What is a Seated Massage? And is it as Good as a Regular Massage?
If you’ve had a massage, you know it’s just about the most relaxing thing you can do for your body. But for some people, having to disrobe and be covered in massage oil makes the experience time consuming and uncomfortable. However, seated massages, also known as “chair massages,” offer many of the same health benefits of full-body massage without having to disrobe or be slathered in oil or cream.
So, what exactly is a seated massage? And is it as good as a regular massage? A seated massage is a massage that focuses on the upper body, including:
And, it’s all done while the client is seated in a special chair. Depending on what you’re looking for in a massage, as well as the massage therapist, a seated massage can absolutely be as good as a regular massage.
Do you love to treat yourself to a massage, but you’re not always able to free up time in your schedule to book one? Would you love to squeeze in a massage over your lunch break, but don’t want to return to work with residual oil under your clothing? If you answered yes to either of these questions, or you’re just curious about seated massage, I’ll fill you in and tell you just how beneficial it can be.
What is a Seated Massage?
Again, this type of massage is also known as a chair massage. Naturally, it takes place while the client is seated in a chair. The massage therapist focuses on the areas listed above in order to reduce stress and muscle tension.
The Seated Massage Chair
The massage chair itself isn’t just a standard, run-of-the-mill folding chair. Nor is it a big comfy lounge chair. A seated massage chair is made specifically for a massage therapist to easily access the areas that he or she will need to address, in order to provide the most therapeutic seated massage for their clients.
The technical term for one of these chairs is a “professional massage chair,” not to be confused with consumer massage chairs. Consumer massage chairs are the ones you might see at the mall, which usually look like a leather recliner, and you can pay for the chair itself to massage you.
There are many different professional massage chairs available. The ones listed below are a few of the best in the business:
- Master Massage Professional
- Comfort 4 Portable Chair
- Stronglite Ergo Pro II
- Earthlite Vortex Portable Massage Chair Package
- NRG Grasshopper Massage Chair
- Oakworks Portal Pro 3
- Ataraxia Deluxe Portable Folding Chair
- Earthlite Portable Massage Chair – Avila II
- Stronglite Ergo Pro
Head and Chest Rest
A professional massage chair is made for seated massages done by a professional massage therapist. They do fold up for easy transport and are usually covered in a padded, synthetic material for easy cleaning. And, instead of sitting in it like a normal chair, the client sits facing forward, with knees bent on specially-placed pads and chest resting on a chest pad.
Seated massage chairs are similar to a massage table, in that they have an opening for the face and a headrest for the forehead. This is a rounded cushion that extends from the backrest, which is really the front rest. Confusing, yes, but really comfortable, so we’ll let it slide.
The length that the headrest extends from the rest of the chair is usually adjustable, to make it comfortable for clients of all different shapes and sizes. If you’ve ever had a massage where your face doesn’t fit just right into the headrest, or your chest is being smushed against the body cushion, you know how much that can impact your overall level of comfort.
Arm and Leg Rests
Massage chairs used for seated massages also have armrests, for the client to lean their forearms against. Sometimes there is one big padded area for both arms to lay during a seated massage, while others have two separate rests.
The leg rests are below the seat area of the massage chair, and also have a pad for additional comfort. Leg rests are usually a few inches off the ground, and the client’s legs just bend and lay right on top of the pads. It might sound strange, but it’s incredibly comfortable.
Both the leg rests and armrests are commonly adjustable in length and height so that they’re easy to access for all clients. An added level of comfort comes in the angle of the leg and armrests. They’re typically tilted upwards just a little so that there’s little to no pressure on any one part of the body.
The seat pad is usually relatively small, but the way that the chair is designed, the body’s weight is distributed evenly throughout, so the seat isn’t necessarily the only thing that needs to be comfortable. Also, the seat padding is typically pretty thick for even more comfort and relaxation.
While the leg rests and armrests are tilted slightly backward, towards the body, the seat pad is angled just a tiny bit forward, with the higher end at the back. This is another way that the chair keeps pressure from being put on any one part of the body, more than the other.
The seat is also adjustable in height, as many of the other moving parts on a professional massage chair. The adjustability factor is ideal since clients will more than likely not have the same body size or shape.
All of the pads on professional massage chairs are easy to clean, so they can be sanitized after each use.
Also, many of the parts – especially the face rests – have paper covers available, which is another way massage therapists can keep their chairs nice and clean, and provide an additional layer of protection for the client. There are also replacement pads on the market for almost any of the professional massage chairs. So, you can relax during your seated massage with the confidence that your therapist is providing a well-maintained chair.
Seated Massage Techniques
When a massage therapist is giving a seated massage, he or she will use a variety of massage techniques, or modalities, that they’ve been trained in. Although most massage therapists are trained using multiple techniques, they typically choose just a few throughout their careers in order to maintain proficiency.
Some modalities are best for when a client is lying down; while others work well when incorporated into a seated massage session.
A seated massage is short in duration and most massage modalities require access to the entire body to be considered a “thorough” treatment. Massage therapists will still use techniques from other modalities when performing chair massage. Consider it like a pu pu platter of techniques. If you want a thorough treatment, you may want to schedule a longer session with the therapist in order to receive the most comprehensive treatment.
Below are some modalities your therapist may incorporate into your chair massage session.
This is a technique that a massage therapist will use to stretch the fascia or connective tissue under the skin that binds everything together. When the fascia becomes restricted, it can impact the muscles, organs, and even bones or skeletal structures that it’s connecting.
Myofascial releases attempt to restore the connective tissue that’s being restricted and allow it to return to its original state.
Trigger Point Therapy
A trigger point is what it sounds like: one specific area that triggers sensation (pain) in one or more other places in the body. This is called “referral pain.” When you have an especially tight “knot” of muscle tissue somewhere, it may be causing you pain elsewhere.
Trigger point massage aims to alleviate pain at this source by releasing constricted muscles. The technique involves specified moments of pressure and release, working to pinpoint the area triggering pain and help to release the tension.
This is one of the basics of massage therapy and something that almost everyone uses. In a seated massage, it’s particularly important and effective when working the arm and forearm. Longitudinal gliding is the motion used when a therapist moves with the direction of the blood flow, starting at an injury site or where there’s inflammation, swelling, or particularly tight muscles.
Deep Transverse Frictions
Using the fingers, a massage therapist will apply pressure around a certain area, working back and forth across the tissue beneath the skin. If a client has an injury to a ligament or tendon, this can be a particularly beneficial technique. The idea is that the pressure will release any thickness that’s caused by scar tissue and prevent more from growing. This technique is especially effective on the neck and shoulders during chair massage.
Another staple of massage therapy, this technique uses different parts of the hand to apply pressure. This is done very carefully and systematically. The therapist will use their thumbs or the palm for kneading the skin, working the muscles and tissue below the surface.
There are plenty of different styles of massage available. However, some of these are off-limits for a seated massage, because they require skin-to-skin contact or lotions and oils as lubrication.
Another factor that keeps some of these massage styles from translating to a seated massage is that they work better on the parts of the body that can’t be reached during a seated massage, and are often full-body techniques that take more than 15-minutes to perform effectively. However, elements of these advanced massage modalities may be incorporated into your chair massage, making increasing your ultimate massage experience.
- Tui na (also known as Chinese Massage)
Because these massage styles are done through clothing and do not require lotions or oils, or skin on skin contact, they work quite well with seated clients who are fully clothed.
Tui Na or Chinese Massage
This is an ancient method of massage that’s been used for centuries. This massage practice is based on acupuncture points. By massaging certain areas with the traditional massage technique of kneading, this kind of massage also includes:
While it might sound painful, it’s actually highly effective for pain relief as well as other ailments. The pressure that’s applied to the various acupuncture areas through massage, usually next to or around:
- Nerve endings
- Mast cells
This type of massage causes the body to change by stimulating infection-fighting systems and helping to release serotonin.
During a seated massage, many of the acupuncture points can be accessed. Again, this is what makes this style of massage work well with seated, or chair massages.
The basis of Korean massage is the idea that the mind and bodywork together and are interconnected. Korean style massages are done to increase balance within the body through energy flow.
While some Korean massages can include full-body work along with other practices such as cupping, the fundamentals of Korean massage provide a good foundation for many seated massage therapists.
As far as seated massages go, this fundamental style of massage is rather common. Not only because of the focus on the mind and body connection but because it combines elements from other massage styles.
By manipulating and moving the soft tissue in the body, someone trained in Rolfing works with the myofascial system and the connective tissue. Rolfing is an approach that’s considered deep tissue and works to alleviate tension and soreness by adjusting the body, and its posture.
This works well in a seated massage because it’s particularly useful in the neck and shoulders area. However, there’s a certain level of soreness that comes along with a Rolfing session, so if you’re looking for a lunch break seated massage, this style might not be best for you.
This style of massage was developed as a means to connect massage and meditation. Through gentle, but also firm pressure, the therapist works with the body to produce an overall heightened sense of awareness, but also a release of pain. The Trager Method of massage also works off of the therapist’s mind and body connection, not just the client’s.
As with some of the other massage styles, this one works well with a seated massage because it can be done on a wide range of body parts. And, just like the rest of these methods of massage, the Trager method can be done on a client that’s fully clothed.
What to Expect During a Seated Massage
A seated massage originated as a way for people to get some of the benefits of a regular massage, but in a shorter time frame. The overall goal was to relieve stress and tension and fast.
The idea of a massage during the workday, fully clothed, and without oils quickly caught on, and seated massages increased in popularity. A seated massage is usually done in under 30 minutes, with an average of 15 minutes.
If you’re getting a chair massage, loose-fitting clothing is a must. You want as little resistance as possible when you’re lounging in the massage chair. The massage will focus on the upper body and areas that need relief there.
When it’s your turn for a seated massage, your therapist will help you get into the chair, and then into a comfortable position. Your face will rest in the padded headrest, and your arms and legs will fit right into their respective rests. If there are any adjustments needed, your therapist will take care of those before getting started.
Using massage techniques above and any of the massage styles or even a combination of a few, the therapist will focus on stress relief, and work through any “knots” or tense areas in the back, neck, or shoulders. The arms and hands are also usually part of a chair massage, although if you’d like your therapist to focus on specific areas, it’s always a good idea to let them know.
So, even though a seated massage is relatively quick compared to a full-body massage, it’s much more than just a shoulder rub and a pat on the back. A massage therapist that’s giving a seated massage will use any of the massage techniques and styles that work to suit your needs during your session.
Where Can You Get a Seated Massage?
Part of the allure of a seated massage is that it’s a really convenient massage option. With the ability to stay clothed and no oils involved, it’s easy to get right down to the massaging and relaxing.
Access to quick relaxation has been on the rise. People are stressed at work, stressed at home, but there’s not any extra time to focus on relaxing and unwinding.
The need for seated massages has led to an increase in availability, and when you want one, a seated massage is never too far. There are a few different places that one can get a seated massage, without searching too hard.
Traditional Salons and Spas
Many traditional spas that typically give regular massages are now also offering shortened, seated massage sessions. These are also less expensive than a regular massage. Some salons and spas have added one or more professional massage chairs to get clients in and out, and fast.
Seated Massage Spas
Again, the increase in the need for fast relaxation and stress release has caused people to find means of doing this that works with their schedule. Seated chair massage salons are popping up in cities and making seated massages more widely available. Many of them also offer walk-in services and don’t require appointments.
High Pedestrian Traffic Areas
Airports and malls are getting in on the seated massage bandwagon, as they should. Travel and shopping are both stressful; a quick massage break just seems natural. If you don’t mind all of the people walking by seeing you get massaged, then one of these would be a great place to pop into.
On the Job
You read that right… you can even get a seated massage at work. There are plenty of massage therapists that will pack up their professional massage chair and bring it to you, whether you’re in an office or a non-traditional work setting.
Seated massages are often called “event massages.” Events that are business-oriented are a great place for massage therapists to offer their services. Especially if the event is for a particular group of people that might need some extra relaxation, like a teacher or nurses convention.
This one is worth mentioning because this would be a great idea for anyone hosting a party. Hiring a massage therapist would be a great way to raise the party bar. Your guests will love it.
Many medical professionals are staffing licensed massage therapists within their practice. This is also the same for some chiropractors. Patients are able to schedule seated massages that coincide with their previously scheduled appointments, and in some offices, the massage therapist is available for walk-ins.
Benefits of a Seated Massage
Seated massages, just like traditional massages, are full of benefits. They’re both mentally and physically advantageous for the mind and body. Here are just a few of the benefits we can get from a seated massage.
If you’re sitting at a desk all day or work at a computer, it’s likely that you’re experiencing pain in the neck and shoulders. Seated massages can help with this kind of pain, as well as any pain in the arms, hands, or fingers.
A seated massage gets the blood flowing. With the increased circulation, the body will feel energized for a few hours afterward. If you’re doing this during the workday, be prepared to become really productive.
Immune System Strength
The same 15-minute massage that increases energy through increase blood flow can also result in strengthening the immune system, as well. Increased blood circulation is a great way to help kick that immune system into high gear.
As we briefly touched on earlier, even a quick massage can release serotonin and turn anyone’s frown upside down.
Naturally, any time you can work into your schedule some time for yourself, you’re going to feel a tiny bit of stress relief. But, a massage, even if it’s seated, will still provide those same stress relief benefits. This can also lead to lower anxiety.
Often times, those that suffer from migraines are able to get relief from seated massages. Because the focus is on the neck and shoulders, where a lot of tension is carried that can bring on migraines, a seated massage can reduce the pain that comes along with these.
Overall Calming and Relaxation
In a world where everyone is busy and on the go, it’s hard to remain calm. We’re always going somewhere, late to something else, or thinking about what we should be doing instead of whatever we’re actually doing. Taking a few minutes for a seated massage will result in a calming effect and relaxation.
It Works with Your Schedule
Possibly one of the best parts of a seated massage is that it can fit into your schedule. Even if you have a jam-packed day with hardly any time to spare, a short 15-minute massage can still give you the same results as a longer one.
A Seated Massage Can be Mobile
I take that back; the mobility of a seated massage therapist is probably the best part. Having someone come to you, on your schedule, to provide all of the physical and mental benefits of a massage is completely underrated.
The Verdict on Seated Massage
Is it as good as a regular, full-body massage? This is a little subjective because it really depends on the client’s expectations. If you’re hoping to achieve any of the results that were just discussed, and in a quick amount of time, then a seated massage is going to be just as good as a traditional massage, if not better.
Another factor is whether or not you appreciate the up-close contact of a traditional massage. For some, this is uncomfortable, and one of the main reasons why they don’t do regular massages. If this is the case, then a seated massage is just what you need.
However, some really like the skin-to-skin contact that comes with more traditional methods of massage therapy, so a seated massage won’t be as good as a regular one.
Again, some people really prefer the lotions and oils that come with a regular massage, so a seated massage that doesn’t have those things just won’t seem like an actual massage.
Also, the environment can play a key role in whether or not a seated massage is as good as a regular one. Seated massages are done in less private areas, which can be a drawback for some. If you prefer a massage that’s behind closed doors in a traditional salon or spa setting, then a seated massage won’t do the trick.
And of course, the massage therapist is one of the most important elements in whether or not a massage is good. If you have a traditional massage that lasts 90 minutes, but the therapist is awful, then a seated massage with a great therapist will work wonders.
On the contrary, if you have an uninspired or unprofessional massage therapist doing your seated massage, then it’s not going to be the greatest experience. A skilled professional massage therapist can perform what feels like miracles, whether you are seated or lying down.
In the end, if you’re just looking to relax and have the knots worked out of your neck and shoulders, or your arms are experiencing soreness, but you’re really pressed for time, then yes. A seated massage can do you just as much good as a traditional massage.
Richard A. Lehman, LMT, CSCS