Massage Chairs vs. Traditional Massage
There's no better massage than from a great, professional massage therapist. However, professional massages are expensive and take time from your day. The benefit of a massage chair is that you can get a massage any time, as long as you want, as much as you want. The quality isn't as good, but that isn't to say that massage chairs aren't effective - they can be extremely effective at relieving stress, getting rid of muscle spasms, increasing circulation, and increasing the quality of life.
Chair massages do have one benefit that you can't get from a traditional massage: zero-gravity. All of our top chair choices are zero-gravity because it's a great way to take pressure off of the spine and reduce the tension people can get from walking and standing a lot.
Another effective way to get a massage is to use a massage gun. The benefit of a massage chair is that with a massage gun, unless you have a partner using the gun, you have to control the gun. But with a massage chair, you can completely relax. I have a massage chair in my living room. I've asked many family members and friends if they want to sit in it. Around 25% of the time, they fall asleep!
Different Types of Massage Chairs
There are a few different types of massage chairs. They range in price from $100 for a good back pad to $10,000 for a luxury model. Several models can go as high as $30,000! In this review, we are going to stay under the $10,000 price tag.
These are usually around $100 and are a very simple design. It's a lightweight combination of fabric and plastic that has a back and extends under your glutes that you can place on a couch, chair, or even in your car to get a massage. There's normally a wired control pad that will allow you to choose which part of your back you want massaged, some may give you the option of adding heat, and some give the option of kneading, percussion, or a mix. These are often regarded as helpful, but not nearly as beneficial as the other types of massage chairs.
This is the most common type of massage chair. It often looks like a normal recliner but one or massage features.
These chairs normally look like something from Star Wars. They often look like a pod and can recline to a zero-gravity position where your spine has zero pressure on it. The idea behind zero-gravity is that when you stand or sit, your vertebrae are under pressure. When you release that pressure by inverting to some degree, there's no pressure on your vertebrae, allowing blood and fluid to flow between the discs, helping to keep the spine healthier. Zero gravity chair can raise your legs higher than your head (but not upside down), achieving the same effect as an inversion table. These chairs often have many massage features, making them the most expensive, but most effective massage chairs and can cost anywhere from almost $1,000 to $15,000 to $20,000.
Zero-gravity chairs are often appreciated more by people who are on their feet all day because when the feet are above the torso, some blood flows out of the legs back towards the torso and head. After a long day, blood and fluid can accumulate in the legs and cause swelling. Some yoga practitioners will lay on the floor and place their legs on the wall at a 90-degree angle to their torso reduce swelling and equalize pressure.
There has been an interesting evolution of massage chairs. Started in Japan, which has a long history of therapeutic massage, a man named Nobuo Fujimoto created the first massage chair in 1954. It was mostly wooden chair with a soft seat and two rollers that sat on tracks that could run up and down along the muscles of the spine and was controlled via rotating a wheel on the side of the chair.
Massage chairs have evolved a lot since then to give more effective massages. Massage chairs will often list several different types of massages that they can deliver, though some of these techniques can't effectively be replicated with a chair:
- Shiatsu-a massage delivered with the fingers, thumbs, and palms to apply pressure.
- Kneading-a circular technique where tissues are lifted, rolled, and squeezed in a compressive manner.
- Tapotement-a percussive motion that's applied done rhythmically. There are 5 types that include beating (uses a closed fist), slapping (with the fingers or palm), hacking (with the edge of the hand), tapping (with the fingertips), and cupping (with the palm cupped).
- Pinching-a gentle grab and release of an area.
- Thai- a combination of stretching and massage, giving different ways to relax a muscle.
- Swedish- designed to relax muscles by rubbing muscles in long strokes in the direction of the heart.
- Deep tissue- involves using intense pressure to get muscles to relax.
- Trigger point- this type of massage focuses on massaging specific areas that are responsible for pain. Trigger point massages combine broad strokes with deep pressure.
- Reflexology- Using gentle to firm pressure on pressure points in the feet, hands, and ears.
Massage chairs have evolved to have several different methods of delivering relaxation:
The vibration function won't give a massage similar to a massage therapist. Nothing penetrates the muscles; it's a different effect that can give a little bit of relaxation via a plate that vibrates under an area.
This method uses airbags to inflate and deflate around a body part - normally the arms and legs. It's a relaxing sensation that helps increase blood flow, but it doesn't penetrate deep into the muscles. If this function is important for you, the more airbags the better.
This is the feature that will deliver a massage most similar to a massage from a human. Similar to the first massage chair, pressure is delivered by a ball or another dull point moving on a track. These are the most effective component of all massage methods found in a massage chair.
What You Need to Understand About Rollers
Rollers in massage chairs can move in several planes, and rollers in cheaper chairs have less ability to move:
These rollers move horizontally (side to side) and vertically (up and down).
These rollers move horizontally, vertically, and can move forward and back. The forward pressure can add more intensity to the massage by driving into the muscle deeper.
4-D has the same function as 3-D but varies the speed, giving you an experience more similar to a massage from a human.
How Tracks Work in a Massage Chair
The rollers move on tracks, and these tracks determine how far the rollers can extend. These are organized from what you'll find in the cheapest chairs to the most expensive. There are 3 variations:
These normally move from top to bottom, usually massaging the muscles along the spine. Because the spine curves, the straight track is unable to apply pressure to the muscles of the neck or glutes. This type is found in less expensive chairs because they are limited in reach.
S - Track
These are an evolution of the straight track because they curve in the shape of an S to massage your neck, and hence are found in more expensive chairs.
L - Track
These are a more recent evolution in massage chairs and are an extension of the S - track so the rollers can reach the glutes and hamstrings.
Other Massage Chair Features
One of the most helpful features in a massage chair is the body scan. The chair will sense where your shoulders and some other parts of your body are so it can apply pressure effectively. Even with two people who are the same height, the length of their torsos can be very different. For this reason chairs without this technology can be a hit-or-miss experience with one person saying it's great and another person not feeling enough pressure.
Many chairs include a foot massage, which may include airbags that inflate over the top of your feet. But the best is to have rollers under your feet, which is where you will feel the most relief.
Some chairs will adjust to the length of your legs. They may do this via the controls or by pushing your feet into the foot area and it will lengthen until you stop pushing. This will make sure that your legs are set deep into the chair, helping your legs to get the best massage.
Many massage chairs, even inexpensive back pads, have a spot massage option. During your massage, if you feel a certain area is really tight, you can press "spot" on your controls and the rollers will stay on this spot that needs the most attention.
Some chairs often a stretch function by lifting sections of your upper and lower back to give a stretch to different parts of your body.
Wheels make it possible to move your chair to different rooms of the house, or away from the wall if you need more space when the back reclines.
Heat, Light, Music, & Air Purifiers
Some other features you'll see in some massage chairs are heat, light, music, and negative ion generators.
- Heat can improve a massage because it can increase blood flow, and it can be enjoyable, especially if you live in a cold climate. Keep in mind that some heated chairs will only heat your lower back, while others can war your entire body.
- Some chairs will project lights onto nearby walls.
- Many chairs now offer an auxiliary port or Bluetooth option so you can listen to relaxing music, or anything you want while you sit in the chair.
- Ionizers are a method of air purification, though controversial. They can remove odors and some pollutants, the pollutants can stay in your house and can be reintroduced into the air by air currents. Ionizers also create ozone which can be an irritant for the lungs and dangerous for asthmatics.
Massage chair controls can have lots of options. The higher-quality chairs tend to give you more options and control. And some chairs will allow you to control your chair via an app that you can connect your phone to your chair via bluetooth.
Speed & Intensity
It's helpful to be able to increase or decrease the intensity of a massage, depending on how you're feeling that day.
Basic chairs will usually give you the option of "upper back," "lower back," or "entire back," but more advanced chairs have more custom programs. Almost all chairs will have manual options so you can choose what you want.
Some chairs will remember a particular program so you can run it again.
Automatic Shut Off
Some chairs will shut off after a certain amount of time to prevent the motor from overheating.
Space-saving chairs save space because instead of the back laying straight back, the chair will slide forward while the back reclines. This is nice because otherwise you would need a couple feet of space between the wall and the chair so that the back of the chair doesn't hit the wall when it reclines.
This option has appeared more recently on a few newer chairs. It's a great option because you can control the chair with voice commands without having to move and disturb your peace.
Advice on Purchasing a Massage Chair
There are a lot of factors involved in buying a massage chair. Because it can be a large investment, you'll want to make sure that you're purchasing a chair that you'll be happy with.
Weight & Height Limits
If you're tall or weight more than the average person, check the height and weight limits of the chair. You don't want to order a chair, assemble it yourself or have it professionally assembled, and find out that you're too tall for the chair and it won't massage your shoulders and other areas.
There are a lot of moving parts in a massage chair, so pay attention to the warranty. The general rule is that the longer the warranty, the better the chair.
Some manufacturers produce chairs that are quieter than others. This may or may not be an issue for you. If you plan on using the chair while others are in the same room, the constant activity of the chair may bother others.
If you're looking at reviews on Amazon, remember to pay more attention to reviews that are from someone who made a verified purchase. Companies will manipulate their score by paying people to give positive reviews of their chair and leave bad reviews of their competitors.
Our Evaluation Process
The reality of researching massage chairs is that it's very complicated. There are lots of features to take into consideration, and there are thousands of chairs available, but not a lot of reviews. Of the reviews that exist, many aren't verified purchases.
Buying a massage chair can be a big investment, but spending more money doesn't guarantee that you'll get the best chair. Therefore we decided to narrow our search to the companies that specialize in massage chairs, or at least therapy products, as well as have a great reputation in the industry.
Our evaluation process takes into consideration the following features:
- Straight, S, or L-track
- 2D, 3D, or 4D rollers
- Body scan technology
- Optional heat
- Foot massage
- Leg extension
- Massage methods
- Airbags and number of airbags
- Weight and height limits
- Bluetooth capability
- Reputation of company & customer service
- Auto programs
Note that we didn't evaluate whether the chair has lights or an air purifier. We don't feel that these make a significant difference in the level of relaxation you can get from a chair. The evaluation process is complicated enough and doesn't need to be complicated more by unimportant factors.
Every one of our top choices (except for the best chair pad) are zero-gravity. We feel this is a really beneficial part of a chair massage (and one that you can't get in a normal massage), and disqualified some of the chairs that we evaluated from Japan.
We understand that different people will have different budgets, preferences, and needs. With this in mind, we have selected the top massage chairs in 5 categories:
Best Massage Chairs
Medical Breakthroughs massage chair is unique in that it combines several massage techniques from several countries including Japan, Turkey, Greece, Indonesia, India, and Sweden. Another claim to fame is that it's designed by surgeons, chiropractors, and pain specialists.
- L-track so it runs under the glutes.
- Includes body scan.
- Has a chiropractic-back stretch.
- Has wheels so it can be moved easily.
- Will heat back, legs, and feet via controls if desired.
- Includes 167 air cells-more than any other chair; air cells are adjustable.
- Has 4D arm massage, including fingers and fingertips.
- Comes mostly assembled.
- 3-year warranty on parts.
- Can accommodate users up to 300 lbs, ranging from 4'10" to 6'5".
For the price, this is a solid massage chair. The main drawback is that the rollers aren't on an S-track or L-track; it's neither 2D nor 3D, it has an 8-roller rotate in place so you won't feel rollers running up and down your back.
- Bluetooth audio.
- 6 auto programs.
- Available in brown, black, and blue.
- 8 neck and back rollers
- 50 airbags for shoulders, arms, hips, and legs
- Lower back heating.
- Foot roller massage.
- Accommodates users from 5'2" to 6'3" and users up to 400 lbs.
- Has 2 wheels to move it easily.
- Footrest extends.
- 3-year warranty.
- Easy installation.
OWAYS has been developing massage and wellness products for over 20 years. Available in black, this chair has received excellent reviews and has a lot of great features:
- Has the smart scan option to adjust to your body.
- Accommodates users up to 330 lbs.
- Has an S-track and L-track to reach your glutes.
- Includes knocking, kneading, tapping, clapping, rolling, shiatsu, and other massage techniques.
- Includes Thai-stretching.
- Has 2 lumbar heaters.
- Space-saving so you can place it near the wall and it won't touch the wall when it leans back.
- Comes fully assembled.
- You can play music from the app through the Bluetooth speaker.
- 1-year guarantee with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
This chair competes with chairs that are thousands of dollars more. It has unique features and has received rave reviews by many verified users.
- Can be controlled by voice commands in English, Vietnamese, Spanish, German, French, Japanese, and Korean.
- Available in black, chocolate brown, and cream.
- Can add heat with 3 intensity levels.
- Bluetooth speakers.
- Researched, developed, and assembled in the USA.
- Up to 5 memory settings so 5 people can have their own favorite settings saved.
- Accommodates users up to 300 lbs., and from 4'7" to 6'7".
- Optional heart rate and blood pressure monitor.
- 3-layer foot and calf massage.
- 5-year manufacturer warranty of parts and frame; includes 3-year labor (in-home service).
- Free delivery and setup.
Best Massage Chair Pad
- Shiatsu back massager has 8 flexible rotating nodes, as well as the seat vibrates at 3 intensity levels.
- Has full back mode, lower back, upper back, and spot massage to focus on a tight area.
- Optional heat therapy.
- Detachable neck pillow.
- Has a detachable PU leather flap on the back that you can leave on for a gentler massage, or take off for a deeper, more intense massage.
- Works on a couch, chair, in the car (has an attachment to connect to the car's power), and can be used flat on a bed or the floor.
- Can set it for 5, 10, or 15 minutes.
- 30-day money-back guarantee.
- 24-month warranty.