As more and more individuals look for alternatives to conventional pain and stress management, massage therapy is becoming increasingly more popular. Today, massage therapy is recommended by physicians and holistic health professionals alike. But do the benefits of massage therapy translate to massage chairs? And what specific health benefits can you expect?
In this article, we explain how a chair is able to perform healthy body massage and outline the health benefits of massage chairs to help you see whether it is or isn’t a worthy wellness investment.
Let’s get started!
How Massage Chairs Perform a Therapeutic Massage
Since massage therapy is the practice of a therapist using their hands to manipulate soft tissue to promote healing, you may be wondering… how does a massage chair do it?
Most massage chairs incorporate two components to perform massage: rollers and airbags.
Rollers are essentially the hands of a massage chair, which perform the techniques of a therapist, for example, shiatsu or tapping. The rollers are located in the backrest and move up and down the track performing various massage techniques. Typically, these tracks extend from the neck to the tailbone. However, some massage chairs feature extended tracks called "L-Tracks" that allow the rollers to move into the seat.
2D, 3D, and 4D Rollers
Today’s massage chairs feature a wide variety of roller technology from 2D all the way to 4D.
what does that mean exactly?
2D, 3D, etc. denotes the number of dimensional movements of the rollers. So, 2D rollers move in two ways: up and down and side to side. 3D rollers add the third movement of in and out, which protrudes the rollers from the track and gives you control over the depth of your massage. And finally, 4D incorporates all of the above plus rhythm, which mimics the dynamic pressures and speeds of a therapist.
To extend the coverage of massage beyond the areas the rollers can reach, massage chairs use airbags. Airbags are often found around the shoulders, hips, thighs, buttock, arms, hands, calves, and feet depending on the model. And some massage chairs even offer air massage for the head like the Osaki OS 7075R.
Airbags typically perform compression massage which squeezes and releases an area to stimulate the skin and increase circulation. However, many massage chairs incorporate advanced air techniques like twists, stretching, and swinging. Some massage chairs even combine both roller and air massage in their automatic programs to perform a comprehensive treatment of the whole body.
Let’s illustrate a few advanced air massage techniques you can find on massage chairs…
Full Body Stretching
The Kahuna LM6800 is an affordable and highly-rated L-Track massage chair that offers a signature full-body stretch program called Yoga.
During the Yoga program, airbags around your shoulders and calves inflate to hold your body in place. Then, the chair reclines and inclines to gently stretch the muscles while rollers move up and down the back of your body.
While many massage chairs offer full-body stretching, few offer targeted stretching like the Panasonic EP-MA73. On the EP-MA73, there are stretch programs for the neck, chest, hips, and legs. These programs can be activated individually or all together.
Perhaps the most notable program is the neck stretch. The is because the Panasonic EP-MA73 uses patented roller technology that actually extends the rollers out over the shoulders to massage the sides on the neck and top of the trapezius muscle, which few other massage chairs can do.
During the neck stretch, the rollers gently grab the neck while airbags in the seat inflate and deflate to produce an elongating stretch of the upper spine and neck.
Another way massage chairs help promote pain relief is through traction. Traction is a method of stretching to realign the spine to increase space between the vertebrae. Individuals with pinched nerves or slipped discs will often use tractioning devices to remove pressure from the spine.
A massage chair that can perform this type of advanced therapy is the Inada DreamWave. The DreamWave uses a patented cervical traction device that sits at the top of the backrest. The horseshoe-shaped device wraps around the head and it’s tips sit on top of the shoulders. When activated, airbags in the device inflate to press the shoulders away from the head to create a gentle tractioning of the cervical spine.
Massage Chair Health Benefits
While different massage chairs offer different benefits depending on their technology, there are four main health benefits you can expect from any high-quality therapeutic model. Let’s take a closer look at the health benefits of massage chairs...
Releases Muscle Tension and Tightness
The natural reaction to pain is to not experience it. The same is true for body pain. When you have a sore or painful area, you try to avoid using it by relying on other muscle groups to compensate. The problem with this is the tendency to overwork those other muscles, while the underworked muscles can become weak. When a misalignment occurs, it can begin to affect other areas of the body and eventually lead to more pain.
One of the main health benefits of massage chairs is that they gently manipulate and knead the muscles to loosen them up and release tightness so that they can come back into their natural alignment.
Increases Local Circulation
When you’re not using a body area because it’s painful, not only can it become weak but it can suffer from poor circulation.
A massage chair combats this by actually increasing the local circulation. When a massage chair manipulates the muscles, it draws vital oxygen and damage-repairing nutrients into the area and removes stagnant buildup.
Improves Flexibility and Mobility
During a massage, your body essentially goes through a “warm up” to release tension. Once this tension is released and proper circulation is restored, the body naturally experiences greater levels of flexibility and mobility.
Some massage chairs feature technology that specifically focuses on increasing mobility, for example, the Inada DreamWave. The DreamWave uses patented seat swinging technology that lifts the body and then shifts it from side to side to gently activate and mobilize the lower back.
It’s like having a massage therapist to gently twist your hips. This technology is particularly helpful for individuals with low back pain who can’t easily stretch the area without assistance.
Another massage chair that’s specifically designed to help with flexibility is the Inada Flex 3S, which features shoulder stabilization technology for better posture and a variety of stretch programs designed by sports stretching expert, Tadashi Kaneko.
Reduces Stress, Depression, Anxiety
While it may seem that massage is primarily physical, studies have shown that massage therapy has promising results in significantly reducing both anxiety and depression.
While some health professionals attribute some of massage therapy’s psychological benefits to the power of human touch itself. The stress-reducing effects of massage from a chair are evidenced by the overwhelming number of user-generated reviews on the topic.
The fact that massage is such a powerful stress reducer is a key to its overall therapeutic application since many specific health conditions are caused, amplified, or prolonged by stress.
Check out our full article about how a massage from a chair compares to a therapist.
How to Get the Most Massage Chair Health Benefits
Like we mentioned above, not all massage chairs offer the same (or same level) of therapeutic benefits. So how you know you’re investing in an effective therapeutic model? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. We’ve outlined a few guidelines to follow when researching massage chairs…
Jokes aside, it is important to select your massage chair brand wisely to ensure you not only get a quality product but a quality pre- and post-sales experience. To learn more about massage chair brands, check out our full article on the most popular and well-known brands.
Like we touched on above, there are three types of roller movement: 2D, 3D, and 4D. For the most therapeutic massage, we recommend going with, at least, a 3D massage chair.
Because 3D rollers let you control how deep the rollers penetrate into the muscles, which is good for gentle and deep-tissue massage enthusiasts alike.
Another roller aspect to consider is the number of heads. High-quality massage chairs typically have two or four heads. Two heads tend to give a more pointed, focused massage, while four heads give a more diffused, wider massage.
Track type is an important aspect to consider because it determines the range of the rollers. There are two main types: S-Tracks and L-Tracks.
S-Tracks are “S” shaped to replicate the natural curve of your spine. They typically extend from the neck to the tailbone.
Like we mentioned above, L-Tracks are extended tracks and go into the seat of the chair. It’s important to note that all L-Track massage chairs are also S-Track massage chairs, so they have an S-Track in the backrest and an L-Track that continues into the seat.
When it comes to selecting between the two, the question comes down to where do you need treatment? For example, if you suffer from sciatica, you might want to consider an L-Track as it treats the glutes.
Learn more about the best massage chairs for sciatica in this article.
Emerging Track Type
While there are two main types of tracks, Ogawa recently introduced a new track type altogether called the "SuperTrac". The SuperTrac acts as an S-Track when in the upright position and like an L-Track in the reclined position. So, when you’re reclined the rollers move all the way into the seat of the chair, but they only do so in the reclined position.
So what’s the benefit of this?
The benefit is that you can fully recline into what Ogawa calls the “bed position.” It’s like laying on a bed with massage rollers under you. The Ogawa Active SuperTrac is the only massage chair that allows you to recline parallel to the ground with seat rollers.
What About the Feet?
Since roller and track type don’t affect the lower body, you may be wondering… what if you have a leg condition or sore feet?
Typically, massage chairs that offer foot massage do so with one of two components: acupressure nodes or spinning rollers.
Acupressure nodes are stagnant rubber nodes that stick up into the bottoms of the feet to treat "acupoints". Since they don’t move, they apply pressure to the same areas of the feet each time. The benefit of acupressure nodes is that they’re often less vigorous than foot rollers, which can also be a downside.
Foot rollers, on the other hand, spin and knead under the feet. They’re often powerful, but a pair of thick socks is an easy way to lessen the pressure. Depending on the massage chair model, some foot rollers are customizable and have multiple speed settings.
Additionally, most massage chairs that offer foot massage also have airbags for the feet. Typically, the airbags line the ottoman compressing the calves and feet when they inflate.
But one massage chair company, Human Touch, opts out the use of airbags in ottomans, instead uses a patented technology called "FigureEight CirQlation". This technology uses rubber paddle massagers to treat the calves. Rather than inflating and deflating like airbags, the paddle massagers move in a figure-eight motion from to promote the flow of blood toward the heart.
To learn more about Human Touch’s FigureEight CirQlation technology, check out our review of the Human Touch 8.0 Bali massage chair.
Health Benefits of Body Massage Breakdown
Today, there are a ton of massage chairs on the market, many of which are from no-name brands that are sold through online retailers or expos only. The problem with many of these companies is that they don’t stay in business long or have gray area return policies and customer service support — both of which are proven to be bad for health.
Are Massage Chairs Good for Health Final Thoughts
Like massage therapy from a person, massage from a chair can offer you many health benefits. But the quality and level of those benefits are dependent upon the type of chair that you choose.
If you stick with a high-quality model from a reputable brand that’s specifically designed for health and wellness, you should have no problem finding one that fits your health needs.
We hope our article gave you a better understanding of the health benefits of massage chairs and helped you get a step closer to reaching your wellness goals.