved exam administered by a national organization.

However, licenses will not be issued until a board is appointed and rules are drafted. New massage therapy practitioners must satisfy the following requirements in order to qualify for licensure:

  • Must be at least 18 years old and possess a high school diploma or equivalent.
  • Must present two professional letters of reference, with at least one being from an employer or professional in the massage therapy or medical field.
  • Must have good moral character as determined by the board.
  • Must complete a course of study consisting of 500 hours at a licensed massage school.
  • Must not have been convicted of a sexually-related crime or a crime involving moral turpitude in any jurisdiction in the past 10 years.
  • Must provide proof of liability insurance.

Other practitioners will be exempt from the regulations spelled out in S.B.2258, as long as they do not hold themselves out to be massage therapists. Exemptions include anyone who uses touch, words or directed movement to deepen awareness of patterns of movement in the body, or the affectation of the human energy system or acupoints or qi meridians of the human body, while engaged within the scope of practice of a profession with established standards and ethics; such services will not be designated or implied to be massage or massage therapy. The practices covered in the above exemption include, but are not limited to, the Feldenkrais method, reflexology, the Trager approach, ayurvedic therapies, Rolf structural integration, polarity or polarity therapy, polarity therapy bodywork, Asian bodywork therapy that does not constitute massage as defined, acupressure, jin shin do, qi gong, tui na, shiatsu, body-mind centering and reiki. Exempt practitioners who fall under the above guidelines may use the terms "bodywork," bodyworker" and "bodywork therapist."

Massachusetts massage therapists interested in applying for an appointment to the Board of Registration of Massage Therapy within the Division of Professional Licensure can send a resume and cover letter specifying the board of interest to:

Stephen J. Nemmers, PhD, Deputy Director
Massachusetts Division of Professional Licensure
239 Causeway Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02114

To view the text of S.B.2258, visit the Web page for the 184th General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts at


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