As you probably already knew, massage chair footrests are found in pretty much every massage chair model and that footrest usually comes with some form of foot and calf massage. These footrests are also called ottomans. However, you may not know that there are a lot of differences from one footrest to another. I want to go over the different types so that you understand what you will be getting, depending on the model.
Massage Chair Footrests: The Basics
Here are some foot and calf massage basics to understand before I go into my list the different types of footrests:
- The vast majority of massage chairs use airbags in the footrests to massage the feet and the calves. A few models use something called “paddles”, which are not airbags but firm molded foam pieces that move in a wave-like fashion to massage the calves.
- Airbags in the calves and feet inflate to compress/squeeze the feet and calf muscles.
- Most chairs have airbags that completely envelope the feet and calves. As far as the calves are concerned, this type of airbag massage not only compresses the sides of the calves, but also the front of the calves where the athletes dreaded “shin splints” typically occur (anterior tibialis muscles).
- The footrest is regularly used during the stretch programs of a massage chair. The airbags inflate to grab the feet and calves (usually in concert with shoulder airbags) and then drop down to give the spine a good pull.
- The foot and calf airbags in some models only squeeze the sides of the feet and calves.
- Airbag intensity of the feet and calves can be adjusted with the remote control of the chair.
- We refer to the areas that the calves and feet fit into as calf and foot “wells”.
Massage Chair Footrests: The Options
So, here are the footrest options and variations you will encounter when shopping for your new massage chair:
- Calves Only – These are the chairs that use the paddle technology. Models that have paddles include the Human Touch WholeBody 7.1 and 8.0, as well as the Infinity IT-9800. The paddles are very comfortable and typically don’t squeeze too hard, unlike some airbag models. Although these models don’t have a separate foot massager in the footrest, users can bend their knees and put their feet into the calf wells to get a comfortable foot massage from the paddles. The only drawback is that you can’t have your feet and calves massaged at the same time.
- Rotating Footrests – You don’t see many of these anymore, but some models have a footrest that rotates 180 degrees so that you can have the calf (and foot, when applicable) wells facing down and a flat surface of the back of the footrest facing up to serve as a legitimate foot rest. Examples of this feature can be seen in the Human Touch WholeBody 7.1 and 8.0 as well as the Panasonic MA73. The latter model has foot and calf massagers, whereas the 7.1 and 8.0 have only the calf wells.
- Foot & Calf Rollers – Most chairs, nowadays, have foot rollers, but more and more models are integrating calf rollers as well. The foot rollers are located under the soles of your feet, while the calf rollers are located behind your calves. Different models have different numbers of rollers for each leg. Foot rollers range anywhere from 1 to 3 rollers for each side, while most calf massagers have 1 to 2 rollers per side. Calf and foot rollers work in concert with the squeezing calf and foot airbags. Massage chairs that don’t use mechanical rollers have hard rubber or plastic “nobules” located behind your calves into which your calves are pushed, when the calf airbags inflate, to provide a static massage. Many people don’t even recognize a difference between rollers and stationary nobules unless they know what they are looking for. The effect of the calf rollers is not as strong or noticeable as the foot rollers, in my opinion.
- Kneading Calf Airbags – All calf airbags inflate and compress the calf muscles. However, some also
providing a kneading motion to really give the calf muscles an even better overall massage. I personally love this feature, although it can be a bit intense for some people in some models. The idea is to not just compress the calves with the airbags, but then move the center piece of the footrest up and down when inflated. This type of motion helps get the blood flowing and muscles relaxing even more. Examples of chairs that have the calf kneading feature include the Osaki Ekon Plus, the Daiwa Pegasus, the Infinity Genesis Max, and the OHCO M.8.
- Open vs Closed Toe – The most common type of ottoman has an open toe format. This allows feet of any size to fit into the footrest. A number of models have a closed toe ottoman, which looks great but can restrict who can fit in the chair. Most of the closed toe foot massagers can fit up to size 13. But, if you have feet bigger than that, you will not fit comfortably without having to bend your toes so that your feet can fit. If you do have big feet and they are size 12 or 13, don’t take for granted that it will fit you. I strongly encourage you to try the chair out before buying to make sure your feet fit. It is always a safer bet to get the open toe version if you have larger feet to avoid having to deal with the hassle of returning a chair simply because your feet ended up being too long. By the way, the advantage of the closed toe version, other than a sleeker look, is that you will have toe airbags that are placed above your toes to compress down on them. Some folks really like that feature.
- Achilles Air Cells – Some models have an extra air cell in the back of the foot, just above the ankle where the achilles tendon attaches to the heel bone. It’s not really an airbag, but a firm plastic “bubble” that digs into the area of the achilles tendon insertion. Some like it, some don’t. It also serves to help grab the feet more securely during a chair’s stretch program, so that your feet don’t slide out of the foot massager during the stretch. I don’t know all the models that have that feature, but I know that Infinity deploys it in many of their chairs.
- Swinging Feet Massage – Some chair models use the foot airbags not only to just inflate but also to move the feet from side to side over the top of the foot rollers. If you are a fan of getting the soles of your feet massaged, you will love this feature.
I recently saw a Korean-made chair that had a footrest “split” into two a separate right and left foot/calf massagers and those two sides moved independently of each other. I’d never seen that before, and don’t know much about it, but will be on the lookout for any models in the USA in the near future that have that feature.
I hope you found this essay on the different footrests helpful in your research for the right chair.
Dr. Alan Weidner
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