Massage Therapy in the Medical Field (Part I)

We talk about the therapeutic and medicinal benefits of massage therapy so often that it seems important to actually define what medical massage therapy is exactly. The hard part, of course, is that medical massage therapy lacks clear definition across, and within, America’s 50 states. As we’ll explore in a series of blogs, there are many players who determine the current definition of medical massage therapy, and, so far, an exact definition of the term has yet to be reached.

The importance of the definition of medical massage therapy was brought to my attention as I looked up the requirements of being a massage therapist in Delaware. That state has a two-tiered registration system for therapists. “Certified massage technicians” need to have completed 300 hours of curriculum from a massage therapy school, among other requirements, to receive their certification. But, after doing so, they are absolutely “prohibited from working on medically diagnosed conditions and from working on referrals from a physician or chiropractor.”

“Licensed massage therapists” in Delaware, meanwhile, are the only ones in the state allowed to work on a medically diagnosed condition. Licensed massage therapists must have completed 500 hours of curriculum from a massage therapy school, among other requirements, in order to receive their licensure, which allows them, by state law, to perform massage therapy that’s been medically diagnosed or prescribed by a physician. Outside of CMTs and LMTs, absolutely no other person in Delaware may practice massage therapy professionally.

While it is clear who in Delaware can practice medical massage therapy, and who can’t, it is less clear in other states, where registration of massage therapists – and a definition of their professional abilities – varies state-to-state, sometimes municipality-by-municipality. Even where the practice of medical massage therapy is clearly defined, like in Delaware, the practice of medical massage therapy can often be determined by the definitions of physicians (who must prescribe massage therapy for medical conditions), or insurance providers (who determine what they consider medicine, complementary or otherwise).

How these and other players in the medical and massage professions define medical massage therapy will be discussed in next week’s blog. Please leave comments if you have your own input or reaction on the subject.

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