How to Choose a Good Massage Chair Guide

How_to_Choose_A_Good_Massage_Chair_Guide_chair-institute_pint

Are you in the market for a massage chair, but overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices available?

Are you at your wit’s end trying to navigate through the labyrinth of features available to settle on the one that’s right for you?

In this piece, we’ll step you through the process of how to choose a good massage chair, so the one you ultimately buy will be a perfect fit, meeting all your needs at a price you can afford.

We’ll cut through the noise and distil the process down to its essentials, so you’ve got a clear, no-nonsense blueprint to follow that will make finding the right model a snap. Let’s get right to it!

How to Choose a Good Massage Chair

There are two key questions to ask before you even start. They are:

  • How much do you have to spend?
  • Why do you want one?

Your answers to these two questions provide the framework that will guide your thinking through the rest of the process. One you have that information, what remains regarding figuring out how to choose a massage chair is a lot simpler, but answering them can be more complicated than you might first think.

How much do you have to spend?

The budget side of the equation is easy. You know your expenses, and you know how much you have to spend. In terms of broadly classifying massage chairs, use the following as a general guide:

  • Under $1500 – Value-Priced Chairs – These are inexpensive, but they trade features for the reduction in price. In some cases, massage chairs in this category rely on outdated tech (though sometimes well-implemented) technology. In others, they simply use a scaled back or narrowly focused feature set.
  • $1500 - $6500 – Mid-Range Chairs – This broad price range includes the vast majority of the massage chairs on the market today. 
  • You’ll find a variety of options here, from well-appointed generalist chairs to tightly focused chairs that utilize a more limited, but exceptionally well-implemented set of features designed to meet specific needs.

  • $6500 and Up – High-End Chairs – This is a vast category that can extend as high as $14,000 or more, and of course, the more money you’re willing to spend the more features, and better implementations you can expect.
  • Some of the chairs in this group are insane. They do just about everything and include plenty of convenience features that make them a joy to use and own.

Even though the chairs at the low end of the price spectrum are more limited, feature-wise, there are excellent models in every price bracket, so whatever your budget is, you can find something you’ll be pleased with.

How to Choose a Good Massage Chair Infinity IT 7800 Therapeutic - Chair Institute

Why do you want one?

The second question is a bit trickier, but here, the industry makes it a little easier for you. There are two basic types of massage chairs: Therapeutic and Hobbyist.

Therapeutic chairs are designed to meet specific medical or chiropractic needs. The reality is that 8 out of 10 Americans will suffer from severe back pain at some point in their lives, and the numbers aren’t all that different in other parts of the world.

While relief from back pain is the most common reason why people consider buying a therapeutic massage chair, they can certainly be used to treat a number of other conditions, including neck and shoulder pain, leg pain, high blood pressure, and stress-related conditions.

Based on what your specific needs are, your “ideal” feature set will change.

Hobbyist chairs are more generalized in nature. They often include some therapeutic features, but tend to place as much or more emphasis on conveniences like MP3 support, memory slots that allow you to program and save your favorite massage settings, LED lights, and the like.

Of course, there’s considerable overlap, and just because your primary needs are therapeutic, that doesn’t mean you don’t appreciate certain convenience features too, but we’ll get to that in the next section.

So – how much do you have to spend, and what do you need it for? After all, if you suffer from chronic back pain, sciatica, or if you have a job that sees you spending several hours a day, all of those point to a very different set of features.

On the other hand, if all you want is a chair to kick back in and enjoy a soothing massage at the end of a long workday, that’s going to lead you down yet another different path.

How to Choose a Good Massage Chair BestMassage EC 06C - Chair Institute

Features, Features, and More Features

So once you’ve gotten the answers to the two fundamental questions, the next step is to identify which massage chair features are most important to you.

Features fall broadly into three categories:

  • Core Massage Chair Technologies
  • Therapeutic Features
  • Convenience Features

The best approach here is just to list all the ones you’re interested in, then rank them in order of importance to you. Let’s take a look at each of them in turn.

Core Massage Chair Technologies

These are the essential elements that go into (or can go into) just about every massage chair. Consider these to be the bones around which the rest of any given design is built. They include:

The Massage Track

How to Choose a Good Massage Chair Fixed Frame - Chair Institute

​​​​Any conversation about a massage chair has to start here, and there are three different variations:

  • The Fixed-Frame – Found on low-end chairs, this is a simple rectangular frame that stationary massage heads are mounted. Because the heads don’t move, they sometimes don’t give a great massage experience.
  • Basically, the heads just vibrate in place. If the sore spots in your back happen to align with the position of the heads, this can result in a decent, but not exceptional massage. If not, you’re destined for a sub-par experience.

    Note that in some cases, a fixed frame is used in conjunction with moving rollers, but in these cases, the rollers are limited to moving along the X- and Y-Axis only. The frame does not follow the curve of your body’s spine, which means that the resulting massage is of somewhat inferior quality.

  • The S-Track – This is the current industry standard. Unlike the fixed-frame designs, this one is shaped to follow the curve of your spine. The rollers mounted on it run from your neck to your tailbone and can deliver a consistently excellent massage experience.
  • The L-Track – The latest in massage chair technology, the L-Track or Hybrid L/S-Track combines the standard S-Track with an extension that bends beneath the seat, allowing the rollers to massage from your neck to your glutes and the backs of your thighs.

The Roller Array

How to Choose a Good Massage Chair Rollers - Chair Institute

Rollers are the means by which the massage is rendered. The current industry standard is to utilize quad rollers, although as a cost-saving measure, some chairs use Tri- or Dual-rollers. There are currently a few models that use a six-roller array, but this is relatively rare at this point.

The rule of thumb is, more rollers = better massage experience.

Remember before when we mentioned that some value-priced chairs utilize older technologies? This is one such case. Some chairs will use stationary massage heads or mated pairs of massage balls in the place of rollers.

These tend to render an inferior result, but massage balls are the best of the low-cost options, which don’t degrade the overall experience by any appreciable degree.

How to Choose a Good Massage Chair 3D Body Scan - Chair Institute

Roller Adjustment Technologies

There are four options here.

  • No Adjustment Tech – This is rare, but some value-priced chairs forego any kind of roller adjustment. Wherever the rollers are positioned, that’s what you get. If they align with your body’s pressure points, you get a good massage. If not, you’re out of luck unless you want to wiggle around in the chair to try and force a better fit.
  • 3D Body Scanning – The most common method of adjusting roller position and the width of the massage field. Each time you use the chair before your massage begins, the onboard computer takes a scan of your pressure points and adjusts the position of the rollers accordingly.

Unfortunately, sometimes the technology fails, and unless the chair also includes a means of making manual adjustments, you’re out of luck.

  • Manual Adjustment – Some chairs forego computerized roller and massage field adjustments in favor of buttons included on the remote which allow for manual adjustment. It takes a little extra time to get the position of the rollers just right, but it guarantees that they’re always exactly where you need them to be.
  • Two-Pronged Approach – These chairs offer the best of both worlds, providing a Body Scan for convenience, and manual adjustment buttons to allow for tweaking if the Body Scan-Tech should fail. You’ll pay modestly more money for a chair offering this feature, but most people consider it to be an excellent investment.

Massage Options

Roller-based massage can be rendered in a variety of ways. In general, the more you’re willing to pay for your chair, the more techniques you’ll have available.

Techniques fall into two categories: Basic and Advanced. Basic techniques are exactly what they sound like, and include kneading, tapping, rolling, and the like.

How to Choose a Good Massage Chair Massage Modes - Chair Institute

Advanced massage techniques are typically named after the country that invented them: Swedish, Thai, Shiatsu in the case of a massage technique that hails from Japan, and so on.

Most massage chairs offer at least some ability to customize your roller-based massage via speed and intensity levels from the remote, but this is not always the case. In some low-priced models, you’ll only find a single setting, so it pays to dig a little to find out details like this if you’re looking to maximize your total number of customization options.

How to Choose a Good Massage Chair Kahuna SM7300 Air Massages - Chair Institute

Air Massage Mode

Most massage chairs offer two different modes of massage: Roller-based and Airbag-based. Airbags are now in their second generation of development, so when you’re looking for the right chair for you, it’s important to know whether the offered airbags are First Gen or Second Gen.

In general, the more airbags, the better your massage will be.

As with the roller-based massage, most chairs that offer airbags give you some ability to customize the experience via a level-based intensity adjustment on the remote. This, however, is not a given, and there are a few low-priced models that only offer a single air massage intensity level.

As you can see, there’s a lot more, even to the basic set of massage chair technologies than first meets the eye!

Control Methodologies

There are three primary methods of operating a massage chair. Almost all of them feature a touchscreen LCD panel on a swing arm attached to the chair. About 90% of the models sold today also offer a remote for the sake of convenient operation while your massage is in progress. A very few offer app controls that allow you to access the chair’s features from your smartphone.

Therapeutic Features

These features are, simply put, included in massage chairs to help you feel better and solve for specific issues.

There’s no such thing as a “perfect” massage chair, and no chair on the market today has every feature on this list, and the list of features in the Hobbyist section, so it’s important to think about what you really want, when it comes to this part.

Deep Tissue Massage

How to Choose a Good Massage Chair 4D Roller Tech - Chair Institute

While a standard, roller-based massage feels great and even offers some therapeutic value, deep tissue massage is even better.

You’ll see this listed two ways in massage chair model descriptions. Sometimes, manufacturers will just come right out and say “deep tissue massage,” but other times, they’ll list this feature as “3D” or “4D” Technology.

The term “4D Technology” deserves some explanation. The reason it came into use was simply that if you have an S- or Hybrid L/S-Track chair, then the rollers already move in three dimensions, because the track is bent to follow the curve of your spine, allowing for some degree of motion along the Z-Axis.

4D Roller Tech takes this to the next level by mounting the chair’s rollers on extension arms that enable them to move an extra 3” or so away from the massage track, allowing for a significantly more penetrating massage experience, which helps loosen those aching muscles.

Zero-Gravity Seating

This is a small but important feature that enhances the massage experience by placing you in a position such that your knees are elevated slightly above your heart, which gives you a feeling of weightlessness and allows your body’s weight to press more firmly against the chair back, which in turn, allows the rollers to render a deeper massage.

How to Choose a Good Massage Chair Apex AP Pro Regent Zero Gravity - Chair Institute

About a third of the massage chairs on the market today offer Zero-G seating, and the models that do, feature between 1-3 different seating positions.

Therapeutic Heat

How to Choose a Good Massage Chair Back Heat - Chair Institute

As good as massage is, heat + massage is even better. About half the chairs on the market today offer some type of heat. Of those, the overwhelming majority offer it in the lumbar region only.

A select few offer more extensive heat, sometimes in the leg massage ports (if the chair has them), others offer more extensive back heat, and one even has a heating blanket plus back heat to give you something approaching full-body heat.

The rule of thumb is, the more extensive the heat, the more expensive the chair. While it’s uncommon, you can sometimes find models that allow for precise temperature control, which is a nice perk, but its absence is seldom deal-breaking.

Body Stretch

This is hands down the most powerful therapeutic feature massage chairs can have. It provides immediate pain relief by taking pressure off the compressed discs in your spine.

Note that there are two other features that offer this same benefit in a less aggressive form: Waist Twist and Hip Swing. There are a few chairs that offer these features together with Body Stretching, which at first glance, seems redundant. When you think about it, though, that’s actually a very good thing from the user’s perspective.

How to Choose a Good Massage Chair Human Touch HT 7120 Body Stretch - Chair Institute

Think about your chronic pain. From one day to the next, your pain level could vary wildly. On the days when the pain is especially bad, the Body Stretch might be too aggressive to use. In that case, it’s great to have a less aggressive option available, which is the very reason they’re sometimes paired in therapeutic models.

Point and Zone Massage Modes

Another fantastic therapeutic feature, this one allows you to interrupt any massage program currently running, and focus the rollers exactly where you need them. You can spend as much time as you need to working the kinks out of your back before continuing with the massage program you’ve selected.

Calf and Foot Massage

About two-thirds of the chairs on the market today feature leg massage ports. Most commonly, the calf massage is rendered by airbags, while the foot massage is rendered via dual rollers. Some cheaper chairs use a simple vibration-style massage for the soles of the feet.

More expensive chairs offer advanced features like tri- or quad-rollers for the soles of the feet, different types of massage (how would you like a Shiatsu foot massage? You can get that!), heated massage ports, and the like.

How to Choose a Good Massage Chair Foot Massage - Chair Institute

Convenience Features

While these features don’t directly improve the massage experience, they are attractive to different subsets of users. Here are the most common convenience features you’ll find:

Space-Saving Design

This is a big one, and hugely important to people for whom space is at a premium. Most massage chairs require 18-24” of clearance between the chair back and whatever wall you set it near. Combine that with the fact that these chairs tend to be pretty big anyway, and they can completely fill up a room.

How to Choose a Good Massage Chair Kahuna LM6800 Space Saving - Chair Institute

Chairs built with this feature only require about 4” of wall clearance, which makes it a fabulous addition to any design.

Extendable Ottoman

Most massage chairs are designed for people who range from between 5’ and 6’1” in height. About half the chairs on the market today feature an ottoman with an extension module, allowing them to accommodate users up to 6’5” in height.

How to Choose a Good Massage Chair Inada DreamWave Extendable Ottoman - Chair Institute

Hideaway Ottoman

Aesthetics are very important to some people, and if there’s one thing that makes a massage chair stick out like a sore thumb in whatever room you have it in, it’s the presence of the leg massage ports.

The Hideaway Ottoman offers an ingenious solution to this problem. When you’re not using it to enjoy a massage, the leg ports can be folded into the chair itself, making it appear as just another piece of living room furniture.

You’ll pay a slight premium for this feature, but if aesthetics matter to you, then this addition is well worth it.

MP3 Support

How to Choose a Good Massage Chair BestMassage Curved Music - Chair Institute

This is one of the most popular convenience features on the market today, because after all, who doesn’t like listening to their favorite music while enjoying a relaxing massage?

There are three possible implementations for this feature, in chairs that offer it:

  • SSD card slot, which is the most inconvenient from the user’s perspective.
  • A USB port that allows you to load your music onto a flash drive and plug it into the chair, which is the “standard” implementation.
  • Bluetooth compatibility which allows you to wirelessly connect your phone to the speakers in the chair.

Air Ionizer

The Air Ionizer feature is only offered in about 10% of chairs on the market today. It’s a small feature that some people find increases their relaxation by blowing a gentle draught of ionized air across the user’s face while the massage is in progress.

Chromotherapy

Some people find the soft glow of the LED lights mounted in chairs that offer chromotherapy to be highly relaxing, especially when combined with music. About 20% of the chairs on the market today offer chromotherapy feature.

Memory Slots

How to Choose a Good Massage Chair BestMassage Curved Memory Slots - Chair Institute

This feature is almost as popular as music support, but very few chairs offer it (only about 10% of the models on the market today). The reason why is a bit of a mystery. Memory is cheap and ubiquitous, so this should be an easy add, but there just aren’t many manufacturers that do it.

Most of the chairs that offer memory slots provide three, but a few provide 5-8, which is about the best you can get on the market today.

What makes this such a highly-prized feature is the fact that you can create the perfect massage experience, using all your favorite features, then save it so you can recall it later at the touch of a single button. The more features, the more combinations you can save, or, if other members of your family use it, they can use the extra slots to save their massage creations.

Making Your Selection

So, now that you have a sense of what features are available, the real fun begins.

Once you know what your budget is, and once you’ve got a good feel for why you want one, start thinking about what features are most important to you. If you wind up listing more therapeutic features. A good rule of thumb is:

  • Pick five features (including core features) for a value-priced chair
  • Nine for a mid-range chair
  • As many as you want for a high-end chair

Then, base your search on the collection of features you’ve prioritized. You may not find an exact match, but with the vast number of chairs on the market today, you’ll come quite close to finding your ideal!

How to Choose a Massage Chair Conclusion

As you can see, the question of how to choose a good massage chair is a lot more complex than first meets the eye.

Using this process, though, makes finding the perfect massage chair for you and your family a simple proposition. You’ll have a clear sense of what you want, and how many features you can reasonably expect to find at each price point, bearing in mind of course, that there will be some variance from one model to the next.

Happy hunting!

Related Articles​


With hundreds of massage chairs available today, finding a quality massage chair can be overwhelming. This how-to article will help you in your quest.
>
Tweet
Share2
Pin11
Reddit
+1