a young lady using the remote control on massage chair

How Do Massage Chairs Work?

As you might have noticed, massage chairs have become increasingly popular over the years. However, you will be shocked to know that, contrary to popular belief, massage chairs have been around for several decades.

The first design was completed and patented in 1948 much to the surprise of many. Luckily, due to the impact of technology, massage chairs have transformed enormously, more so due to the modifications made to enhance their versatility and efficiency when offering massage therapy.

Although it is not compulsory to understand the workings of a massage chair, having knowledge on how the chairs work can come in handy, especially when looking to choose from various brands in the market. Read on to find out more about the features of massage chairs and how they are designed to work.

How Do Massage Chairs Work? 

To understand how a massage chair works, one must consider the processes undertaken by an actual masseuse at work. A professional masseuse uses several pressure-induced techniques such as kneading, longitudinal gliding, rhythmic compression and transverse friction to give you that thorough massage therapy. (1)

the massage chair with the arrows to show how it moves

Similarly, a massage chair is designed to perform the role of a masseuse. Through a microprocessor, the massage chair is programmed to offer several massage therapies to the user. Technological advancements have helped increase the efficiency of the microprocessor such that it can be programmed to support multiple commands.

Key Components Of A Massage Chair

Roller Tracks 

The importance of roller tracks to the performance of a massage chair cannot be overstated. To put it in perspective, rollers perform the role of human hands in a massage chair. Most improvements done to massage chairs are based on enhancing the flexibility and overall movement of the rollers. Therefore, rollers are without doubt among the most important parts of a massage chair.

Complex chairs have unique mechanisms where the rollers are not only designed to move vertically but also horizontally. Cheaper alternatives, on the other hand, have limited roller movement which makes them less efficient as compared to the more expensive options.

Gears, Vibrating Mechanisms And Motors 

Massage chairs rely on vibration to create a massage effect. To make the massage chair vibrate, manufactures utilize small electronic devices which contain gears or wheels. However, when developing the vibration mechanism, manufacturers avoid centering the overall weight on the gear; this helps create a vibration in a specific area.

 an illustration to show how your body enjoys the massage chair

Thus, for a chair to vibrate effectively,it must have several wheels that can rotate rapidly across the chairs surface.


As mentioned earlier, the microprocessor acts as the ‘brain’ of the chair as all massage therapy instructions are stored there. It is through the microprocessor that the chair can receive commands from a remote control and respond by activating the initially installed massage therapies. Expensive massage chairs have superior microprocessors which allow the devices to function at a higher level than less costly alternatives.

Remote Control 

Although not considered as must haves for a massage chair to function, remote controls enhance the effectiveness of a massage therapy. Through a remote control you can adjust the intensity of the rollers and vibrations to improve the massage experience. While a remote control cannot adjust the pre-installed settings, it gives you additional control when using a massage chair.

The Various Massage Modes In A Massage Chair

Luckily, due to the use of a programmed microprocessor, a massage chair can perform various massage techniques. However, it is important to note that some brands can perform more techniques than others depending on the capability of the microprocessor. (1)

explain which muscle parts get relaxed with the machine

Below are some of the massage modes offered by massage chairs.

1. Kneading Massage 

The kneading massage technique soothes your body muscles through circular but highly effective motions. For your chair to manage the kneading technique, rollers must move in tiny, circular motions to relieve muscle tension and soreness. Kneading massage is mostly used on neck, shoulder and back regions as it offers a deep, much-required relief on such areas which are usually hard to reach.

2. Rolling Massage 

The rolling massage therapy applies pressure on specific areas through upward downward movements. Therefore, if you are sore on the back areas close to your spine, the rolling therapy is recommended. Rolling massage helps reduce muscle tension, relax your back and even more importantly, improve your overall blood circulation.

3. Shiatsu

Arguably the most common technique used in massage chairs, the shiatsu massage uses acupressure to stretch and soothe your various muscles. The technique relies heavily on the rollers rotation, rolling, sweeping and pressing movements to relieve muscle tension. 

explanation of Shiatsu mode

The shiatsu mode of massage has multiple benefits including stress reduction, improved overall circulation, alleviation of anxiety and depression among other benefits.

4. Tapping Massage 

When it comes to the tapping technique, the rollers alternate up and down in a fast manner. If you are regularly troubled by your back and lumbar regions, we recommend using the tapping therapy as the strokes will not only strengthen but also tone your muscles. Similar to other massage chair techniques, you can increase or reduce the intensity by using the remote.

5. Deep Tissue Mode

To offer you a deep tissue session, a massage chair will apply pressure through gliding strokes in a bid to relieve muscle tension. Through the application of great pressure in the roller strokes, the massage chair effectively manages to reach deep lying tissues and consequently improves your overall body balance.

some massage chairs with the remote control siiting on the floor

Thus, when dealing with recurrent body pains and inflexibility, we recommend using a chair that can massage your deep tissue.

6. Reflexology 

Though not offered on all massage chairs, reflexology rollers are usually located on the chair's foot rest and can move in slow or fast speeds depending on your settings. Despite focusing primarily on the feet area, reflexology massage benefits your entire body as it improves circulation while enhancing your body's healing ability and also improving overall wellness.

7. Air Compression Mode 

As mentioned earlier, technology has played a vital role in the improvement of massage chairs. The air compression mode, for instance, uses airbags to squeeze and release several parts of your body. The inflation and deflation motions can be fast or slow depending on your preferences. As such we recommend using the compression massage on body parts such as shoulders, hips, calves, hands, and even thighs.

three massage chairs images to take a look


Although the above massage techniques have been mentioned and discussed in depth, there exist other therapies which are incorporated in massage chairs based on manufacturers preferences.

Depending on budget, you can either acquire a massage chair with all the features mentioned above or select one which has few of the techniques that appeal most to you. Either way, before settling for a particular brand, understanding the various massage therapies offered by a chair is recommended.

To make the best choice when it comes to massage chairs - or any other home massage tools, we advise taking your time to understand how such devices work. By understanding the mechanism behind massage chairs, you will be in a position to select a chair that suits your specific needs.

Remember, features vary depending on brand and price. Therefore, you should not select a massage chair based on appearance; instead, go through the features to determine the option that fits you best.  

Grant Moore