The Best Massage Chairs for Hammering Out Your Kinks
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The best massage chairs are a boon after a long day hunched over a screen, or after a tense half hour on the phone with your cable company. Lay back in one La-Z-Boy style, press a few buttons, and settle into the pummeling sensation of a disembodied massage on demand.
David Weintraub, L.M.T., owner of Bodyworks DW Advanced Massage Therapy, describes a good massage chair as a form of catharsis physically and mentally, a dedicated place for “unplugging your brain.” You don’t need to be in agonizing pain to want a massage chair at home, but anyone with some muscle aches in the neck, shoulder, or lower back region can enjoy a soothing shiatsu session now and then.
“The vibrational component of the chair, as well as pressure from the rollers, will help to improve circulation in tight, sore muscles, which naturally results in relaxation as well,” Jim Memory, L.M.T., owner of Be Well Boston, adds.
Can you get the same relief from a massage therapist and a massage chair?
Short answer, no. Even the best massage chairs won’t get you anywhere near the type of relief you’d achieve from a customized rubdown from a seasoned masseuse, but they’re plenty convenient for kneading jobs in between after a long day.
Weintraub explains that a massage therapist’s job includes “analyzing each client’s posture and alignment, listening to their symptoms of pain and stress, and custom designing treatments that will help result in long term improvement of their symptoms.” That’s a little less intuitive than a massage chair with pre-programmed settings can get you, but that doesn’t mean a massage chair doesn’t have a place in your home, given you have the space to set one up.
Beret Loncar, L.M.T., owner of Body Mechanics Orthopedic Massage says massage chairs are great for relaxation and “general full body uses,” meaning you can definitely have both in your life. Plus, at least with a massage chair, you’re looking at a one-time investment for (hopefully) many years of usage.
What should I look for in a massage chair?
There are tons of massage chairs in the world, mostly hunks of leather with programmable menus in the armrests that’ll help you dial up the tension or ease back into some light Swedish massage. Memory says to look for features that include “heat, multiple rollers for back, legs, arms, neck and shoulders, or an air bag component” for these areas. Airbags are intended to mimic the light, variable pressure of a Swedish massage, FYI.
Kneading rollers are almost always a given in a massage chair, but Weintraub worries about them being too rough on some people, so he recommends checking to see if your chair has different intensity levels to adjust for your body sensitivity.
Finally, looks matter when it comes to a big chair that you’ll have in your home. If you’re going to leave this thing out in the leaving room, instead of banishing it to the basement, you want it to blend into its environment rather than having it stick out like a sore thumb. Loncar notes that some massage chairs will look exactly like a massage chair—meaning big, bulky machines—but she finds that massage chairs have evolved style-wise over the years, becoming sleeker and more modern.
To help you wade through all the options out there, we asked our massage experts to guide us in selecting some of the best for every kind of massage experience (shiatsu! Swedish! zero gravity!) and budget.
The Best Massage Chair Overall: Real Relax
“This futuristic looking chair will tick all the boxes for therapeutic massage and relaxation,” Memory says. Real Relax offers one of the best massage experiences in the massage-chair market for the price, and to top it all off, there’s even an iPad-sized touchscreen LCD screen attached to the thing. Additions like dual S-tracks, which follows the natural curvature of the spine like a two-handed massage, make this feel a little more like you’re getting a real massage (well, kinda) than comparable chairs around this price.
Full-body airbags provide compression wherever you need them instead of a select few places like just your arm or your legs. The Real Relax massage chair includes multiple massage programs, whether you want a regular ol’ back massage or some kneading along your arms, hips, or calves. One of its coolest features is its futuristic voice control operation, which eschews the typical remote control for ease of use when you just can’t be bothered to lift a finger mid-massage.
The Best Splurge-y Massage Chair: Titan 3D Prestige
Loncar had one word for this $2,000 chair: “epic.” As bulky as it looks (and feels considering it’s 250 pounds), the chair comes beefed up with plenty of upstanding features. “This chair has everything,” Loncar explains. “It fully reclines, which is known as ‘zero gravity,’ and has all the bells and whistles anyone can ask for, including surrounding massage on each leg.” Zero gravity is a reclined position in which the sitter lies back with their body in a position that evenly distributes weight in a way that makes you feel suspended in air. The zero gravity position helps to alleviate back pain and increase circulation, making for a more effective massage session.
Listen, this thing is not cheap, but it offers advanced massaging features—like a 3D airbag with position sensor, SL-track rolling system (which means the massage rollers follow the curvature of the spine down to your tights glutes and hamstrings), and foot roller—that puts this chair leagues above cheaper massage chairs. And if that weren’t enough for a relaxing experience, the Prestige even comes with bluetooth speakers to make your home feel more like a calming oasis. Queue that meditation track up and breathe deep.
The Best Portable Massage Chair: HoMedics Shiatsu Plus Cushion
While it won’t replace a full-scale massage chair, a massage cushion is a great space-saving alternative for a pseudo-massage at home. Homedics’ 17-pound massage cushion sets up on any chair (like, say, your office chair), and offers a “shiatsu-style” massage, which essentially kneads, taps, and stretches your body like it’s Play-Doh. The cushion offers three massage modes: kneading, massaging, and spot massaging (for specific targeted areas). “Without the recline functions, you would have to lean into the vibrations, as they do not hit the lower body, but they are great in a pinch,” Loncar. There’s no headrest on this cushion, but we appreciate the two-year warranty.
Best Basic Massage Chair: Best Choice Products Executive
If a massage chair that blends into your home is all you want, then the Best Choice Products Executive massage chair is calling your name. It uses heat and vibrations to target specific areas like your back and lower legs. Aside from its massaging capabilities, the chair reclines, swivels 360 degrees, and packs in some storage pockets for all the common things you’d want on hand while sitting in a chair like this (namely, the TV remote).
“If you’re into more of a recliner kind of thing and want one that blends into the family room in a relaxed way, you might want to check out this one,” Loncar says. “It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles but it reclines and has general settings like you might find at your local nail salon. This would be a great basic chair for unwinding while watching some movies with the family.”
Best Looking Massage Chair: Nouhaus Modern Chair with Ottoman
Nouhaus’ “Modern” massage chair tipped you off with its name: It’s got a midcentury design that looks something like an Egg Chair and an Eames recliner had a baby. Loncar tapped this pick for its looks, but also called out its multiple settings for heat, and different speeds for hammering out your kinks. The chair uses spine rollers that travel south from the neck to the lower back, operating at 35 kneads per minute, along with air bags that inflate and deflate to massage your hips and glutes.
“If you are looking for something leg-specific, this may not be for you,” Loncar says, but recommends it as an understated choice for some back tension relief in your living room. It’s also surprisingly light—clocking in at 72 pounds—though do make sure to get some help setting it up at home.
Best Massage Chair for the Elderly: Three Posts Faux Leather Heated Massage Chair
If you’re hoping to scoop a massage chair without dropping a boatload of money, this one is probably the least you’ll want to pay while still getting some decent muscle relief. Despite its relatively low price tag, the massage chair still boasts a variety of massage functions like four targeted massage zones, five types of massage modes, and two intensity levels. “It will provide a relaxing experience, but lacks in features that some of the more elaborate or expensive chairs offer, such as more modes of massage, as well as more actual massage rollers,” Memory says. “[It’s] good for someone seeking relaxation without breaking the bank.”
One of the biggest benefits of this chair is that it tilts forward, which Weintraub notes would help older folks get in and out of the chair more easily. The heated massage chair also offers zero-gravity reclining to sweeten the deal.
Best Zero Gravity Massage Chair: Human Touch WholeBody 7.1 Zero Gravity Recliner
As a simple recliner for your lounge, this low-profile Human Touch chair wouldn’t be a bad option by itself. But it also happens to be a full-body massage chair that offers zero-gravity reclining, purely as a flex. The chair offers five pre-set programs for full, upper, lower, relax, and sleep massage, and also allows for customization options to tailor your massage to your needs.
“This chair provides a more complete massage experience due to the circular motion of its rollers, which will improve circulation and also better mimic a real massage,” Memory says. The extendable footrest doubles as a calf massager, which helps with recirculating blood flow. Plus, the back cushions warm up for heat therapy, targeting the lumbar area for a deeper, more effective massage. The WholeBody 7.1 also offers a “FlexGlide solution,” which the brand says makes the massage feel more therapeutic and less like you’re getting pinched and pulled.
Best Customizable Massage Chair: Insignia 2D Zero Gravity Massage Chair
One feature (of many) that you lose when you get a massage chair versus visiting a dedicated masseuse is a customized treatment catered to your specific aches and pains. Insignia cuts through the noise with its high-quality massage chair that aims for a more realistic experience by performing a body scan on the sitter to determine the right massage setting based on their height and weight metric. This customized massage won’t intuit your problem areas, and it definitely won’t be able to fix them completely, but it’s an impressive feature that makes this massage chair feel custom to the user.
Memory calls this the “Cadillac” of the group, providing many of the major benefits of the other chairs on this list, “while including foot massage—a rarity for massage chairs—and full-body options.” Our only knock is its gaudy pod-like design, which might be hard to fit in with most people’s interior design tastes.
Best Cheap Massage Chair: ComHoma PU Leather Massage Chair
This barebones faux leather massager doesn’t come close to the features of the pricier chairs on this list, but it still reclines, rocks, heats, and swivels if you’re keeping costs low. As Memory notes, it’s good for the most “basic relaxation and massage features.” The chair doesn’t look much like a massage chair, more like a cushy seat for your home movie theater, which might be exactly what you’re looking for to de-stress your next screening of Uncut Gems.