How Do Massage Chairs Work? (An In-depth Guide)

If you buy the right one, a massage chair can be a treat for your body! But have you ever wondered how massage chairs work?

Well, the answer depends on the type of massage chair you have, whether it’s a roller, airbag, or a vibration massage chair, or a combination of the three. 

In this article, we’ll explore what each different type of massage chairs are and how they work. 

How Does a Vibrating Massage Chair Work?

Massage chairs in their simplest form are powered by vibration motors—the same ones you find in your cellphones. These motors are fitted with a weighted wheel or gear, which spins to create a vibration to massage your muscles.

As mentioned earlier, vibration massage chairs are fitted with motors, which collectively generate the vibration motion that is then transferred to various parts of your body including the legs, back, shoulders, neck etc.

Vibration massage chairs mimic “vibration therapy”, which was first implemented by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg in his health care practice in 1895.

During vibration massage therapy in a vibration massage chair, the vibrations cause your muscles to contract and relax.

Most, if not all vibration massage chairs allow you to adjust the intensity of the massage, and some may only produce vertical vibrations, and others vibrations that go up and down, front and back, and sideways.

Mcombo Vibration Massage Chair is one of the best models you can buy in this segment, it offers 5 vibration settings to choose from, has 6 vibration points with 9 different modes of vibration combinations.

iRest SL Track Massage Chair Recliner, Full Body Massage Chair with Thai Stretch, Zero Gravity, Bluetooth Speaker, Airbags, and Thai Foot Massage, Space-Saving (Brown)

How Does a Roller Massage Chair Work?

Roller massage chairs feature rollers that are neatly tucked away behind the lining. These rollers roll over your muscles, exerting gentle pressure to relieve stress.

Roller massage chairs mimic the rolling actions of the hands of a masseuse and come with multiple modes to give you the massage you desire.

The design of the rollers varies across roller massage chairs, where those geared towards your back move up and down.

Some of the best roller massage chairs are equipped with several rollers that not only move up and down but horizontally as well. There are even a few roller massage chair models with rollers that move around in circles.

Top-of-the-line models in this space remember how to move by recording and programming your massage patterns in a microprocessor, which you can adjust with a remote control.

Some roller massage chairs come with heated rollers, which are a great choice for those who have strenuous jobs or who work for long periods of time.

The OWAYS massage chair is a great example of a roller-fitted massage chair. It can be ordered in a choice of two different colors and features a deep V-wrapped design to greatly reduce the feeling of physical and mental exhaustion.

How Do Airbag Massage Chairs Work?

This 3D roller massage chair automatically adjusts the massage points and massage range to suit your body and is equipped with an S-track for a deeper massage on the neck and lower back.

Airbag massage chairs work a bit differently than vibration and roller massage chairs, in that they feature expandable airbags built into the cushions.

The airbags are located all over the massage chair to provide great relief to your entire body. Furthermore, these airbags are truly versatile, because they compress, squeeze, knead, roll and swing the body.

When the airbags are compressed, they produce a wave-like motion to loosen up your muscles and push them deeper into the rollers for a deeper massage.

The kneading functionality of the airbags mimics the motion of human hands to help promote blood circulation.

BOSSCARE Massage Chair Recliner with Zero Gravity Airbag Massage Bluetooth Speaker Foot Roller Black

The BOSSCARE airbag massage chair is a great model in the airbag massage chair space, and can be considered budget friendly. It offers six intelligent modes and three levels of strength to choose from and provides a full airbag massage for your body.

Core Components of a Massage Chair

Most of the best massage chairs are fitted with complex mechanisms to mimic the massage techniques of human massage therapists.

Motors, Massage wheels, Rollers, Airbags

These are the main components of the three types of aforementioned massage chairs that are tasked with providing the massage.

Some massage chairs may have more of the same component than others such as an S-track and L-track roller, and/or airbags located all over the chair.

Processor A.K.A. “The Brain”

The integrated microchip processor serves as the brain of a massage chair, and does several things such as store your massage patterns and preferences, and receive commands from the remote control.

Expensive massage chairs feature superior processors that provide better overall functionality than cheap massage chairs.

Remote Control

The remote control of a massage chair is typically a handheld device that allows you to access several functions of the chair.

These functions include the intensity of the massage, the type of massage, and adjusting the cushions of the massage chair.

Most massage chairs, whether vibration, roller or airbags are designed to provide several different types of massages like kneading massages, shiatsu massages, deep tissue massages, and tapping massages.  

Which Massage Chair to Buy–Vibration, Roller, or Airbags?

This boils down to personal preference and your budget. Vibration massage chairs are easily available and are generally cheaper than roller or airbag massage chairs. But of course, they don’t offer the same massage experience as the other two types of massage chairs.

If you have a little extra cash to spend, the roller massage chairs are perhaps a great option because they feature different massage modes, and allow you to adjust the intensity of the massage.

And if you have the cash to splurge, then airbag massage chairs won’t disappoint and are especially great for people suffering from certain health issues.

Final Thoughts

Massage chairs have been greatly improved since their inception, but all three types work towards providing relief for your body.

The best type for you depends on how much you’d like to spend, where some of the best massage chairs can cost upwards of $10,000.

An avid yoga practitioner, massage enthusiast, and wellness advocate since 2008. From then on, she has helped countless people alleviate muscle pains, tension and stress, to ultimately achieve wellness and balance in life.