Massage Chairs for Pain Relief
Most healthcare providers are recognizing massage therapy as a legitimate aid for body pain and an effective adjunct to pain treatments.
A good massage can do wonders for relieving tension and back pain, but a therapeutic massage is not always convenient or available.
Most believe massage chairs are a luxury item. A massage chair is certainly not necessary for every day living, or for relieving back pain. However, for some, the benefits that a massage chair can bring certainly outweigh the price.
Fifty-four percent of healthcare providers say they will encourage their patients to pursue massage therapy to treat body pain, in addition to medical treatment.
A study on massage and pain conducted at the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami in 2001 found that: “Massage lessened lower back pain, depression and anxiety, and improved sleep. The massage therapy group also showed improved range of motion and their serotonin and dopamine levels were higher.” (International Journal of Neuroscience, 106, 131-145.)
Benefits of Massage Therapy
According to the American Massage Therapy Association, research shows that massage therapy provides several important health benefits, including:
- Massage improves blood circulation, which aids in recovery of muscle soreness from physical activity.
- Massage relaxes muscles for an improved range of motion. The muscle relaxation also helps with insomnia.
- Massage leads to increased endorphin levels. The increase of endorphin levels is actually one of the greatest benefits of massage therapy. Endorphins are the chemicals the body produces that make you feel good, which is very effective in managing chronic pain.
The American Academy of Pain Management recognizes massage therapy as an effective treatment for body pain caused by soft tissue injury (such as a muscle strain).
Massage Therapy Can Reduce Muscle Pain
Muscles that are in spasm will be painful to the touch. The pain is caused by ischemic muscle tissue. Ischemia means the muscle is lacking proper blood flow, usually due to the muscle spasm. This in turn creates the following undesirable process:
- Because the muscle is not receiving enough blood, the muscle is also not receiving enough oxygen
- The lack of oxygen causes the muscle to produce lactic acid
- The lactic acid makes the muscle feel sore following physical activity.
After the muscle is relaxed through massage therapy, the lactic acid will be released from the muscle, and the muscle should start receiving enough blood and oxygen.
Benefits of Massage Therapy and Massage Chairs
A good hands-on massage can play a crucial role in alleviating body pain.
Similarly, a good massage chair is designed to provide some measure of pain relief and relaxation, however, without the need for person-to-person interaction.
Getting a massage in the privacy of home, along with convenience and time efficiency, are the major reasons why some are opting to go with a massage chair as a potential means to ease their back pain.
Comprehensive research has demonstrated that there are three central reasons why massage is beneficial:
- Massage improves venous and lymphatic flow—manipulating muscles increases blood flow. Increasing blood flow facilitates the circulation and absorption of nutritional elements into the muscles and tissues. Increasing lymphatic circulation clears toxins out of these areas. Together, this revitalizes the massaged area.
- Massage therapy decreases tension and improves flexibility – massaging helps loosen tight and strained muscles. Stretching and kneading problem areas allow muscles to relax as well.
- Massage therapy increases endorphin levels – possibly the most beneficial aspect of massage. Endorphins are the ‘feel good’ chemicals that run through the body – increasing their levels induces positive results. Among other benefits, increasing endorphin levels has been correlated with quicker recovery, reduced pain, and reduced anxiety.
These benefits of massage work both physically and psychologically to help reduce common symptoms of body pain.
Through the study of the human body and analysis of feedback, many massage chair designs have been developed with the goal of achieving similar benefits.
Potential Risks and Contraindications for Massage Therapy
In general, any type of massage is non-invasive and considered very low risk. While there aren’t specific contraindications or risks associated with use of massage chairs, in general any of the contraindications to general massage therapy should be followed when using a massage chair.
Contraindications for massage therapy include:
- Infectious skin disease
- A rash
- An unhealed wound
- Immediately after surgery
- A tendency to form blood clots or if using blood thinners
- Circulatory ailments such as phlebitis or varicose veins
- Inflamed or infected injuries
- Areas of bleeding or heavy tissue damage
- At the sites of recent fractures, sprains, or bruises
- Immediately after chemotherapy or radiation therapy
- Osteoporosis (use caution)
Main Components of Massage Chairs
Most massage chairs are designed to involve three main components intended to closely match these massage techniques:
- Massage chair motors – these are the essential mechanical aspects of the massage chair. They power and move the nodes and rollers to the necessary areas, as well as allow the needed adjustments to the seat back.The massage chair has numerous preset patterns and programs used to massage the entire back. However, the motors, nodes, and rollers are meant to be modified through the control pad that accompanies all massage chairs. As the user specifies, the massage chair focuses on the top of the spine down through the lower back, with a tapping motion, rolling motion, or kneading motion.
- Massage chair nodes and rollers – these vary in size and shape, designed to emulate fingers and hands. A massage chair with large rollers and nodes provides a more generalized approach at massaging, while massage chairs with smaller nodes and rollers provide the more detailed, point-specific massaging. They target specified areas of the user’s back and can move in a variety of ways, which are pre-programmed into the mechanics of the massage chair. Again, the user can adjust these nodes and rollers on the massage chair to best fit his or her needs.
- Computer assisted adjustability of the massage chair – This is perhaps the most essential factor. Almost all massage chairs are designed to automatically adjust for the weight, height, and width of the selected user. By measuring the pressure on the seatback, the height of the protrusion of the rollers and nodes adjusts. In addition, by locating specific areas on the anatomy of the back, the massage chair makes the necessary adjustments for the height and width of the user. Selecting various inputs on the control pad can also refine these options.
Of course, a mechanical substitute can never reproduce the exact feeling of human touch. As years have gone by, designers have more closely approximated the necessary factors in a massage chair to provide its user with relief from back pain.
Although a higher price usually correlates with a higher quality, with massage chairs this is not always the case. Recently new lines of similar, if not better models have emerged at significantly lower prices than past models.
Find a Comfortable Massage Chair
As with many comfort-related products in the market, the final decision should rest primarily on the opinions of the user. It is advisable to test the many different brands and styles of massage chairs that are available.
Guidelines for Choosing a Massage Chair
Here are some general guidelines to follow when searching for a massage chair:
Price range of massage chairs – as mentioned before, massage chairs are quite expensive. Price should always factor in with all of the above aspects for the final decision.
Presets and adjustability of massage chair
take time to experiment with the preset programs. Some massage chairs may have a preset that is specific to a problem area in the back. Other chairs may offer greater variability. A massage chair with a large range of adjustability may prove beneficial when purchasing a single chair for multiple users.
certain massage chairs will come with a separate ottoman or a leg-rest that extends in and out of the chair. Some positions may be more comfortable for certain back conditions; for example, sitting in a reclining position with the legs elevated may be more comfortable for some people with spinal stenosis. Several chairs even have a leg-rest that has its own massage or vibration capabilities.
Again, as with any comfort related product, there is no absolute definition of what is good or bad. Of course, only through trying different types and styles will a person truly understand if a massage chair is beneficial or necessary at all.
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