There’s great variety when it comes to massage chairs, and it can be difficult to know what to look for. In our buying guide, we first look at who might benefit from a massage chair and then delve into the top considerations to make when purchasing a massage chair.
Who can benefit from a massage chair?
Massage chairs might seem like a luxury, but when you consider the variety of benefits they provide, a massage chair may feel more like a necessity. Massage chairs can help alleviate symptoms of a variety of conditions, including:
- Stress & Anxiety: Most can agree that massages are relaxing, but science actually backs this up. One study found that just five minutes of massage led to reduced heart rate and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. A massage chair is also a great option for anyone who wants the benefits of massage but is anxious about being touched by a stranger.
- Chronic Pain: Chronic pain is associated with a variety of health conditions. Massage chairs can provide relief from chronic pain by relieving muscle soreness and increasing blood flow. Chronic pain often results in trouble sleeping, which can in turn worsen the pain, and massage chairs can improve sleep quality.
- Sports Injuries: Sports injuries can lead to either acute or chronic pain in a specific area. Massage chairs let users target massage to that specific area. They have the added benefit of allowing you to massage your injury as often as needed.
- Diabetes: Some studies have shown that massage can help normalize blood glucose levels by increasing circulation. Diabetes can sometimes lead to nerve damage, or diabetic neuropathy, which can cause pain, numbness and tingling in certain areas. Massage chairs can help improve sensation in these areas.
- Cardiovascular Conditions: One of the top benefits of massage chairs is their ability to improve blood flow. Massage has also been shown to reduce heart rate, so using one can be beneficial to those with cardiovascular issues or anyone looking to improve cardiovascular health.
- Muscle Pain: Whether it’s from a physically demanding job or from hunching over a computer every day, our lifestyles often contribute to acute muscle pain. Using a massage chair regularly can help alleviate muscle soreness.
- Sleep Issues: Because of their ability to relieve pain, reduce stress and increase blood flow, massage chairs are known to help users sleep better.
What to Consider when Purchasing a Massage Chair
Size & Weight
Massage chairs tend to be larger than regular chairs, and additional features often mean bigger chairs. Be sure to check the product dimensions before purchasing a chair. Also keep in mind that many massage chairs recline, requiring extra space behind the chair. Many choose to place massage chairs in an office or bedroom, where there might be more space, rather than a living room.
Massage chairs can also be very heavy, so enlist help when moving it into place. More minimal chairs weigh around 50 pounds, but most weigh between 100 and 300 pounds.
It’s important to understand what massage styles are included in a massage chair before making a decision. After all, you don’t want to purchase one that’s not suited to your needs. Most massage chairs include options for multiple massage programs, but be sure to see what’s included. The most common massage styles are:
- Tapping: This massage style involves regular percussive movements on specific muscles to stimulate them. It’s meant to mimic a massage therapist using his or her fists and is great for increasing blood flow.
- Kneading: Kneading involves applying slow pressure, often in a circular motion. It works well for easing muscle tightness and pain.
- Shiatsu: This popular massage style involves applying targeted pressure to specific stress points in the body. Many chairs allow users to increase the pressure as they get used to the more intense feel of Shiatsu. The massage style is great for stress and pain relief, and traditional Shiatsu is believed to restore energy flow.
- Rolling: This style relies on massage chair rollers and provides pressure all along a certain part of the body. It can help relieve tension and muscle soreness.
- Compression: Most chairs utilize airbags that inflate and deflate to provide pressure on certain muscle groups. It’s often used in tandem with other massage styles to relieve muscle tightness.
- Stretching: Some chairs come with a stretch feature, sometimes called yoga stretch. The chair physically moves to stretch certain muscle groups, which can be especially helpful after a workout.
Massage chair rollers also come in one of two configurations. Those on an S-track are arranged along your spine, while an L-track includes rollers near the glutes and hamstrings. If you primarily have back pain, an S-track might be sufficient, but if you experience soreness in your lower body, you may want to opt for an L-track.
Massage chairs vary greatly in the features they include. Be sure to check out everything a massage chair has to offer and also consider what’s important to you. A certain feature may be impressive, but if you’re not going to use it, it’s just unnecessarily adding to the price tag. The most common features include:
- Reclining: Many massage chairs also recline, which contributes to a more relaxing experience for many users. It’s more similar to lying on a massage table.
- Zero-Gravity: Some chairs feature a zero-gravity recline, which is a position inspired by NASA research. It’s meant to distribute weight evenly across the chair. Some even position your legs above your heart to allow your heart rate to decrease.
- Intensity Settings: Different individuals have different tolerance levels for massage intensity. Many chairs allow you to increase or decrease intensity, depending on your preference and needs.
- Speed Settings: You may want a slow, deep massage one day and quick tapping the next. Massage chairs with different speed settings allow you to customize the feel based on your preferences.
- Auto Settings: Many chairs come with programmed massages that incorporate one or more massage styles. Some target specific areas while others are designed for a full-body experience.
- Manual Setting: You may also want the option to customize your massage experience or focus on a specific part of the body. Manual settings allow you to do so.
- Heat: Some massage chairs feature heat therapy, which works in tandem with massage to relax muscles.
- Vibration: In addition to rollers, some chairs feature vibration, which is usually found in the seat region to provide a massage to the glutes and legs.
- Body Scan Technology: Higher-end chairs sometimes include body scan technology, which provides the ultimate in customized massages. Body scan technology uses infrared sensors that read where your body touches the chair and customizes your massage based on your body type.
- Bluetooth Speakers: If you’d like to listen to music or podcasts through your chair, you might want to opt for one with bluetooth speakers to use with your bluetooth-enabled device.
- MP3 Player: Some chairs feature a built-in MP3 player and speakers so you can listen to your favorite music while you relax.
- Remote Control: A remote control enables you to easily change your massage program even if you’re fully reclined.
- Auto Off: Many chairs will automatically shut off after a massage program is completed, which is a good idea as using the chair for too long might bruise your muscles.
Some massage chairs focus solely on the back, while others provide a full body massage. If you primarily suffer from back and neck pain, then a traditional chair may be perfect for you. If you’re an athlete or on your feet a lot, you may want a chair that targets other parts of your body. Some use airbags and/or rollers to massage legs and feet. Others include rollers that target muscles on the side of your head, which can provide excellent stress relief.
Massage chairs are typically safe to use, but it’s important to keep some tips in mind. First, too much of a good thing does apply to massage chair use. Limit your use to short sessions, around 15 to 30 minutes, once or twice a day to avoid overworking or bruising your muscles. Be sure to supervise children or elderly individuals when they’re using the chair. Also ensure that the chair is positioned so that no one will trip over the electric cord.
If you’re pregnant, there are special considerations. Massage chairs are safe for those with normal, healthy pregnancies but should be avoided if you have a high-risk pregnancy. Either way, check with your health care provider before using a massage chair while pregnant. Don’t use the heat feature while pregnant and avoid Shiatsu massage as deep tissue massage tends to be advised against during pregnancy.
Warranty & Return Policy
Most massage chairs come with a three-year limited warranty, though these can vary between one and five years. Be sure to look closely at warranty terms so you’re not left with an expensive repair or replacement on your hands. Many vary in what they will cover in each year of a warranty. They will commonly cover parts and labor in the first year, parts in the second year and the main structural frame in the third year. Warranties typically cover defects and not normal wear and tear.
Many massage chairs come with a 30-day return window, but check to see if you’re expected to cover shipping costs. Because massage chairs are large, shipping them back can be expensive.