Top of Shoulder Massage – Which Chairs Have It?

When people ask me about whether a chair does a good shoulder massage, I always have to ask “What do you mean by “shoulder”?” You see, a shoulder to one person could mean between the shoulder blades, to another it could mean the outside of the shoulders (where the deltoid muscles are), and yet to another person the shoulder could mean the shoulder blades.

For today’s article, I am going to chat about the top of the shoulder, or the location of the trapezia muscles. There are not many chairs that cater to this part of the spine, but those that do, do a nice job.

I just love having my trapezia muscles massaged by a licensed massage therapist. If you work at a computer all day you know what I am talking about. Those dang muscles get so tight that a massage is exactly what you need at the end of a long day. Those tight muscles are often part of the whole “stress headache” syndrome. It is painful to have them massaged, but man do they feel great after a massage, along with everything else from the neck up.

There are two ways that a massage chair can address this area…one is with the rollers and the other is with airbags. Let’s talk about rollers first.

Roller Massage

All massage chair, nowadays, have an S-shaped roller track that rolls along the contours of the spine. That is to say, the rollers go more forward into the lumbar or low back spine and the cervical spine or neck, and those same rollers retract a bit for the mid back or thoracic spine. When those rollers go up from the mid back to the upper back and then on to the neck, the rollers pretty much stay on track with the spine and miss the trapezia muscles altogether.

Panasonic, however, has come up with a pretty interesting twist to the roller system to address a portion of the trap muscles. When those rollers come up the upper back, between the shoulder blades, and start moving up to the neck, rather than go straight onto the neck, the rollers pause a bit, roll forward onto the levator scapulae (the muscles at the top of the shoulder blades) and then onto the posterior portion of the traps.  Those rollers stay for a few moments on those particular muscles and work out the knots.

And do they ever work on those knots. Depending on how tight your muscles are, you will squirm a bit when those rollers hit those muscle knots. In the biz, we call those knots “trigger points” and massage is the way to release them. The Panasonic MA70 does this masterfully. I love how those heated jade rollers hit those muscles and work them into submission. Once the rollers have done their thing they move on up to the neck and skull.

Panasonic calls this motion “Grasping” and it feels like those rollers are grabbing a hold of those muscles and shaking out the knots. I love it and I’m sure you would love it too. Panasonic is the only company I know that actually has rollers that do this particular motion.

Airbag Massage

The Inada Sogno Dreamwave massage chair pioneered this feature back in 2008 and the only other chair that I am aware of that uses airbags to massage the trapezia muscles is the Osaki OS-7200H. Here is what they do…

If you look at both chairs, you’ll see that they each have a head piece. Built into the headpiece is an airbag system that inflates down onto the top of the shoulders where the trapezia muscles are located. The airbags on the Sogno hit the spot with more finesse and specificity, but both chairs offer that feature. You can adjust the intensity of the airbag compression to cater to different sensitivities. The compression of the airbags onto the traps causes the muscles to reflexively relax after the compression is over. It is a very clever way to approach this area of the body.

The airbags hit a greater portion of the traps, whereas the rollers of the Panasonic MA70 hit more of the posterior portion of the muscles (the back part, that is!). Both feel quite different and trying them both out is the best way to know which one will work best for your body and your threshold of discomfort.

Dr.  Alan Weidner