There is nothing like a soothing, relaxing massage to improve circulation, reduce stress and relieve aching muscles. A busy schedule, plus ever-changing COVID-19 restrictions, may prevent you from visiting a massage therapist as often as you would like.
If you can relate, consider the option of a massage chair. The question is, are massage chairs worth it? In this quick guide, we cover the pros and cons, so you can make the best buying decision!
What is a Massage Chair?
The name is self-explanatory and through its special design, delivers the user a gentle or stimulating massage while reclined in a comfortable chair. The goal of a massage chair is to give you the next best thing to a hands-on massage in the privacy of your home.
A crude but original massage chair patent was filed in 1948 by Roland Labbe, while history points to the official launch of massage chairs in Japan, circa 1954, by Nobuo Fujimoto. Yet another pioneer in the massage chair movement was California massage therapist David Palmer, who introduced his “chair in a box” concept back in 1968.
Regardless of the patent holder, the basic idea was the same. The massage chair was invented to provide a way for people suffering from sore muscles or pain to get relief through massage therapy at home.
Modern Day Massage Chairs
Massage chairs have come a long way since the 50s and 60s, featuring targeted massage for the neck, back and legs, in addition to heat and various levels of vibration.
Throughout the years, massage chair designs have been tweaked and modified, and today, look very much like a somewhat bulky recliner or lounge chair. A massage chair needs to be big enough to cover as much of the body as possible. It needs to massage the primary points of pain and muscle aches, from the neck all the way down to the feet.
Who Uses Massage Chairs?
Massage chairs are favored among athletes, those suffering from chronic back or leg pain and for those who enjoy the massaging sensation for relaxation, reducing stress and better circulation.
Massage chairs also help soothe arthritis and the aches, pains, and fatigued muscles commonly experienced in older or elderly users. Those suffering from limited mobility can enjoy therapeutic massages without having to travel outside of the home.
Why a Massage Chair?
A massage chair helps you feel better mentally and physically by electronically recreating the movements of a professional, hands-on massage.
These massage movements are recreated by the use of mechanics, water, airbags, or a combination of these techniques. You can experience different types of massages such as kneading, rolling, tapping or even a Shiatsu massage, which works on specific pressure points in the back to alleviate pain and tightness.
Types of Massage Chairs
Full Body Massage Chairs
This chair does just what it says, which is to provide an all-over body massage. This is typically the most expensive chair choice because it massages the entire body. Based on your budget, the chair can be customized with options such as a stretching feature, air massage or zero gravity features or a smaller, space-saving design.
Heated Massage Chairs
Massage chairs with the heating option work well not only to massage, but uses soothing heat to treat tight, sore muscles.
Zero Gravity Massage Chairs
These types of chairs simulate the sensation astronauts feel when suspended in space with no gravitational pull. The position of the chair is excellent for those suffering from back pain because it takes all the pressure off the back during the massage. While it concentrates on all areas of the back, it also helps to improve posture.
How Massage Chairs Work
While massage chairs come with different options such as heat or zero gravity, there are also different design methods to deliver the massage. Here are some of the more popular mechanics and ways massage chairs work.
Mechanical Massage Chairs
The frame of a mechanical massage chair contains a series of motors, gears and rollers that can be programmed with a remote to create vibrations in different sections of the chair. Once the motor is activated, the gears kick in and initiate the rollers, which are what gives you the massage.
The gears and rollers are placed throughout the chair’s frame to massage areas such as the full body or specific areas such as the upper back, lower back, legs, and arms. Heating elements may also be included in higher-end models.
Hydro (Water) Massage Chairs
These massage chairs work much like a sturdier version of the waterbed, popular in the 1970s. The frame has a waterproof cushion under the upholstery which contains several water nozzles. The mechanics of this chair include an electric pump, heating/cooling system for the water and the nozzles.
When turned on, the pump and heating/cooling system activates, shooting bursts of temperature-controlled water through the nozzles, simulating a water jet massage. The user controls the strength of the water jets and water temperature.
Air Massage Chairs
These chairs focus primarily on the arms and legs. They use airbags which expand and contract around the arms and legs, placing gentle pressure on them for a few seconds and then releasing. This method of massage is used by massage therapists to loosen tight muscles.
Multiple airbags are powered by mini air compressors and regulate how much air is pumped into the airbags. The more air pumped into the airbag, the tighter the grip on sore muscles.
On higher-end models, multiple airbags/compressors are placed throughout the frame of the chair to massage different areas of the body, such as the seat and back.
Filling and decompressing the airbags quickly can give the sensations of tapping, rolling or kneading massages, but not as well as their mechanical counterparts.
Are Massage Chairs Worth It? Pros and Cons to Consider
Now that you know the backstory of massage chairs and how they work, consider both the pros and cons. Are massage chairs worth it? You decide.
Most massage chairs are the size of a big recliner or lounge chair. Finding enough space for the chair is important so it’s accessible for frequent use but doesn’t look awkward or crowd your living area.
As technology keeps advancing, massage chair design continues to improve. There are space saving models in addition to Ottoman-style massage chairs, which are smaller. The Ottoman-style chairs tend to be less expensive because the footrest is not attached to the chair and can be moved/stored to save precious living space.
Hands down, the biggest determining factor when thinking about a massage chair purchase is price. Because prices vary based on the size, features and type of chair, crunch the numbers on what you really need and match to your budget accordingly.
Massage chairs can run anywhere from about $800 to $5,000+, so it’s important to educate yourself as to the features of several chairs before making the investment.
The other important factor in your purchasing decision is determining how often you’ll be using the massage chair. The last thing you want to do is invest in even a moderately priced chair and use it sporadically or after a while, hardly at all.
For athletes and chronic pain sufferers, this isn’t typically an issue because the chair helps alleviate the day-to-day aches and pains.
Are massage chairs worth it? For the rest of us, it takes being totally honest about commitment level and past tendencies, which will help determine if it’s a worthwhile investment in the long run.
Massage Chair vs. Massage Therapist (or Chiropractor)
There are people who feel uncomfortable with others touching them, suffer physical pain from a deep tissue massage or are left sore from too much muscle manipulation.
For an all-over, lighter touch, a massage chair may be a better fit. Because you can adjust the levels of vibration, you can control the pressure of your massage. It’s also a great option for someone who feels uncomfortable with people touching them or fear an overly aggressive massage.
For those who suffer with painful or limited mobility, it saves the time and trouble of having to travel off-site for a massage.
Massage Therapist vs. Chiropractor
The difference between a massage therapist and a chiropractor is that massage therapy helps improve circulation, the flow of fluids in the body, loosens tight muscles and alleviates pain. A chiropractor is called in to promote the healing of hard tissues, joints, spinal injuries, and pain through the use of exercises and movements designed specifically to rehabilitate injuries.
A visit to a massage therapist can set you back about $60 per hour on average. Because massage therapists offer a wide array of services, it can cost more. In addition to performing deep tissue or focused massage to the neck, back or on sports injuries, massage therapy can also use other tools for spa-like relaxation such as essential oils, aromatherapy, and hot stones.
The average median cost for a chiropractor is $60-$65 per visit. Depending on where you live and the services you need, it can be much higher. Keep in mind that when treating or healing injuries or recurring muscle tightness or knots, it may take several visits to a chiropractor to work out the kinks, so to speak.
Both massage therapists and chiropractors offer the benefit of human contact and touch. This hands-on treatment approach gives practitioners the ability to zone in on parts of a sore body that a massage chair may not be able to reach.
Are Massage Chairs Worth It? Final Thoughts
While a massage chair may be considered a luxury item for some, it can also be considered an absolute necessity for anyone who suffers from frequent or chronic muscle and joint pain, especially in the all-too-common leg and back areas.
A massage chair is an investment in your overall improved health by providing a private, convenient method of relaxation, stress relief and most of all, a safe, effective way to reduce chronic pain and muscle aches.