Massage Therapist or Masseuse?

By Brandon Twyford, Editor, Online and Digital Strategy for ABMP
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2017 issue of
Body Sense magazine.

You may have heard a couple of different words used to describe the occupation of people who perform massage therapy: masseuse or massage therapist. Which term does your bodyworker prefer, and which should you use? 

Masseuse (and its male equivalent, masseur) come from French and mean “a person who practices massage.” In recent decades, following a trend in American vocabulary to replace gender-specific terms like waiter or stewardess with more gender-neutral terms like server and flight attendant, masseuse and masseur have been declining in usage in favor of the gender-neutral massage therapist


Another reason for the increased use of massage therapist is that during the latter half of the 20th century, the term massage parlor came into use as a euphemism for a place of prostitution. As the term masseuse came to be associated with these illicit operations, many bodyworkers chose to use the term massage therapist for its more professional clinical connotations with physical health. 

According to Rick Rosen, founder of the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education, “The term massage therapist came into popular usage around 1980. In a way, this could be considered the beginning of the modern era of massage therapy. The terms masseur and masseuse are antiquated, as they refer to the much smaller field that existed before the widespread availability of formal massage education programs.”  

Did You Know? 

According to Steve Capellini’s Massage for Dummies, Dutchman Johann Mezger (1839–1909) was the first to use French words to describe massage and its movements, hence masseur and masseuse.