L-track is a relatively new phenomenon, first introduced in a brand name chair with the Infinity Iyashi about 3 years ago. It has become, in my opinion, one of the best feature additions to the massage chair industry in years. The L-track is a name given to a the feature otherwise known as the extended roller track.
All chairs prior to the introduction of the L-track, had a roller track that began at the neck and then went down to the lower back and, in many instances, the top of the gluteal muscles (butt muscles!). The longest track I'd seen in the traditional roller track configuration was 32"...still is. That seemed to be the longest track that could be created to hit the entire back from neck to the top of the pelvis.
I might also add that the roller tracks of which I am speaking were designed in a sinusoidal shape, in other words, an S-shape. Thus the term "S-track" had become quite popular when describing this roller track. This design was for matching the shape of the spine, which has forward curvatures in the neck and low back, and reverse curvatures in the mid back and pelvis. Without the S-track development, the user would not get a full, optimal massage of the two forward curves, i.e. the neck and low back, which, incidentally, just happen to be the two areas for which most folks are looking for help and pain relief.
The S-track was great for offering roller massage therapy along the curvatures of the spine DOWN TO the low back. But, what was available for the region below the low back, i.e. the butt and hamstrings? All that was available was the same technology that was used on the legs, feet, arms and hands...airbags to compress and passively move the pelvis. Now, I will admit the airbags passive motion and compression is better than nothing for the pelvic region, but those airbags really did very little in the way of significant therapeutic massage for those muscles.
Inada introduced it's "DreamWave" technology in 2009, with the Inada Sogno DreamWave massage chair, which was a fascinating innovation at that time. In a nutshell, the DreamWave technology was passive motion of the seat from side to side, in conjunction with waist and IlioTibial Band airbags working in concert to passively move the hips from side to side and up and down. Brilliant! As a chiropractor who had dealt with countless severe low back pain patients, this innovative design was a phenomenal idea for passive motion to an area that no therapist could directly manipulate because of the intense pain of the patient.
Many chairs have imitated and copied the DreamWave technology. You may see it named differently by different massage chair companies, i.e. "swing", "slide", or just plain old "seat massage".
Although this DreamWave technology was and is fantastic, it did not directly massage any of the muscles in the gluteal area. Now, what is it important to try to massage those muscles you ask? What's the big deal?
Well, I would propose three reasons:
- Gluteal muscles - these are the some of the largest muscles of the body and get used every time you stand, sit, walk, run, or shift the position of your body. They are typically weak in most postural problems, but they also tend to have trigger points in them, which are localized muscles spasms that can cause significant pain and discomfort when manipulated and, in some cases, refer pain distant to the area of spasm.
- Piriformis muscles - These are often the little known culprits of sciatica pain, which is a very common malady seen in a chiropractic, massage therapy, and physical therapist offices. WebMD defines sciatica as "anything that puts pressure on or irritates this nerve (sciatic nerve) can cause pain that shoots down the back of one buttock or thigh. The sensation of pain can vary widely. Sciatica may feel like a mild ache; a sharp, burning sensation; or extreme discomfort. Sciatica can also cause feelings of numbness, weakness, and tingling." That "anything" that can put pressure on the sciatic nerve can be a herniated disk, degenerative/arthritic bone spurs, or entrapment/impingement by the piriformis muscles (one on each side of your body). In my clinical experience, it is not uncommon to see this type of sciatica in women who have gone through the pregnancy experience. The pelvis actually changes configuration with the growth of the fetus, as the hip bones tend to flair out. That change in configuration lends itself to biomechanical changes to the body and, thus, trigger points to the piriformis muscles and entrapment or impingement of the sciatic nerve. Of course, I saw piriformis muscles problems in men, too, as a result of other onsets of biomechanical strain. The bottom line is that it can be very painful!
- Hamstring muscles - these muscles run from the pelvic area down the back of the leg to the knee area. Most, if not all, of you have heard of a hamstring injury. Well, the hamstring is typically a very tight muscle in most folks. It can restrict the motion of your lower body quadrant when ambulating (walking or running), which can lead to other issues like low back pain.
Massage chairs have not addressed these muscles very well in years gone by. Airbags are great, but they will not effectively offer therapeutic massage to these muscles groups that rollers will. Until now...
This is where the L-track roller massage really helps.
I mentioned at the beginning of this article that the traditional S-track roller track configuration went from the top of the spine to the bottom of the spine. The L-track was designed to go beyond that low back area and hit the very muscles I just described. The L-track continues on down the body beyond the low back to hit these butt muscles and offer therapeutic roller massage to those oft-neglected muscles. That is why it is called an L-track...because it goes beyond the back and runs under the seat, in an L shape.
These new models with the L-track rollers will, at the very least, massage the gluteal muscles, the piriformis muscles, and the head of the hamstring muscles. We are now beginning to see chairs with even longer roller tracks, like the new uKnead Lavita massage chair, that are actually hitting/massaging the belly of the hamstrings. Instead of roller track lengths of only 30-32", we are seeing in these L-track chairs roller track lengths of up to 51-53" long.
I mentioned at the very beginning of this article that I thought the L-track was the greatest innovation in the massage chair industry in years. The reason I feel that is because of the therapeutic effect this feature has on the three groups of muscles, heretofore mentioned. If you have low back/buttock/sciatica pain, the L-track feature will have a far greater chance of helping you out than the traditional S-track chair. Those rollers will hit muscles you didn't even know you had! Once you sit on an L-track chair you will know exactly what I mean.
I will just mention that today's L-track chairs ALSO still have the S-track configuration from the neck to the low back. The roller track just goes beyond the traditional S-track configuration to the under the seat. So, you may hear folks say that a chair is either an S-track or an L-track chair. That is an easy way to differentiate the two, but REMEMBER that an L-track chair always has the S-track configuration, as well.
I hope this was beneficial!
Dr. Alan Weidner
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