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Deciphering the Language of Massage Chairs, part 2.

In Part 1 of Deciphering the Language of Massage Chairs we reviewed the rollers used to massage you and the track(s) they follow. In Part 2 we'll introduce you to 3D/4D, body scanning, compression therapy, zero-gravity and more.


Want the ability to adjust the intensity of the massage? You like deep tissue massage? Here’s a quick overview about how 2D (dimensions) chairs differ from 3D/4D chairs.


Go back to your old math class with the x and y axis. Those are the two dimensions that the rollers travel on a 2D chair. The track allows the rollers to run up and down while the roller arms allow the rollers to move from side to side. The depth of the rollers never changes meaning the intensity of the massage is always the same.

ADVANTAGE - Because this is the simplest mechanical design, it’s the least expensive. If you’re on a tight budget, a 2D chair is a great way to go.


OK, back to math class again. This time we’re adding the z axis. In other words, not only do the rollers go up and down and side-to-side, they can also go in and out.

ADVANTAGE – A 3D chair will allow you to change the intensity of the massage by either increasing or decreasing the depth of the rollers. As you get used to your massage chair, you can increase the intensity.


Wait, there’s a 4th dimension? Well not really but once 3D became the standard, brilliant marketing people came up with a way to differentiate their chairs by adding 4D. What’s 4D? The ability to change the speed of the rollers. To be honest, we can’t think of a time where we thought, “if only I could change the speed of the rollers.” We think the massage chair manufacturers have done a great job of figuring out how fast or slow they should move and there’s little need to adjust it. But it’s there if you want to! Is 5D coming soon?

Body Scanning

One size fits all? Kind of. Body sensing is the massage chair’s mechanism for figuring out who is sitting in the chair. In short, it’s trying to figure out where your neck and shoulders are, how wide your back is, and in some cases, how long your legs are – all so that it can put the rollers in the right place for you.

ADVANTAGE – Body sensing customizes the massage to each person sitting in the chair. Whether you’re 5’1” or 6’2” you should have the same massage experience.

Compression Therapy

In addition to rollers, most chairs also have a series of air bags that, when filled with air, compress around a part of your body. Depending on the chair, you’ll find air bags on the feet, ankles, calves, hips, arms/hands, shoulders and back. The compression can be increased or decreased based on your personal preference.

ADVANTAGE - Compression helps to promote better blood flow which is part of the healing/recovery process.


You’ve seen astronauts sitting in a space capsule, right? Often, they’re pictured laid back in what’s called a zero-gravity position. This allows their weight to be more evenly distributed across their shoulders, back and hips and relieves pressure on the spine. Equally distributing the weight allows your body to be more receptive to the massage rollers as no part of your body carries the bulk of your weight. Further, when you’re in zero-gravity position, your knees are above your heart which helps with blood flow. Better blood flow means faster healing and recovery.

Here's a chair in zero-gravity mode:

Space Saving

Massage chairs tip back or recline (see zero gravity). Some tip back while others slide forward as they recline. Where you position your chair in your room will determine if Space Saving has any value to you.

If you put your chair perpendicular to a wall, Space Saving will allow you to position the chair a few inches away from the wall. A chair that tips back without sliding forward will need to be set about 18” (approximately) away from the wall so the back of the chair won’t bump into the wall.

If you set your chair parallel to the wall or in an open space, Space Saving won’t have much value.


The feet are an important part of any massage experience. Pressure points on your feet are directly linked to other parts of the body. Using rollers under the feet, a massage chair is able to stimulate these pressure points. Some chairs have 1 foot roller, some 2 or 3. The more rollers, the more of your foot that gets attention. Foot rollers are often paired with air compression to further enhance the massage experience.


Massage chairs have a number of pre-programmed, automatic massages. Typically, you’ll find programs that cover the full body and others that focus on a part of the body. They have semi-intuitive names like Sports Refresh, Rest & Sleep or Neck & Shoulder. Different programs involve different massage techniques which, depending on the chair, can be enhanced by increasing the intensity (3D) or squeeze (air compression therapy).

Manual Mode

What if you want to park the rollers on a particularly troublesome spot on your body? Manual mode is the solution. With Manual Mode you can choose the type of massage you want (kneading, shiatsu, tapping, etc.) and then limit the rollers to a region or spot. You can also adjust the position of the chair while in manual mode and continue with the reflexology.

Massage Techniques

Like a massage therapist, your massage chair will employ a variety of techniques. Some programs use multiple techniques while others may only use one. Some of the common techniques include:

· Kneading is a massage technique applied with pressure by lifting the muscle in circular and upwards motions. Kneading is used to break down and realign collagen fibers to increase flexibility and range of movement in the muscle.

· Knocking: the rhythmic percussion of a knocking massage impacts deep tissue to stimulate blood flow.

· Tapping: Tapping massages involve the gentle percussion of superficial areas of the body. Rather than relieving deep muscle tension, these massages aim to redistribute the body's energy and put the mind at peace.

· Shiatsu: Shiatsu ("finger pressure") massages target specific pressure points to release tension in a way that is meant to rebalance the body's energy in addition to relieving stress.

· Extension/Stretch: Stretching massage chairs compress and recline your body in a way that is meant to arch and stretch your spine. Many chairs incorporate a gentle spinal massage into their stretch function to thoroughly relax the spinal muscles while they stretch. Some massage chairs have functions that grip your shoulders and calves to improve the effectiveness of the stretch.

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