Most massage chairs are modified recliner-style chairs containing vibrating electric motors, heating elements and hard plastic rollers. These therapeutic devices duplicate many of the techniques used by professional massage therapists, including shiatsu and Swedish-style massages.
The benefits of massage include stress reduction, increased circulation, muscle tissue repair and pain relief. Massage chairs come in various models - some are intended for light-duty home use while others are meant for deep tissue massage and intensive physical therapy. It is not unusual to find an arrangement of commercial massage chairs in shopping malls or other public gathering places. These high-end massage chairs offer a few minutes of massage for a nominal fee. Other models are sold for home use by specialty or gadget catalog stores such as Brookstone or Sharper Image.
The least expensive form of massage chair technology is a specially-designed unit which can be attached to an existing recliner. Consisting of several padded sections, these home massaging units can be found in department stores and larger drugstores. The user places the electric massage mat on the recliner and lies down on top of the unit. A small hand-held control unit can select various speeds and heat levels. The massager will either concentrate vibrations on a selected area of the user's body or go through a pre-programmed cycle from top to bottom. These massage units are beneficial for those seeking a relaxing vibratory massage or heat therapy for stiff muscles, but are not especially suited for deep tissue massages.
Mid-range massage chairs for home use are usually recliners with electric massage elements integrated into them. Some only allow a vibratory action for relaxation, with the possible addition of heating elements. The user can still select specific zones or run a pre-programmed massage cycle. Other models in this middle price range offer shiatsu-style massage with hard rubber knobs following a track along the spine. Shiatsu massage can be a very intense experience, so it is important to understand the difference between massage techniques. Swedish massage is generally more concerned with stretching the muscle tissue and restoring circulation, while shiatsu massage kneads the deeper muscle layers and emphasizes spinal alignment. Those who anticipate a Swedish massage and receive a shiatsu massage instead may not be pleased with the experience. Before investing in a midrange to high-end massage chair, consider your preferred massage style first.
High-end massage chairs often incorporate other areas of the body besides the back and neck. These units may also include air compression massagers for the arms and legs, or shiatsu-style rollers for calves and feet. The most advanced models of massage chairs can also run a pre-massage diagnostic of the user's tension zones and customize the massage cycle accordingly. Measurements of the user's spine and shoulder can lead to a more thorough massage compared to the generic patterns of lower-prices machines. The massaging knobs of a high-end shiatsu chair work in three dimensions, as opposed to the simpler up-and-down cycle of less-advanced chairs. Massage chairs of this commercial caliber are generally used in gyms, physical therapy centers and as revenue-producers in shopping malls and airports. At an average price of over 10,000 US dollars, few consumers could afford to own the most advanced massage chairs available.