Do Massage Chairs Really Work? Features, Benefits, and Types of Massage Chairs

Do Massage Chairs Work
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A massage is one of the most relaxing methods of self-care. Getting to a massage therapist can be hard to coordinate around a busy life, though. Massage chairs give you the full spa treatment from the comfort of your own home. But they can be expensive investments. But do massage chairs really work? Are they worth the hype? 

What Is A Massage Chair?

Massage chairs are exactly what they sound like: chairs that give you a massage while you sit in them. Usually, massage chairs are plush and padded for additional comfort. Some recline or even let you fully lie down, while others only sit straight up. They come in all shapes and sizes and offer different forms and intensities of massage. 

How Do Massage Chairs Really Work?

Yes, but performance varies from chair-to-chair. If you’re looking for a massage chair that really works, you need to understand how they work. Modern-day massage chairs use one of two methods: rollers or airbags.

Airbag. This massage chair utilizes airbags connected to a central computer that tells them when to inflate and deflate. Essentially, the intensity of your massage will be proportional to how fast and how much air each bag receives. An airbag that fills up extremely fast will exert a lot of massaging force on the body. By inflating and deflating the airbags at different speeds and tempos, massage chairs can simulate many types of massage techniques. You’ll find them around the neck, arm, and leg portions of the chair. With a press of a button, they’ll inflate and apply pressure.

Keep in mind the force applied to your muscles. You don’t want the airbags to get too tight, as that may become uncomfortable surprisingly quickly. You also don’t want them to be too loose because they won’t get the job done. Some airbags can heat up to additionally soothe muscles. Either way, you’ll want to make sure the airbags are durable. It may be worth finding out if there’s a way to replace airbags if they break.

Roller. A roller-type massage chair relies on several gears, motors, rollers, and sometimes vibrating mechanisms to work their magic. Manufacturers have become pretty clever with their designs, finding ways for the rollers to mimic different massage types. For example, you can get a chair that does the rolling, tapping, kneading, gripping, or shiatsu technique. With some of the most expensive chairs, you may be able to switch between all of them and decide which you like best.

These rollers and balls come in different shapes and forms, and different chair brands make them in various ways. The most important factor to inspect is the level of comfort you get from them. Some rollers feel too strong, while others are too soft. You might find rollers and balls that feel sharp or move too fast. Make it a habit to sit down and test a chair before buying. Check if the pressure and motion feel good and relaxing. If you feel pain or discomfort, move on to the next chair.

What Are the Types of Massages?

Woman getting a standard massage
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There are a few main types of massage that you’ll find in spas, and most chairs will be able to perform at least a few of them:

  • Swedish massage
  • Shiatsu
  • Kneading
  • Rapid Percussion
  • Rolling
  • Pressure

A Swedish massage is the most common form of massage therapy. This is the basic kind of therapy you get when you walk into a spa. It involves gentle rubbing and intermittent application of deep pressure. Shiatsu, on the other hand, involves applying pressure on the body’s acupuncture points. It can feel a little rough and painful for those not used to this kind of therapy. The best massage chairs start their Shiatsu therapy slowly before building up the amount of pressure applied.

Kneading, rolling, and rapid percussion therapies make full use of a massage chair’s built-in rollers and balls. They involve slow and deep applications of pressure to target different muscle groups. Pressure therapy uses airbags to emulate the level of muscle compression you get from real, human hands. This is useful for people in need of massage therapy for their neck, arms, and legs.

What Are the Benefits of Massage Chairs?

1

Health Benefits

Massage chairs offer all the same benefits you’d get from a regular massage: stress relief, improved circulation and soothed aches and pains. Massage is also associated with boosts in mental health. 

2

Get a Massage at Home

One of the most significant selling points to getting a massage chair versus just seeing a massage therapist is that you can use your massage chair from home. You don’t have to schedule an appointment because your masseur is in the other room! 

3

Enjoy Longer Massages

Since your massage chair is yours, you aren’t limited to an hour-long session like you would be if you went to a massage therapist or spa. You can sit in your chair for as long as you like.

4

Multitask While You Relax

You’re at home, and your masseur isn’t someone you have to interact with or take into consideration. You can do pretty much whatever you want while you’re getting your massage. You could watch a movie, read a book, or even get some work done, all while having the stress kneaded from your shoulders. 

5

Fine-Tune Your Massage

Quality massage chairs also give you more control over things like how intense your massage is, and what areas it focuses on. You can have a deeper pressure on the knots in your shoulders and a lighter touch on your more sensitive lower back (or the complete opposite – whatever you need!).  

6

They’re Cost-Effective

On top of all the fun reasons why massage chairs are great, they can also save you money in the long run. The average cost of a massage is about $60 for an hour. Plus, you have to factor in a $5 to $20 tip, depending on your experience. If you were to get just one massage a week for an hour-long duration, plus tips, you’d spend around $60,000 in a year.

Massage chairs (usually) don’t cost nearly that much. If you’re willing to spend more money up-front to buy your own massage chair, you can have as many massages as you’d like – whether that’s twice a week, three times a week, or three times a day! The price of each massage goes down the more you use your chair. 

7

Durability

After running the numbers, you can begin to understand why people invest a lot of money in a fancy massage chair. These chairs last 5 years or longer. Some of the best ones have warranties for 10 years or more. Of course, you can use the massage chair as long as you want. There are no additional fees for 2 hours versus 1 hour. Not to mention, they don’t get tired or complain like your significant other might after a lousy 20 minutes.

8

Upgrade Your Furniture

A few scenarios make it easier to justify the cost of one of the luxury models. If you were already planning on buying a new recliner, you might want to opt for a reclining massage chair instead. In this scenario, it is like you get two birds with one stone. You’ll get a comfy reclining chair for watching TV. Plus, you can switch that baby on whenever your body is aching for a gentle (or vigorous) massage.

What Are the Types of Massage Chairs?

There are dozens of variations of massage chairs. Some have plenty of extra features and all the bells and whistles, while others may specialize in one category. Fancier models can cost well over $1000, and you can find budget models for only a few hundred. 

Massage Chair Pads

Woman Enjoying the Use of a Massage Chair Pad
Image by Stefan Dahl / Canva Photos

While there aren’t any truly cheap massage chairs, the most affordable options are massage chair pads. These are placed on any old chair or couch to convert it into a massage chair. Massage chair pads have somewhat of a bad reputation regarding quality and durability. However, with today’s tech, there are plenty of models out there worth their snuff. Plus, massage chairs are basically portable massage chairs, because you can take them with you pretty much anywhere.

Standard Massage Chairs

Two women using Standard Massage Chairs together
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There is a big difference between “back massage chairs” and “massage chairs” when searching for products online. Most search engines will associate the back massage chair with those pads that you put on an existing chair. These are much less expensive than a full body massage chair and usually under $200. So keep this in mind when shopping.

This is one of the biggest decisions you’ll need to make. If money is a big factor, you’ll probably want to stay away from the massage chairs and look for a more affordable pad-type piece of equipment. However, there are some middle-ground chairs ($200-$500ish) that may not get every inch of your body but still hit the problem areas for most folks that we will be taking a look at in our review section.

Full-Featured Massage Chairs

Two unused Full-Featured Massage Chairs in a room
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Full body massage chairs are the pinnacle of relaxation equipment for at-home use. These chairs have slots for arms, hands, legs, and the rest of the body. One of the top-rated massage chairs provides users with the equivalent of 1200 square inches of massaging goodness. That means you can get a massage from your head to your toes.

Some of these chairs may also have some type of heating technology. As you’d expect, these bad boys are pricey, starting at about $1500, and can go way up from there.

Shiatsu Massage Chairs

Man Getting a Shiatsu massage
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The Shiatsu chair massager has borrowed the name from the traditional Japanese Shiatsu technique of massage. Shiatsu translates to “finger pressure.” In Shiatsu massage, thumbs, elbows, knees, feet, and hands apply pressure to pressure points of the body. These pressure points are known as meridians in eastern medicine.

Shiatsu advocates assert that it can heal the body, spirit, and even emotional issues. Whether or not that’s true, Shiatsu is a popular term used by marketers of massage chairs to draw in more customers. This is mostly a sales technique, though sometimes Shiatsu massage chairs incorporate a system that mimics the Shiatsu technique with rollers.

Like other massage chairs, these use some type of airbag or power roller system which targets key pressure points of the body, such as the lower back. Full body shiatsu massage chairs will hit all the major pressure points of the body. 

Reclining Massage Chairs

Woman enjoying a Reclining Massage Chair
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If you’re going to go the whole nine yards with a massage chair, you might as well get one of the massage recliner chairs. Just like a big plush recliner, most of the nicer massage chairs have a recline feature. This is the equivalent of laying down on a massage table at a professional spa in the comfort of your own home.

The key differentiating factor of reclining massage chairs is manual versus automatic recline. If you don’t want to bother with reaching and pulling a lever (we get exhausted just thinking about it), you may want to consider an automatic massage recliner chair.

Massage Office Chairs

Two Office Massage Chairs at a desk
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Massage office chairs offer a similar level of massage to a standard massage chair or massage chair pad, but in the design of an office chair. With all the working from home we’re doing nowadays, this is a tempting concept. However, even those in the office will appreciate having the tension kneaded out of them while they stare at the screen.

Zero Gravity Massage Chairs

Young Woman using a Zero Gravity Massage Chair
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If you’ve been poking around doing some research on massage chairs, zero gravity is a term that may have come up a few times. Zero Gravity is a technology invented by NASA. Imagine an astronaut when they are in that special reclined chair during launch.

This position elevates the legs slightly above the heart. It is a technology some massage chairs have incorporated into their design. Zero gravity massage chairs will simultaneously increase relaxation of the neck and back, enhance lung function, eliminate pressure on the spine, and increase blood circulation due to the horizontal position. All of these things increase your overall well-being and give your massage longer-lasting benefits.

What Are the Main Features of a Massage Chair?

Two Massage Chairs with Distinguished Features
Image by Amirul Syaidi / Canva Photos

With so many different types of massage chairs out there, there are just as many features to choose from. You’ll have to decide which ones are important to you and which just aren’t worth shelling out the extra cash for.

1

Massage Type

The most important part of your massage chair is the kind of massage it gives. It’s a good idea to test out the different types of massage chairs to figure out which one you like best. 

2

Massage Settings

Most massage chairs will come with at least a few pre-set massages that you can run through. Some might focus on the upper shoulders, while others focus on the lower back. Since they’re meant to be one-size-fits-all, these pre-set massages may not work well for you. It’s always a good idea to try out a massage chair and its settings prior to purchase. 

Some massage chairs will have fully-adjustable settings, so you can create your own custom massage. These are arguably the best kinds of massage chairs, because you can get the most benefit from each session.

3

Massage Intensity

Massage intensity is important to keep in mind as well. A gentle massage may feel nice, but it isn’t going to work that stress knot out. 

Some massage chairs let you increase or decrease intensity, but it’s still important to try these out ahead of time. If there are default intensity settings (like low, medium, and high), it’s possible that one or all may not work for you. 

This becomes even more important to consider when you have several people at home who might use the chair. Have elderly family members or children in your home? Each one has a different tolerance level when it comes to massage intensity. Make sure there’s a setting or level of intensity that works fine for everyone, including yourself.

4

Control

In relation to increasing or decreasing intensity, you’ll also want to check if the chair gives you a full range of control. Can you control the airbags individually? How hard is it to recline your back or feet? How hard is it to put everything back after reclining or after using the airbags?

Make sure you can control the speed of the massages. Also, check if you can stop any of the massage sessions with a press of a button. You don’t want to get stuck in your chair, especially if the massage setting is painful or uncomfortable.

For chairs with remote control, is there still a built-in panel? This is important because you’ll want to control your chair if you lose the remote, or if the remote runs out of battery. A built-in panel prevents your chair from becoming one big, expensive brick. 

If there’s a built-in memory system, can you program your own massage combinations? Can you set the chair to perform a Swedish massage followed by Shiatsu session every time you press a button, or do you have to do it manually each time?

5

Size

Size is important for many reasons. First, you want to make sure you fit in the chair. If you’re over 6-foot, you may need something a little longer. On the other hand, if you’re on the shorter end of the spectrum, an average-sized chair might end up abusing your neck rather than kneading your shoulders. Don’t forget to consider weight capacity, too.

6

Style

Massage chairs are generally big, bulky, and put function before fashion. It’s more important to pick a massage chair that actually feels good and massages well than one that matches your home décor. That said, the material of your massage chair is a big factor to consider. Leather, synthetics, and fabrics are the most common upholstery on these kinds of chairs, and they all have their merits. The best material will depend on your personal preferences. Some people like the soft, buttery touch of leather, while others feel like it glues to their skin and chafes. 

7

Design

A common misconception about massage chairs is that they belong in the living room. While that may be nice, because that’s where the TV usually is, this doesn’t always work out due to the design of massage chairs. As we said, they are usually big and bulky, so they might not fit in your living room alongside your normal couch. Massage chairs that offer neck, back, and leg reclining can’t be placed in a corner or against a wall, because they need to lean back. Massage chairs with feet extenders can’t have anything too close in front of them, like a coffee table.

8

Durability and Customer Service

Before buying massage chairs, consider how durable the product is. This is where customer reviews are essential in the buying process.

Two things come hand-in-hand: durability and the quality of customer service. Do these massage chairs last for a long time? How well do they hold up after repeated use and hours of sitting? If you’re getting at least 3 years of use, you’re getting your money’s worth. Most furniture can last much longer, but that’s because they don’t come with the extended features a massage device introduces

The most important parts that have to hold up the longest include:

  • Neck rest
  • Bottom cushion
  • Leg rest
  • Rollers and balls
  • Airbags
  • Electronics

What happens when these things do break down? Good customer service guarantees you’ll get repairs and maintenance done in a timely fashion. Bad service is when a company’s representatives drag you in circles or refuse to honor your warranty. For many businesses, customer service is a top priority, and this includes massage chair manufacturers. Don’t trust a company and its chairs if they don’t value your experience with their representatives.

9

Warranty

Do you need a warranty on everything you buy? If you’re buying something as expensive as massage chairs, the answer is a resounding yes! It’d be disastrous if you didn’t have a warranty and something happened to one of these high-end items. They cost a lot, and so do their repairs. Maintenance for something as bulky and complex as a massaging chair isn’t something to meddle with, and a warranty is a solution to this problem.

Most warranties only last between 3 and 5 years. Even then, they only cover repairs for specific parts of the chair. There may be instances where the warranty is still valid, but they won’t cover the repair costs because the damaged part isn’t included in the contract. Make sure to read the fine print and understand which parts and kinds of damages the warranty will cover.

Another aspect to check is if the warranty guarantees 100% coverage. Some sneaky warranty scams involve partial coverage. This means you’ll still have to shell out cash in case of a repair. Others don’t pay for repairs right away. Instead, the manufacturer reimburses you for the cash you spent. Make sure to read the contract because they might only pay a certain percentage.

10

Budget

Massage chairs are not cheap, and even the less expensive ones cost more than $300 – and that’s not to mention the cost of shipping the chair to your home, or having it put together. 

At the end of the day, only go for a chair that fits within your financial comfort zone. That said, you get what you pay for, and this philosophy works ten-fold in regards to massage chairs. The more expensive the chair, the more likely it will have all the features you could ask for. They’re more durable, more beautiful, and more likely to give you the type of massage you need.

Of course, not every expensive chair is a must-buy. Here’s a quick and simple technique to find the ideal chair that’s within your budget:

  • List your minimum and maximum budget
  • Check for chairs in that range
  • Note down the top 10 according to reviews
  • List down each chair’s features

This will narrow down your choices. You can then spend time thinking over which chair suits you according to both your needs and wants.

With these tips, it’ll be a breeze to find the best massage chairs that suit your budget and needs. That said, there are many out there on the market today. It can get overwhelming to look at all that’s on offer. Too many choices can be a bad thing, especially if it impedes you from making a sound decision. Don’t fret! Simply follow these tips and see if any of them hit the mark.

11

Extras

It’s surprising how important a cup holder can be. It can get annoying when you realize you need a drink, but you’re still in the middle of a massage session. Even if you have a drink, you need a cup holder to place it within reach. 

There are plenty of other bells and whistles available. Electric recliner chairs with heat and massage are essentially the whole package, giving you an all-around spa treatment. There are also riser recliner chairs with heat and massage that are height-adjustable!

Other extra features to look out for include:

  • Heated Massage
  • Recline
  • Head Rest
  • Extendable Footrest
  • Adjustable Armrest
  • Table/Work Surface
  • Wheels
  • Built-In Entertainment (Monitor, Screen, Audio Speakers, DVD Player, Wi-Fi, etc)

Further Reading

Best Hammock Chairs
9 Best Hammock Chairs: Indoor & Outdoor
Best Travel Yoga Mats
The Best Travel Yoga Mats
Best Yoga Wheels
5 Best Yoga Wheels
Best Hammocks
7 Best Hammocks
Best Yoga Straps
9 Best Yoga Straps
How to Use a Yoga Wheel
How to Use a Yoga Wheel in 8 Different Ways