Knead those muscles please!
Since the first massage chair was developed in 1986, approximately 10,000 massage therapists have taken their trade to the streets, literally. Inventor David Palmer, director of TouchPro Institute, a nonprofit training association in San Francisco, had the foresight to know stress would play a role in this ever-evolving world.
Increasingly, many workplaces, specifically within the world of stockbrokers, often treat themselves to onsite masseuses who offer their wares for 15 minutes a day as stockbrokers continue yelling and trading. The slight break is said to make a difference in their day aside from the evident benefit to their necks and shoulders.
Thanks to advances in technology and heated competition among manufacturers, consumers who purchase massage chairs can now enjoy massages on a par with those offered by professional practitioners from the comfort of their own living rooms. The latest massage chairs are equipped with an array of sensors, pressure pads, and air bags, all designed to give back and shoulder massages that relieve the stresses of work and everyday life.
Most massage chairs massage users with disc-shaped kneading pads or with air bags that expand and contract. To get the maximum benefit from an automatic massage, the back's pressure points must be precisely aligned with the pads. However, no two backs are the same. Manufacturers have therefore developed technologies that enable the chairs to adapt to the distinctive features of each individual's back, resulting in much more comfortable and effective massages. The innovations include optical sensors that accurately determine the position of the user's shoulders in the chair and pressure sensors that sense where the user's back muscles are by gauging how their weight is distributed.
One manufacturer developed its chairs after conducting research in which professional massage therapists were enlisted to massage mannequins covered in artificial skin and containing pressure sensors. Analysis of the data revealed patterns of finger pressure and kneading. The study underlined the importance of adjusting the power and direction of pressure and kneading in response to the direction and other features of a person's muscle structure. From this research, he developed a motor capable of moving vertically and horizontally around the back's pressure points and of instantly adjusting the power of the pressure pads.
Some massage chairs are even furnished with a lie detector to determine whether the client is enjoying the massage to adjust pressure pads accordingly.
The popularity of massage chairs has not escaped the attention of the tourist industry. The Hotel New Otani Hakata in Fukuoka Prefecture, for example, has installed massage chairs in some of its guest rooms. This has proven to be a popular service, especially among men on business trips.
Back in 2001, around 400,000 massage chairs were sold, a number that rose to 470,000 in 2004.
When massage chairs first appeared around 50 years ago, most were sold to public bathhouses for commercial use. As Japan's economy began to grow rapidly, more and more ended up in private homes. Today's models are finding favor by adapting to an era in which the widespread use of PCs and Macs both at home and at work has made stiff shoulders a very common complaint.
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