The Importance of Statewide Licensure for Massage Therapists

Massage therapists who practice in Minnesota are currently not licensed, registered or otherwise regulated at a State level in a manner similar to other health professionals – or even cosmetologists, barbers and body art technicians. In fact, Minnesota is one of only four remaining states that lack such a regulatory mechanism, and the only one in the upper Midwest.

Massage therapists in 46 states and the District of Columbia are licensed and regulated by state agencies responsible for therapist oversight and ensuring they meet standardized legal requirements and retain professional credentials necessary to practice.

In Minnesota, these therapists are unlicensed and considered complementary and alternative healthcare providers under Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 146A, enacted in 2000.

Local municipalities are charged with regulating these professionals, which creates wide variability in educational requirements, practice standards, fees paid by practitioners, an unnecessary administrative burden on cities, and most importantly an opportunity for illicit activity to occur under the guise of massage therapy.

The absence of a license means that massage and bodywork therapists are essentially unregulated and largely unrecognized professions in Minnesota. This is a disservice to the public, patients and other healthcare professional who work with massage therapists.

Minnesota is long overdue for enacting legislation that would bring regulatory oversight for a growing number of health professionals working in a wide variety of settings – including private practices, hospitals, and health systems offering integrative care. Licensure will also create a clinical quality bar informing third party insurance reimbursement policies.

For over two years, leadership at Northwestern Health Sciences University, along with other leaders of professional massage therapy institutions and academic programs throughout the state, have been assisting in the development of legislation (HF 1275/SF 1074) establishing statewide licensure and regulatory oversight for massage and body-work therapists practicing in Minnesota.

It was disappointing to once again see the State Legislature come to a close with a lack of movement on this important issue. We are working with partners and advocates to ensure this legislation is on the agenda in 2022 and speak out about the importance of bringing about statewide regulation of massage therapists within Minnesota’s healthcare workforce.

State licensure is a critical step for the recognition of massage therapies more broadly in Minnesota’s healthcare delivery system. Like all other licensed health professions, there is a compelling need to standardize regulations for the practice of massage therapy.

Benefits of Statewide Licensure for Massage Therapies:

  1. Massage therapists can have a significant impact on an individual’s health. Patients seek care for general wellbeing, stress relief and to help with a variety of medical conditions – most often pain, injury recovery and headaches. Those seeking massage therapy treatment have a right to expect their provider has the training and qualifications needed to practice effectively, safely and ethically.
  2. Licensing creates a uniform standard of conduct that is enforceable by a state agency, rather than local municipalities who lack the resources and expertise necessary to regulate healthcare professionals.
  3. In 2009, the Minnesota Council of Health Boards found that an “overall compelling state interest” exists for regulating this industry to protect public health and safety from the actions of unregulated, unqualified, unethical, improperly trained practitioners.
  4. Massage therapists who work in multiple locations are currently required to pay fees in every city in which they practice, often ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars, and meet a range of requirements. One state credential would dramatically simplify the regulatory burden on those therapists who practice independently.
  5. Implementing statewide legislation is important in the fight against human trafficking. With statewide standards in place, there will be a mechanism to regulate and distinguish between legitimate healthcare professionals from those individuals participating in illicit activity.

Licensure will provide added assurance to consumers that their therapist has the qualifications and professional credentials necessary to practice and that there is a single state agency with the necessary resources to investigate and adjudicate patient complaints.

In the case of pending legislation here in Minnesota, that responsibility would fall with the Board of Nursing which supports and is committed to serving in this regulatory role – and can function through a single fee structure and with minimal financial impact on providers.

This is a critical step to ensuring the safety and public health of Minnesotans.

From the Center for Healthcare Innovation and Policy at Northwestern Health Sciences University

For more information, please contact:

Dr. Michele Maiers, Executive Director of Research and Innovation at:

Dr. Chuck Sawyer, Special Assistant to the President at: