What’s the penalty for practicing massage without a license?

What’s the penalty for practicing massage without a license?

Kim Mercado
By Kim Mercado
Oct 13, 2023
6 min read

To become a professional massage therapist, you need to be licensed and certified. In some states and counties, certification and continuing education are required to keep a massage therapist business in compliance. The penalty for practicing massage without a license could be fines or even jail time, so why take a risk? The better bet is to learn the laws and business of massage to help your small business thrive.

Jump ahead to learn:

What can I do without a massage license?

Having a massage therapist license prominently displayed for clients to see isn’t just about compliance. It builds trust with new customers and establishes a professional environment where they can truly relax. Since certification and licensure requires extensive classroom work and hands-on experience in many areas of the country, even new massage therapists who are licensed have a great deal of experience working with clients.

What’s the penalty for practicing massage without a license?

Massage therapy licensing requirements vary by state and, sometimes, by county, and most states have a massage therapy board to set educational and testing requirements and issue licenses. Before setting up a practice, check with local authorities to learn local laws and education mandates that apply to massage therapists or their businesses. It’s also important to understand local and civil penalties that could apply if you practice massage therapy without a license.

In Indiana, for example, massage therapists are regulated by the State Board of Massage Therapy under the Indiana Professional Licensing Agency. Certified massage therapists must meet state training and examination requirements, they must have professional liability insurance policies and they must have their fingerprints made with the state.

By contract, in California certification is voluntary. If you don’t have a massage license or certification in California and the city or town where you practice doesn’t impose additional requirements, there isn’t a penalty for practicing massage without a license in California.

Depending on the state, there may be a criminal penalty for practicing massage without a license in areas where certification or licensure is required by law.

For example, in Florida, a practicing massage therapist without a license could be sentenced to up to one year in jail. In Oklahoma, even advertising services using the word “massage” without a valid massage license is a misdemeanor. In New York, practicing massage without a license is a felony.

Penalties vary widely by state. It’s important to understand the exact rules about licensure as well as the penalties for failing to follow the rules.

Massage therapist insurance requirements

Massage therapists usually carry massage therapist insurance to protect their business from malpractice lawsuits. Massage therapist insurance is widely available, but it’s important to understand local regulations as well as the needs of the business before purchasing a policy.

Small business insurance, including general liability insurance and professional liability insurance, is an important part of running a small business. Students may also want to carry general liability insurance for school-sponsored and career-related education.

Massage professionals practicing hot stone massage, yoga instruction or estheticians may also have special insurance needs.

Massage therapist education and exam requirements

Licensure requirements differ from one state to the next, but it typically includes 500 to 650 hours of massage education.

Passing the Massage & Bodywork Licensing Exam (MBLEx) is another common requirement. Here are the components of this standard test:

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

The Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards administers and oversees the test throughout the country. Every five to seven years, the test is revised and updated to reflect current practices and knowledge within the industry.

Before a massage therapist can take the test, they must prove that they’ve completed training in all areas of the MBLEx outline, or that they graduated from an approved massage therapy program.

Legal requirements for massage therapists

States are allowed to set their own rules about licensing requirements for massage therapists and massage therapy businesses.

The American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) offers a state-by-state guide to licensing requirements with links to current legislation for each state.

How NEXT helps massage therapists and other small businesses

NEXT helps small businesses in 1,300 professions get just the right insurance coverage they need. We make business insurance easy with 24/7 access to your policy via web and app to help you manage your coverage.

Start a quote, customize your options and access your certificate of insurance online — all in about 10 minutes.

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