When you come home from work your back hurts from sitting on the chair all the day. Back pain, most specifically, lower back pain and neck pain are the most common effects of office work. According to the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases, 10% of the world population suffers from lower back pain, which sometime leads to disabilities.
One of the most efficient remedies against back pain is a good massage. This is why more than 20% of the Japanese households have a massage chair. In the rest of the world the idea of owning a massage chair is not that popular, despite the huge benefits.
But how does a massage chair work?
There are multiple types of mechanisms, from simple vibrating systems to water massage and airbags, all design to de-tense the muscles and relieve back pain. Before you invest in a massage chair you need to know how they work, so here is a complete guide on the mechanisms behind massage chairs.
Mechanical massage chair
The mechanical massage chair is the oldest type of massage chair. It uses vibrations to create the massage effect. The mechanism which creates the vibrations is a bigger version of the one used by mobile phones to vibrate. There are multiple vibrating mechanisms inside the massage chair, which use a mix of rollers, gears and motors. Depending on the manufacturer, the vibrating mechanism can be slightly different from chair to chair, but the base principle is the same.
Depending on the frame of the chair, the rollers, which are the part of the mechanism that actually creates the massage effect, can move in specific ways. Some only move up and down, while others have a complex pathway.
Those which travel in multiple directions are placed on a mechanical arm, which is able to move both up and down and sideways.
The entire movement is supported by electric motors. A microprocessor stores the predesigned movement patterns set by the manufacturer.
The intensity of the massage can be adjusted in two ways, depending on the system used by the manufacturer. One way is to adjust how close the rollers are to the frame. The other way is to adjust how close the entire frame is to the user's back.
Because most massage chairs are also recliners, the rollers system is manufactured to work in multiple positions, without unbalancing the chair.
Water-based massage chair
Another popular system used by massage chairs is the water system. The chair has a water system embedded in the back, which uses water jets to create the effect of a massage. The back of the chair is made from a waterproof material, which is secured in place with bars. Without the bars, the material would bulge from the water. The only part of the chair where there are no bars is the neck and head area, where the bulging effect created by the water provides a nice cushion for the user. This material has a series of valves at the top, which allow it to fill with water.
The water travels to this material, often refereed to as membrane, from a system of nozzles, tubes and a pump. The water is pumped into the membrane and re-circulated, so it creates the massage sensation. The system also has a heating device, which enables the user to adjust the temperature of the water during the massage.
The water can also be pulsed, so it mimics a hand-massage, similar to the one you get from a mechanical massage chair.
Airbag massage chair
Airbag massage chairs were inspired by practitioners who squeeze the large muscles for couple of seconds, then release them. This method is used to de-tense the muscles during a massage. Chair massage manufacturers used airbags to create this effect. A chair can have multiple airbags, which can be connected to each other or not.
The areas targeted by airbags are the arms and the legs, which can be squeezed without damaging the tissues.
One or multiple airbags are used to squeeze the arm/leg. They are filled with air by a system of pipes linked to a compressor. Depending on the chair, the airbags might be connected to one compressor or use multiple compressors, so they inflate independently.
The more inflated the bag, the more compression is applied, so they user can adjust the intensity of the massage by adjusting the level of inflation.
There are massage chairs which mimic the tapping technique of hand massage by inflating and deflating the airbags at a high speed. When the airbags are inflated and deflated at a low speed, they mimic the kneading massage technique.
Many airbag massage chairs use a mix of mechanical and airbags system to provide the best massage to the user.
A complete gadget
A massage chair is more than just a recliner with massage abilities: it's a full option gadget. The chair comes with predefined massage programs from the manufacturer, which can then be adjusted by the user. The user can change the intensity of the massage in all chairs. More sophisticated chairs are able to adjust the massage program to the person using them at the moment. This comes in handy, as one user might be 1.8m tall, while other might be 1.6m tall – the difference in height will make the user perceive the massage differently.
There are also massage chairs that use galvanic sensors to measure the effect of the massage and adjust it on the go, depending on the body's response.
Depending on the user's needs, one can find massage chairs that use a vocal command system.
As recent studies show that a massage is able to release the physical tension in one's body, owning a massage chair is highly convenient, especially if you already suffer from back pain. There are multiple types of chairs on the market, so you can choose the one which best fits your needs and financial powers.