There are tons of reasons to get a massage: from improved circulation and stimulation of the nervous system to pain reduction and getting better sleep. And for many, buying a massage chair is much more affordable in the long-term when compared to paying for regular massages.
But even if the cost is justified, massage chairs are expensive. And in order to evaluate the value of a massage chair, you need to know the important aspects massage chair technology and feature-sets.
Key Point: In this massage chair buying guide, we’ll explain how to find the right massage chair for your budget and your individual needs.
Are Massage Chairs Worth the Money?
First, let’s clear something up. Like massage itself, quality massage chairs are expensive. But massage chairs pay off in the long run, according to Giuseppe Aragona, M.D., for Prescriptiondoctor.com.
“Over time, you will see the return on investment as you are saving time and money that you would have spent on a massage therapist,” he tells RAVE Reviews.
And since massage chairs carry a hefty price tag, don’t scrimp on quality, says Shawn Lockery, M.D., for the medical website Nematrix.com,
“Stay away from cheaper chairs,” Lockery suggests, and prioritize comfort, since a massage chair should ideally be a one-time purchase.
“Today’s busy and hectic lifestyle doesn’t allow you to visit spas daily,” Lockery continues. “Buy a massage chair that will reduce your stress and take away knots and pain.”
Key Takeaway: While lower end massage chairs should be avoided, you can still find excellent options at an affordable rate that will be well worth the money.
Why You Need a Massage Chair
Because of their amazing technology, the best massage chairs will make an excellent addition to any smart home.
Need further convincing? Here are a few more reasons you need a massage chair pronto.
- You’ll be healthier: In addition to what we already mentioned, regular massage improves posture and helps with migraines, to name just some of the many health issues addressed by regular massage.
- Improved mental health: Frequent massage has also been shown to help with depression, anxiety, and stress. And lower stress is linked to all sorts of health benefits, including improved cardiovascular health and more energy.
- Boosted immune system: Furthermore, massage therapy boosts the strength of your immune system by stimulating the production of your body’s T cells, which are linked to fighting off viruses.
Now that you’re convinced daily massage is good for your health, the next big decision you’ll need to make is what kind of massage you prefer.
Yes, there are more kinds of massage than just the “feel good” kind.
All joking aside, different styles of massage produce different results and are better suited for specific health issues.
So, you’ll want a massage chair that offers the right type of massage for whatever’s ailing you, says Hannah Daugherty, certified personal trainer and health coach through the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) and the American Council on Exercise (ACE).
“Not all pain, tension, and discomfort are best suited for one particular type of massage,” she says.
Key Point: Find the right massage chair for you will involve deciding which style of massage works best for you and which features you value most.
Massage Chair Techniques
Let’s take a look at how different massage techniques support your mental and physical well-being.
The kneading massage technique means pressure is applied to the muscle by lifting with a circular upward motion.
“Kneading massage, commonly known as petrissage, is a rhythmic pressure massage that helps with tight muscles, stress, and flexibility,” says Allen Conrad, BS, DC, CSCS for Montgomery County Chiropractic Center in North Wales, Penn.
“The pressure is typically strong,” Daugherty adds, “and this allows the muscles to break up any tissue that might be hindering movement.”
“This is helpful for a stiff neck, back, and shoulder pain from prolonged sitting at a computer as well as whiplash and carpal tunnel syndrome,” he continues.
The skin-rolling massage style loosens skin, treating muscular tension for relaxation while also reducing pain, improving flexibility, and relieving overall muscle tightness.
With this technique, “the skin is rolled continuously,” Daughtery describes, “thus allowing any muscle fibers to unstick themselves from tissues that might cause pain.”
This makes rolling-style massage particularly effective for injuries like a torn ACL or for massage after surgery, Conrad confirms.
Based on the same principles as acupuncture, Shiatsu is a Japanese style of massage in which pressure is applied to certain parts of the body using only the hands of the massage therapist rather than needles.
“Shiatsu is a deep-tissue type of massage that is helpful for stress relief, consistent back pain, and tight muscles,” Conrad says. This is an effective technique for arthritis pain, headaches, sciatica, tennis elbow, and rotator cuff syndrome.
“The entire body can be massaged during Shiatsu,” Daugherty adds, but can be focused on certain limbs that need some TLC, relieving muscle tension and even reducing anxiety, she says.
Tapping style massage uses fists and fingertips to stimulate circulation and the flow of energy, while also releasing tension and emotion trapped in certain parts of the body.
“Tapping, also known as Tapotement, is a friction-type massage that involves slapping or cupping of the muscles, commonly during the last few minutes of a massage treatment,” Conrad says.
Tapping helps reduce anxiety and decrease negative emotions, Daugherty adds.
“You’ll feel an increase in your flexibility, with a boost of invigoration as well,” and this type of massage improves circulation, lymphatic conditions, and nervous system conditions like neuritis, Daugherty continues.
Reflexology focuses on the applying pressure to the hands and feet alone as a way to alleviate pain in other parts of the body.
In reflexology, “it is believed that you can access the body’s organ system by pressing reflex points to promote the body’s natural healing mechanism,” Tsao-Lin Moy, acupuncturist, Chinese medicine specialist, and founder/owner of Integrative Healing Arts tells RAVE Reviews.
Those reflex points are located primarily on the hands and feet but also the ears, and reflexology is an easy style of massage that patients can perform on themselves, Moy continues.
There you have it. So far we’ve learned that regular massage offers a whole host of health benefits, and while massage chairs are expensive, they’ll pay off in the long run.
How to Choose a Massage Chair
We know you’re anxious to begin shopping.
But before choosing a specific chair, you should learn as much as you can about the brand you’re considering.
Technical and Customer Support
Nobody wants to buy a massage chair only to have it breakdown right away. Before making a purchase, be sure you fully understand the brand’s customer service and technical support policies if something happens to go wrong.
Furthermore, find out as much as you can about the electrical and mechanical components the brand uses in their product and how quickly and easily those parts can be replaced.
We recommend carefully browsing customer reviews to see if customers notice any parts that consistently breakdown over time. Some components are easily replaced, others are not. Some massage chair features can stop working entirely if a single part malfunctions.
Innovation and Expertise of Massage Chair Brands
Can the brand you’re considering assure you its product was developed in part by doctors and chiropractors?
Does the brand utilize cutting-edge technology like the Human Hand Massage System, which is technology developed to replicate as closely as possible the hand of a real massage therapist?
And last, of course: What is the brand’s average price tag? Ask yourself whether this price tag matches the massage chair features and technology. The more expensive the massage chair, the more features you should expect.
Key Point: Whether you’re evaluating a massage chair brand or a specific massage chair, know your budget and stick to it as closely as you can. And make sure the massage chair justifies its price.
Massage Intensity and Speed
Once you’ve settled on the kind of massage you prefer, consider massage intensity and speed.
A chair with varying power and frequency is worth it because sometimes you just need a gentle soothing session, while other times, you might need something with a more deep tissue concentration, Aragona says.
Built-In Auto Programming
Next, make sure the chair offers built-in auto programming, targeting specific issues and areas of the body.
There’s nothing more disappointing than oversized massage chair that wastes time massaging places where you body isn’t. The best massage chairs use body mapping technology to automatically detect your body type and size.
Rollers or Vibrators
Another important thing to keep in mind when shopping for a massage chair is whether the chair uses rollers or simply uses vibration.
Vibration chairs are not as effective and often can’t provide adequate tissue penetration, according to Aragona.
“You should also consider the range of the roller track as well as the size of the rollers. Some will cover the whole back, while others are confined to the upper back,” he says.
But also be sure to check the speed and variability of the pulses, Lockery cautions.
We recommend purchasing a massage chair that combines both rollers and vibrators so that you can get the best of both worlds.
Some chairs have reclining options, which helps improve the massage experience. “For example, zero-gravity positioning takes more pressure off the spine,” Aragona says.
In addition, look for a massage chair with a comfortable and durable cover, and check how long it runs, both in terms of battery life but also how long it lasts under normal wear and tear, adds Lockery.
We recommend massage chairs which function as zero gravity recliners. You’ll be hard-pressed to find anything more relaxing.
4D Versus 3D Versus 2D Rolling Massage Chairs
One of the most interesting technological advances to happen in the massage chair industry is the development of 4D rollers.
Originally, massage chairs were 2D–meaning that the rollers were only able to move along an X and Y axis–or up and down.
More advanced massage chairs then began to implement 3D rolling technology which allows rollers to move in three directions–actually pushing into the body, which mimics the hand movements of a real masseuse giving a deep tissue massage.
The most advanced massage chairs have now begun to implement 4D rolling technology, which allows for different rollers to be moving at variable speeds and directions in unison. The 4D rolling massage chair algorithm was developed using 1000s of data from the world’s best masseuses.
Many believe this makes 4D massage chairs even more effective than a human massage therapist.
Massage chairs aren’t just for the back, says Aragona. “Some chairs will have the facility to massage the legs, arms, and head,” he says, and some are even heated.
Other extra features to look out for include auto height adjustment, a wireless remote, and even Bluetooth speakers.
Finding the Best Massage Chair
To summarize let’s review the most important factors involved in purchasing your massage chair:
Unfortunately, this is the first thing you must establish because with a lower budget, certain options might just be out of your reach. And even in the case of a mid-range budget you will likely still need to prioritize some features over others. Because high end massage chairs that offer ALL the features can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000.
- Massage Techniques
Different people prefer different massage techniques and so it’s important to first establish which techniques you’re most interested in. Mid-to-high end massage chairs will offer many pre programmed massages utilizing different techniques. Lower end massage chairs may only offer a few selections with little customization.
- Desired Benefits
While massage chairs undoubtedly provide a wealth of overall health benefits, some individuals will want to prioritize certain benefits over others. For instance, if you only want to work on your muscle tension or muscle stiffness, then you might find relief from an affordable massage pad which can be installed on an existing chair.
- Massage Positions
Recline options and zero gravity recliners are a must for some looking for the optimal massage experience. But the zero gravity recline feature in particular can be quite costly.
Now that you’ve read our massage chair buying guide, it’s time to find the best massage chair for you. To help you along, check out RAVE’s list of the best ranking massage chairs. You won’t be sorry!