At Morley Chiropractic Clinic we are huge advocates for massage. We obviously provide it as a service and have produced several articles on the benefits of it. Not only are there very clear physical benefits to massage, aiding in sporting ability and injury rehabilitation, but they rejuvenate us. There is a reason most cultures in the world have some form of massage treatment and they are often used in luxury spas.
The benefits are clear and obvious, so what if you want more of that? Say for example, at home. Well, have you ever heard of massage chairs?
What Are Massage Chairs?
In this instance we are talking about robotic massage chairs, which look a lot like regular massage chairs, but have internal motors and rollers to simulate a massage on the person sat in them. They are designed to resemble a physical, person-to-person massage.
Interesting fact – they were developed by a Japanese man, and Japan is still the worlds most prolific user of massage chairs, with an estimated 20% of households owning one.
Where Are Massage Chairs Found?
As alluded to above, the most common place to find a massage chair is in the home with people buying them privately. You may often find them in offices, but in these cases they take the form of slip over pads, more than a reclining chair.
You may have also seen them in train stations and airports, dotted around for which you can pay a small fee for a set amount of time on them.
What Are the Benefits of a Massage Chair?
The supposed benefits of a massage chair are much the same as a normal massage. They increase blood flow to an area of the body, helping clear out lactic acid and encouraging recovery and relaxation. To find out a bit more about the specific of how massage works try reading this article.
Massage chairs are often used because of their other benefits, the main one being convenience. Professional sports people have easy access to massage and other recovery treatments, which aids in their sporting performance. But most individuals don’t have this luxury. However, once a massage chair is purchased it will always be readily available and easy to access. Convenience, therefore, is the biggest benefit of a massage chair. But, do they actually work?
Are Massage Chairs Effective?
This is the million-dollar question, do massage chairs actually have any physical benefit? There have been a number of studies carried out which sought to find out how effective massage chairs really are. One study found that both heart rate and blood pressure dropped significantly 5 minutes post treatment compared with the baseline data. However, the same study points out that there is no conclusive evidence whether it was the chair, or the ‘zero gravity’ position it put participants in. And it was also impossible to determine whether these were real, physical changes, or just a knock on from the participant being ‘relaxed’.
Another study carried out on workers looked at the purely psychological benefits from massage chairs. Using various combinations of massage and mental training the study found no conclusive evidence for the benefits of massage chairs. It did however find a reduction in “Somatic Trait Anxiety” from the control group who purely used the massage chair and nothing else.
To back this up, another study looked at the stress levels of nurses when using massage chairs mid-shift and found that overall stress and anxiety was reduced with the introduction of chairs. Whether this was the physical massage of the chair, or simply because of the accompanying break, is impossible to judge.
It seems that the psychological benefits of massage chairs are relatively clear and easy to understand. The mechanics of it are less important, if the users purely wants a nice relaxing experience and to de-stress then massage chairs can help.
But Can They Help With Pain?
Nobody is refuting that massage is a good form of physical therapy, and one of the main reasons people buy them is to hep with things like lower back pain, but can massage chairs stack up against a pair of experienced hands?
The mechanics of a massage chair and a person-to-person massage are much the same: pressure if applied to the muscles which improves venous and lymphatic flow and they can also increase endorphin levels which can correlate with increased injury recovery rate and reduced pain and anxiety.
But in our opinion massage chairs will never be as effective as a person-to-person massage. The mechanics of a massage chair dictate that the actual massage only takes place over set areas and with set patterns, it does not allow for the same level of ‘flow’ that a person can achieve, working tight and sore muscles in a more holistic fashion. Then there is the issue of pressure. A person will ultimately be able to place more pressure on an area than a chair. While it is not a hard rule that ‘more is better’ there are instances of hard to reach knots, or deep levels of tightness, that simply won’t be reachable by a chair. So while massage chairs may be able to provide some form of general pain relief, for tackling acute injuries like lower back pain we would always recommend going with a professional.
At the beginning of the article we asked if massage chairs are worth it. Prices of massage chairs vary from around £45 for a basic pad, to anything above £15,000. While there seems to be evidence pointing out the reduction in stress an anxiety that chairs can bring, we don’t feel that the price tag justifies the supposed benefits, and that a person would likely be better off finding a qualified and experienced massage therapist and visiting them regularly.