How to Pick a Robotic Shiatsu Massage Chair As a Daily Massage Therapy Alternative

Massage therapy provides relief to people from all walks of life… the weekend athlete, the home gardener, the over-stressed executive, secretaries, waitresses, laborers… virtually anyone can feel a need for massage therapy.

Research studies conducted in the United States, Europe, and Asia have documented that massage therapy has an impressive range of physical, mental, and emotional benefits including, but not limited to reducing the effects of stress, relaxing tense muscles, increasing blood circulation, decreasing chronic pain, strengthening the immune system, improving nerve functioning, benefitting sleep, and improving skin tone.

The problem with massage is simply getting them. At typical massage therapy prices of $60 per hour one massage per week ends up costing $3,120 per year… year after year. For people with chronic problems like back pain, arthritic pain, poor circulation in the extremities, and chronic stress, one massage a week is just not sufficient to produce desired therapeutic effects… and the $15,600 annual price tag of 5 day per week massages it out of the question for most people.

A viable solution for people who want or need regular massage therapy is the robotic massage chair. They have the power to bring the health benefits of regular massage therapy directly into your home. Robotic massage chair technology has come a long way in the last several years. While no robotic massage chair matches the benefits received from a skilled human massage therapist, many chairs achieve amazing results by electronically and mechanically simulating the actual hand movements of Swedish, deep tissue, and Shiatsu massage therapists. It’s almost like having your own resident personal massage therapist.

There are many different mechanical devices that claim the title of massage chair. That means consumers need to be cautious because it’s very important to get a chair with the right features. It’s possible to get too few features, but also too many features.

There are a couple of massage chair devices that you should stay away from. At the lowest end of the spectrum are the massage cushions that slip over an existing chair. Some simply vibrate, others have what they call a “shiatsu” massage, and both varieties may have heat. From a therapeutic viewpoint, these types of devices are worthless. There is one minor exception. Some that can work off the cigarette lighter or accessory outlet in a car can provide some benefits to circulation on long auto trips. One level above the slip over massage cushions are vibrating chairs. All they do is vibrate. These are also not particularly useful from a therapeutic view.

The chairs that are worth considering are like super-recliners. There are many different features available and the key to getting a good chair is to get one with the features that you really need. Focus on the chair’s ability to give a good massage. Forget the high end chairs with stereo speakers built in. It’s fancy, but not therapeutic and it adds to the cost of the chair. Also forget the chairs with built in heating. Usually, the heat from these chairs is not sufficient to really get much therapeutic benefit. A better approach is to purchase a separate professional heating pad used by massage therapists. They are available at any good online massage supply shopping site.

Japanese massage chairs typically feature vibration, rolling, kneading, and knocking for the back. Vibration is self-explanatory and is the least useful. Kneading simulates the thumbs of a massage therapist rotating in circular motions on the two muscles that are on either side of the spine. Knocking is like having someone gently tapping on your back to eliminate both stiffness and muscle fatigue. Rolling simulates the hands of a Swedish massage therapist’s hands moving on your back. Pick a chair that has a control panel that lets you control the speed and/or pressure in these back massage techniques. If back pain is a challenge for you, then select a chair that has a back scanning feature. With this feature, the chair will automatically scan up and down your back at the beginning of the massage cycle to determine the exact shape of your back. That allows the chair to provide a back massage tailored to the unique shape of your back. If you do not have back problems, then you may wish to not include this feature because the scanning feature tends you move you up into a slightly higher price bracket.

Many robotic chairs claim to have a life-like Shiatsu massage capability. It’s really not true. If you have ever had a massage from a well-trained Shiatsu therapist you should not have the expectation that any chair can really get close to that. Even so, the Shiatsu-like features of good chairs can provide excellent stimulation and energy flow to the spine. There is no doubt that the chairs will relieve stress and promote better health. The Shiatsu-like robotic movements are among the best features in most chairs.

Another feature to look for in chairs with the back scanning technology is the ability to do over the shoulder massage. That means that the mechanisms in the chair actually slightly roll over the top of the shoulders. It really is great for getting rid of that staring at the computer terminal all day shoulder tension.

Good massage chairs also provide massage for the calves using an airbag technology. The air bags inflate and deflate in succession to simulate the hands of a massage therapist’s hands moving along your legs with constant motion toward the heart. This is excellent for anyone with leg circulation problems. It most definitely increases circulation in the legs. However, there are two important things to look for. First, the number of independently inflating air bags makes a difference. More air bags tends to enhance the simulation of an actual therapist. Of course, the price increases with more airbags. Do not consider a chair with a small number of airbags. Shop around. Second, some chairs have airbags on just one side of the leg. So the feeling is like the leg is being squeezed against a cushioned board on one side. Airbags should be on both sides of the legs for maximum therapeutic benefit. The chair should let you adjust the amount of pressure applied by the airbags.

Air bags can also be used for the feet, thighs, and butt. The same considerations apply to the feet as to the calves. Go for a minimum of six airbags for the feet. The thighs and bottom will only have airbags applied to the back of the legs and bottom. There is no way to apply it to the top part of the thigh. Don’t overlook these features, particularly if you have leg circulation problems.

Robotic chairs typically have several different pre-programmed massage cycles that you can select from. There has been a battle in the industry to claim the most different automatic sequences. In point of fact, though, the number of pre-programmed cycles is not that important. These pre-programmed cycles are great for an overall massage, but if you have problem areas what you really want is the ability to create your own massage sequences. For example, you may want to focus on the lower back and the feet. Look for chairs that allow you to store at least 10 of your own sequences. The more features that you can control like speed, pressure, style of massage, and duration and the more parts of the body that you can independently target like the upper back, lower back, thighs, and feet, the more you will enjoy storing your own custom tailored massage sequences.

Consider a few of the “nice to have” features. All good robotic chairs have motorized operation of the reclining mechanism. Look for chairs that allow you to independently control the back and leg reclining mechanisms.

These robotic chairs typically weigh 250 – 300 pounds. So make sure the chair is on rollers so that it can be moved around easily. Some will even fold down so that they can be easily rolled away and stored. Honestly, these chairs are so comfortable, even when they are not providing a massage, that it seems strange that anyone would actually want to store it somewhere, but the rollers are pretty important when it comes time to vacuum.

Finally, keep in mind that if you have a genuine therapeutic need for regular massage you can probably get your doctor to write a prescription for a robotic chair and it’s very possible your insurance will pick up part or all of the cost of the chair.

And speaking of cost, expect the retail price of good robotic massage chairs to be in the $3,000 to $6,000 retail price range. To get the best prices look online. There you will find the same chairs in the $1,300 to $2,000. Don’t forget that shipping on these chairs to anywhere in the continental USA is about $200, so pay attention to whether or not shipping is included.

If you get the right chair, you and your family will experience years of enjoyment… unless, of course, you end up fighting over who gets to use the chair next.