The massage chair was first introduced to the consumer market in the late 1980's. Intended to emulate the motions and techniques of an actual masseuse, the goal of the massage chair was to relieve stress, tension, and alleviate back pain.
Although massage chairs were initially slow to catch on, after a decade or so, interest in the technology increased, spurring competitors to strive for the most effective models.
Massage Therapy Techniques
Currently, the most effective massage techniques that massage chairs are designed to try to be like are that of Shiatsu and Swedish massage.
- Shiatsu tends to use pressing, sweeping, patting, rolling, and rotating movements. The defining characteristic of Shiatsu is its focus on releasing tension in specific locations of the body.
- Swedish massage is characteristic of long gliding strokes and kneading motions. This type of massage aims at fostering proper and strong circulation.
Main Components of Massage Chairs
Most massage chairs are designed to involve three main components intended to closely match these massage techniques:
Read more: Back Muscles and Low Back Pain
- Massage chair motors - these are the essential mechanical aspects of the massage chair. They power and move the nodes and rollers to the necessary areas, as well as allow the needed adjustments to the seat back.
The massage chair has numerous preset patterns and programs used to massage the entire back. However, the motors, nodes, and rollers are meant to be modified through the control pad that accompanies all massage chairs. As the user specifies, the massage chair focuses on the top of the spine down through the lower back, with a tapping motion, rolling motion, or kneading motion.
- Massage chair nodes and rollers - these vary in size and shape, designed to emulate fingers and hands. A massage chair with large rollers and nodes provides a more generalized approach at massaging, while massage chairs with smaller nodes and rollers provide the more detailed, point-specific massaging. They target specified areas of the user's back and can move in a variety of ways, which are pre-programmed into the mechanics of the massage chair. Again, the user can adjust these nodes and rollers on the massage chair to best fit his or her needs.
- Computer assisted adjustability of the massage chair - This is perhaps the most essential factor. Almost all massage chairs are designed to automatically adjust for the weight, height, and width of the selected user. By measuring the pressure on the seatback, the height of the protrusion of the rollers and nodes adjusts. In addition, by locating specific areas on the anatomy of the back, the massage chair makes the necessary adjustments for the height and width of the user. Selecting various inputs on the control pad can also refine these options.
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Of course, a mechanical substitute can never reproduce the exact feeling of human touch. As years have gone by, designers have more closely approximated the necessary factors in a massage chair to provide its user with some measure of relief from back pain.
Further reading: Non-Surgical Treatments for Lower Back Pain