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Q: “My state has a statewide massage law, but a fellow massage therapist told me there are local requirements that I have to meet, too. Who should I check with to find out what the local regulations are?”

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You may think that just because you took the National Certification Exam for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork that you can hang up your shingle. However, Jason Thies, director of administration for the national certification board, says, “One of the standards of practice of the national board is that you follow all the guidelines and rules of your local ordinance, also. Whether it be state, city or municipal, you need to follow those rules for licensure.”

Mark Dixon has a private practice in Newport Beach, California (an unregulated state) and teaches at the Western Institute of Neuromuscular Therapy in Laguna Hills. “Go to the front counter of city hall and ask for a copy of the permit that specifically regulates the practice of massage in that city,” he says. “Most city ordinances are written as anti-prostitution ordinances and most state laws are written to try to regulate valid health-care modalities. It’s still up in the air whether a city ordinance can override a state law.”

“The city clerk is the place to start in the city or township you want to work in. If your area is regulated by the county, you need to check with the county clerk,” says Margaret Szedenits, NCTMB, the president of the Michigan (an unregulated state) chapter the American Massage Therapy Association: “Unfortunately, in some places you also have to check with the police because of the past ‘potential prostitution’ issues many cities had to deal with.”

But ordinances regulating the practice of massage are not all you should be concerned about, says Szedenits.

There are two questions embedded in this one concern, she says. 1) What are the requirements for practicing massage?; and 2) What are the requirements for opening a business that happens to be massage, instead of say, a bakery?

“You need not only to check on your city’s ordinance, but if you’re in a business district, it’s very important to check zoning in that specific district,” she says. She cites one example of a massage therapist in Birmingham, Michigan, who was put out of business because, according to Szedenits, although she could practice massage in the city of Birmingham, she was not allowed to practice massage within the specific business district in which she had opened her business. “She was too close to homes,” Szedenits says. “The city shut her down. She would have been fine if she were in the main business district.”

Szedenits said that your city clerk could tell you if you need a business license to practice, and how much you need to pay in fees.

“If there is a statewide massage law, it depends upon the state if you have to do anything else,” Szedenits explains. “Some state massage laws supercede local massage regulations.” Szedenits strongly suggests talking to your state massage professional organization to help wind your way through the red tape.

 – Charlotte Michael Versagi, L.M.T., N.C.T.M.B., is a journalist, a lymphedema therapist who also sees cancer patients, and a science instructor in a massage-therapy program at The Carnegie Institute in Troy, Michigan.

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