Massage Chairs and the IlioTibial Band (ITB)

woman holding an exercise ball
IlioTibial Band

The IlioTibial Band (ITB) is a thick tendon that runs from the pelvis (ilium bone) to the tibia bone of the lower part of the leg. Each side of the body has one and these tendons tend to be tender (did I just write

an alliteration!!) for folks who have had back problems, knee problems, or hip problems. Since the pelvis is connected to the lower back and the ITB connects the pelvis to the bottom half of the knee joint, this tight, thick tendon can be compromised by issues with any of these associated areas.

Although there is a condition known as ITB Syndrome (inflammation of the ITB most commonly caused by overuse, as in running/jogging), most folks won’t even know they have a compromised tendon until someone or something pokes at it and you flinch in pain. That is what some massage chairs do…the hip airbags inflate and press on the ITB’s and elicit a pain response from the user.

I received an email from a customer last week expressing concern that the hip airbags of his Panasonic MA73 massage chair were digging too deep into his hip to the point of discomfort. I reassured him that the chair is not the problem but his ITB is the problem. The airbag is just pressing against an already tight, or even inflamed, ITB and the pain is elicited.

Inada DreamWave
Inada DreamWave

This is actually a good thing! Good, not because it is hurting you, but good because the ITB needs some muscle work. The hip airbags of some chairs, like the Panasonic, the Inada DreamWave, and the Osaki Dreamer, to name a few, are small enough and focal enough in their inflation, that they can dig into the ITB’s and actually result in a reflex relaxation of the tendon. It may be quite uncomfortable at first, but you can rest assured that over time you will not notice as much tenderness as you do on your initial experiences in the chair. On the image to the left of the Inada DreamWave, you can see the hip airbags flanking the seat. Those are the airbags that make the difference for ITB tightness.

Dr. Alan Weidner

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