Is it time to regulate the massage therapy industry in Alberta?

Allowing the massage therapy industry in Alberta to regulate itself will protect therapists and consumers, a therapist says.

'It's a bit of a wild west scenario here,' massage therapy professor says

In 2016 Alberta's massage therapy industry took its first step in creating a regulatory body. (Jack Dempsey/Associated Press)

Massage therapy can do more harm than good, a massage therapist says, which makes a practitioner's qualifications vital information.

"Some other folks might hold the perception like well, you're just rubbing someone, how much harm can I really do," said Chandra Kastern of Red Deer, who has been a massage therapist for 20 years.

"Talk to somebody who has been hurt by a massage therapist and I'm sure they'd be happy to tell you how much harm could be caused by touch being applied by someone who doesn't know what they're doing."

That's something Ramya Velmurugiah's boyfriend learned the hard way.

In September, the couple made an appointment at a massage therapy clinic in Edmonton.

After the appointment, her boyfriend found out his deep-tissue massage was not eligible for coverage, because his therapist was not considered a registered massage therapist, Velmurugiah said.

"He's had back surgeries including a discectomy, so he was a little bit concerned that someone that … didn't have their hours to be a registered massage therapist was giving him a deep-tissue massage," she said.

There's the rub.

No such classification

While it's standard to use the title Registered Massage Therapist, Alberta has no such classification for massage therapists.

The "registered" title is protected under the province's Health Professions Act and can only be used by members of a regulated body like the College of Physicians and Surgeons.

While other provinces have a regulatory body for massage therapists, Alberta does not.

Massage therapy is governed by three main associations in the province: the Massage Therapists Association of Alberta, the Remedial Massage Therapists Association, and the Natural Health Practitioners of Canada.

Each association operates separately, and each has its own requirements for membership.

But none act as a regulatory body.

"It's a bit of a wild west scenario here where if you use (the "registered" title) there's really no consequence," said Jeff Moggach, a professor of massage therapy at Edmonton's MacEwan University.

"We make sure that (students) understand that you're part of an association when you graduate, you're not part of a regulatory college so therefore you're not registered."

Regulation plans underway

In 2016 the three associations formed the Transitional Council for the College of Massage Therapists of Alberta. It's the first step in creating a regulatory body.

Kastern hopes regulating the industry will help streamline how consumer complaints are dealt with.

"When somebody does get hurt, whether that be psychologically, physically, financially, etc.,  there's nowhere for the public to go right now because it isn't a regulated health profession," Kastern said.

However, neither the province or the transitional council could provide a timeline on when that might happen.