Stretch Programs in Massage Chairs
As a chiropractor the term “stretch” has a totally different meaning than the term “stretch” does in the massage chair industry.
When I was a practicing chiropractor, we found that lots and lots of patients had imbalanced muscles groups. Some muscles were too tight and others were too weak. I spent an awful lot of my time coaching patients with stretching and strengthening regimens. Of course, the stretching was for tight muscles and the strengthening was for weak muscles.
For example, when a person had low back pain, almost in every case that person had tight hamstrings and hip flexors along with weak abdominals and gluteals. So, our treatment always included stretching those muscles groups in the clinic and then teaching the patient how to do it at home.
When patients followed the home exercise protocols that I prescribed, they almost always felt better and were pain-free in a fairly short period of time.
Stretch Done by a Massage Chair? No Way!
Well, then I got into the massage chair business. The first chair I ever owned and used in my clinic was the Human Touch HT-125, a very basic but durable massage chair. I noticed that it had a program on it called “Stretch”. I thought, “Holy Mackerel, how on earth did this company incorporate stretching into a massage chair and what muscles does this chair stretch?”
I had heard a few of the patients telling me how much they loved the stretch program. I had not used that program to that point (most massage chairs come with many different automatic programs and I always use the “Full Body” program, if there is one, so that I get a good once-over in a short period of time). I figured I’d better give this stretch program a shot.
It turned out to be nothing like what I had expected nor what I had been clinically trained for in my profession.
This is what I experienced: the chair would recline to 170 degrees (almost completely horizontal) and the ottoman would come up to a horizontal position. The, at that point, the airbags would inflate around my calves and hold them tightly. Once that happened, the ottoman would go down thus tractioning my whole body and the rollers would start to roll up and down my spine.
It was a little uncomfortable at first because my body was not used to being put in an “arched” position, which is how it felt. It seemed to hyper-extend my back. Now, I already have a lumbar (low back) spine curvature that is exaggerated, so the arching isn’t best for my type of spine. But for those clients who have a normal or decreased lumbar curve, the stretch function is awesome.
Oh, So That's What They Meant by a Massage Chair Stretch!
So, regarding the HT-125, the stretching is more of an arching and tractioning of the spine.
When I began carrying other massage chairs, like the Inada Sogno and the Panasonic 30007, I noticed that they, too, had stretch programs. But, when I tried out their programs they were nothing like that of the Human Touch HT-125 massage chair.
The stretch programs in these chairs were more of a gently “milking”, as I like to call it, of the spine and discs. The ottomans went up and down while the chair backs alternately reclined and inclined. It was a very lovely feeling to have that going on with my spine. I actually loved the way it felt. But, again, very different from the HT-125 massage chair.
It really is a very personal preference, but it seems as though the stretch program is a popular one and will most likely be on many future massage chair models for years to come. I can not recall one person ever coming to our massage chair showroom and not enjoying the stretch program on at least one massage chair. And, in many cases, it was one of their favorite programs.
Dr. Alan Weidner