What is “Scope of Practice”?

Florida Massage Therapy Scope of Practice

You may have heard a therapist or healthcare professional say, “That’s outside my scope,” “That’s not within my scope of practice,” or something similar.

What does scope of practice mean, and why are licensed massage therapists so worried about it?

In the state of Florida, massage therapists MUST be licensed. (Most states require a license, however some don’t.) In order for us to be licensed, we have a department that handles regulating the schools, making sure the minimum standards are met, vetting applicants, outlining what testing we need to do to prove our knowledge, and protecting the public by specifying what we are allowed to do.

Here we are healthcare providers. The Department of Health is our overseeing body. We have the Florida Board of Massage Therapy within that body. In other states it may be an occupational board or otherwise monitored.

In Florida each type of healthcare provider (such as a psychologist, podiatrist, chiropractor, etc.) has a statute listing how much training they must have, what the process is, what penalties are for breaking the rules, how much continuing education is required, and defining what they are allowed to do.

Here is the entry in Florida’s Massage Therapy Statutes:

“Massage” means the manipulation of the soft tissues of the human body with the hand, foot, arm, or elbow, whether or not such manipulation is aided by hydrotherapy, including colonic irrigation, or thermal therapy; any electrical or mechanical device; or the application to the human body of a chemical or herbal preparation.

So, we are legally allowed to do the above. And compared to other states, our scope of practice is quite generous.

A large part of your physical structure is soft tissue. Bone would be an example of not-soft tissue. This means we are allowed to manipulate the skin, fascia, fat, muscle, tendons, etc. All the soft stuff. We are allowed to use many techniques, and we are allowed to use hydrotherapy (the use of water, hot, cold, etc. for therapeutic effect), use devices to help us, and apply lotions to the body.

Notice that nowhere in there does it say we can diagnose, prescribe, advise about medication, perform chiropractic adjustments, or deliver babies. (I’ve never been asked about that last one; I included it just for humor. That said, the other ones are ones I get asked for regularly.)

Our initial training is focused on allowing us to work within our scope of practice. We don’t learn pharmacology. We don’t learn how to adjust. We don’t learn how to remove moles. It’s just not our thing.

If we attempt to do something that is not in our scope of practice, such as a massage therapist performing minor surgeries, then we are potentially guilty of practicing medicine outside our scope of practice. In Florida, that’s a felony. If someone without a license is performing reiki or brain surgery they are in big, big trouble.

Now you know what it means if a therapists says, “that’s outside my scope of practice.” It means, “I am not qualified or allowed to assist you with this request. Another person who is trained and licensed to do that is needed, and that’s not me.”