8. Inversion – True inversion involves turning the body upside down, or at least past horizontal, to decompress the spine. Many of my patients used inversion tables at home for back pain relief. Well, the definition of inversion as it relates to massage chairs is that if the chair back reclines past 180 degrees (horizontal), then it is inverting and, thus, the spine is decompressing to some degree. There are not many chairs that have a true inversion feature, but some come awfully close to a horizontal recline. If you come across a chair that touts an inversion feature, double check to make sure it truly has a reclining angle of greater than 180 degrees.
9. Body Scan Technology – Scanning has become a standard feature in most massage chairs. The idea behind body scan technology is that the chair scans the body before beginning a massage to make sure that the program caters to the body shape and size of the user. Some scanning technologies are very sophisticated, i.e. Inada, where the chair has a series of infrared lighting that outlines the shape of your spine. It then matches that outline to a database of over 150 spinal shapes, finding the spinal shape closest to yours.
Other chairs use a very simple scanning technology that only finds out where your head and shoulders are at so that the rollers don’t travel too high up your back and onto your skull. That does not feel very good, FYI! It is important to keep your head back during a body scan so that the chair can truly determine where it needs to send it’s rollers.
10. Mechanical Foot Rollers – Airbags compressing the calves and feet are commonplace in the massage chair industry, but now chairs are coming out with mini-rollers under your feet that rotate and massage the soles of your feet. It is a novel idea that a lot of folks are latching on to. It can become a bit overbearing after a few minutes if you are not used to having your feet massaged or even touched. Combined with the feet airbags, the rollers really offer good therapy.
11. Dreamwave – Inada coined this phrase for their Sogno model. It is a program that utilized an airbag technology in the seat to move the seat from side-to-side in a figure 8 motion while also lifting the seat up-and-down. It is a great feature for soothing the low back musculature, particularly for acute low back pain.
12. Retractable Ottoman – The ottoman houses the foot and calf massaging mechanisms. A few models allow for the user to “hide” the calf and foot wells by having an ottoman that can either be rotated or retracted. The rotation feature allows you to spin the ottoman around having a flat surface face the room. The retractable ottoman actually gets pulled into the chair and under the seat to completely obscure the ottoman from view.
This is a great feature for someone who wants a massage chair for it’s function but not for it’s looks…who would rather have the chair look like a regular recliner than a therapeutic machine. Human Touch has been the industry leader in obscuring ottomans from view.
13. Stretch Program – When you think of stretching, you probably envision a hamstring or quadriceps stretch or bending over to touch your toes. Well, no chair can do that…yet anyways. But what they can do is use the chair back, the ottoman, shoulder and feet airbags, and the roller system to distract (pull) the body or arch the body.
The most common stretch program has airbags grabbing the feet and ankles in the ottoman, as well as shoulder airbags pinning the shoulders back. The chair back and ottoman rise up and lower down to put the body into an arched position. Many chairs then use the rollers to go down into the low back, which accentuates the arch even more.
This is a typical stretch program. Other chairs add little things to change it up somewhat, like pulling the arms or legs away from the body or bringing the ottoman and chair back up as high as possible to induce flexion of the body. Every manufacturer seems to have a little twist here and there for each of their models to make it a little different.
I hope this has assisted you with becoming more familiar with what the terms in the massage chair business actually mean. If you can think of any other terms that I have not covered here, please feel free to mention it in the comment section and I’ll add it to the list.
Dr. Alan Weidner