Scope of practice refers to professional activities that can be performed legally by members of a licensed profession, as well as the context in which these activities can be applied. Scope of practice is defined by state law, usually under the practice act. Forty-seven states in the U.S. have massage practice laws (and the District of Columbia), according to the American Massage Therapy Association. In unregulated states, there may be regulatory agencies within counties or municipalities where massage services are provided. For purposes of clarity, massage is defined as a method of manipulating soft tissue using compression and traction for therapeutic, palliative, and self-care or recreational purposes (DeDomenico, 2007; Ernst et al., 2006).

Numerous laws dictate which individuals holding state licenses may administer certain procedures. Massage practitioners are expected to understand and operate within their scope of practice. In addition, massage practitioners must familiarize themselves with other professions’ scopes of practice outlined in the profession’s practice acts if working in a multi-disciplined facility. Massage practitioners who practice outside their scope may be held in violation of state law. Activities often permitted under a massage practitioner’s scope may include the following. Check your state law for an accurate list of inclusions and exclusions.

• Assessment by client self-report (e.g., health questionnaire, interview), functional capacities (range of motion, posture, gait), and palpatory or visual assessments

• Documentation of assessments, treatment plans and outcomes, and progress reports

• Consultation with other health care providers participating in the client’s care

• Obtaining consent for treatment

• Use of massage techniques, including effleurage (gliding), pétrissage (kneading), tapotement (percussion), lifting, compression, vibration, friction, and traction by use of fingers, hands, forearms, elbows, knees, feet, or mechanical appliances and instruments that augment massage techniques

• Stretching and joint mobilizations within the normal anatomic range of movement

• Energetic methods through the use of touch contact or noncontact

• Use of topical products such as lubricants, essential oils, powders, muds, clays, salts, sugars, liniments, and similar preparations

• Use of physical agents such as hot and cold applications (e.g., packs, stones), and hydrotherapy

• Client education such as general nonspecific suggestions and recommendations for self-care and health-maintenance activities, including but not limited to self-massage, self-administered hydrotherapy, movement and stretching activities, stress reduction and stress management techniques

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American Massage Therapy Association: States with Massage Practice Laws. Retrieved from

DeDomenico, G., & Wood, E. C. (1997). Beard’s massage (4th ed.). Philadelphia: WB Saunders.

Ernst, E., Pittler, M. H., Wider, B., & Boddy, K. (2006). The desktop guide to complementary and alternative medicine (2nd ed.). Edinburgh: Elsevier Mosby.

Salvo, S. G. (2019). Massage Therapy: Principles and Practice (6th Edition). St. Louis, Missouri: Elsevier

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