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Incorporate Massage Blog

4 min read

Massage Therapists vs Massage Chairs

Dec 29, 2015 10:00:00 AM

If you're looking into investing in stress relief for your company, you may be wondering what's best: a massage therapist or an electronic massage chair. 

It's a fair question with a lot of factors to consider. Let's dive in. 

massage chairs vs. massage therapists


Electronic Massage Chairs vs. Massage Therapists:
Which is Better?


Regular massage is a great way to kick stress to the curb. Because of the way massage moves muscles and tissues, muscle knots are reduced and good-feeling hormones start flowing.

But is all massage created equal?

Related: Massage at Work: Top 10 Questions Answered


Key Differences Between Massage Chairs and LMTs

Features of Electronic Massage Chairs

Though there are variations among models, the basic premise of an electric massage chair is to provide massage-like effects on the body. There are typically a number of cycles to choose from, as well as the option of a heating element that can be turned on or off. 

These are the most standard options for mechanical massage chairs: 

  • Location controls - To indicate where the massage should happen (legs, upper back, lower back, etc)
  • Heat controls - To choose temperature
  • Intensity controls - To set the desired strength of the massage


Massage Therapist Techniques

The most standard form of massage in the Western world is known as Swedish massage, though there are hundreds of styles of therapeutic massage. These are the basic Swedish massage techniques:

  • Effleurage - AKA "warming up", used to apply lotion or oil, tells the nervous system it can chill for awhile and start to relax, helps to warm up muscles
  • Petrissage - Deeper than effleurage, more of a kneading technique, best for working out areas of deeper tension and stress
  • Tapotement - The famous "karate chop" move is included in this category, any kind of repeated striking technique
  • Friction - Also called "cross-fiber friction," helps to break up tissue adhesions
  • Vibration - Used in very localized areas on stubborn muscle knots and areas of particular tension

Human touch is an important factor as well. Studies have shown that that physical touch sends signals to the nervous systems and endocrine systems that help to ease tension and produce stress-reducing hormones. This doesn't happen with a massage chair.

Related: Do Massages Hurt?

 massage chairs vs. massage therapists

What Massage Chairs Try to Do -- But Can't

Here's the key: most massage chairs excel at one main thing -- vibration. Massage therapists use this technique when there is a particularly stubborn trigger point or area of high tension. 

The big difference is that a therapist would never spend an entire massage session using only this one technique, yet this seems to be the main technique electronic chairs are able to do. 

Related: What is Seated Massage?

The more expensive massage chairs will provide other ways of massaging the body, including compression on legs and arms. There can also be internal rollers that move up and down the back.

However, none of those extra features are as customizable as the work of a massage therapist. Massage therapists will assess the client's situation and make decisions based on their training: 

  • What level of pressure is appropriate for the client's muscle pain and discomfort?
  • What's the best way to address an injured area to help promote healing?
  • Which muscle groups should be worked together given the areas of tension the client has?
  • How long should each area be worked so the main issues are addressed most efficiently?
  • Given their understanding of muscle attachments, trigger points, the nervous system, and physiology, what's the best approach for each client?

Related: Trigger Points: How Massage Can Help

Because automated massage chairs are programmed, there aren't any case-by-case assessments done. However, massage therapists addresses each session with every client in an individualized way. 

So don't worry, massage therapists, robots can't replace you just yet. 


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Erin Hall
Written by Erin Hall