Massage chairs are increasingly popular as modern life gets more hurried and work-life more frenzied. In spite of their cost, which ranges from about $800 to over $4000, sales of massage chairs have increased by almost 25% over the past three years, many of them higher-priced models. Harried working people seeking relaxation, armies of workers sore from hunching over computers for hours on end, and aging baby boomers have all fueled the increase in sales.
Every best massage chair attempts to mimic the trained hands of massage therapists and most emulate either or both of two massage techniques, the shiatsu method and the Swedish massage.
Shiatsu, a Japanese word meaning ‘finger pressure’, involves applying pressure along ‘meridians’, pathways of the body’s energy flow (ki), using fingers, palms, forearms and knees. It focuses on precise points but may be applied to large areas, thus it is sometimes called ‘acupressure’. A session lasts about forty minutes with the goal of releasing tension. Chairs that mimic Shiatsu employ technologies including varying sizes of nodes that mimic the human touch of a masseur or masseuse.
Swedish massage has been in use since the 1700’s when it was developed by Per Henrik Ling, a Swedish doctor. Its techniques involve sweeping pressure along muscles in the direction of the blood flowing back to the heart and include long strokes or ‘effleurage’, kneading or ‘petrissage’, vibration, friction, and other movements, all with the goal of improving circulation. Chairs that emulate the Swedish methods incorporate technologies that include rollers and heat.
There are numerous health benefits in using a massage chair. Users gain a sense of relaxation and a release from stress that contributes to mental well-being but is also a precursor to treating more serious problems. Muscles are more relaxed and flexible yet stimulated leading to better blood circulation and lymphatic flow. Relaxed muscles relieve pressure on sore joints and spine and increase flexibility allowing for more comfortable and safer movement. The most mentioned benefit is that it just feels so good.
Best massage chairs came into their own in the 1980’s when they were found in hotel rooms or, overseas, in public bathhouses, but the technology existing then primarily involved vibration and had serious shortcomings, specifically, they were designed one-size-fits-all. Today’s chairs are able to detect the size, weight and shape of the user and adjust its massage accordingly. Moreover, users can adjust the massage for intensity, time, and other features. Some chairs today offer reclining positions and leg rests or ottomans, and many feature stylish designs that would fit any decor.