Positive Vibes: Today’s Best Massage-Therapy Products (cont.)

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Do programmability and scanning changes make it so today’s massage chairs deliver a massage that feels more human? They come close, says chiropractor Karen Erickson, who has observed the effectiveness of her patients’ massage chairs via patient feedback and examinations of patients who use them. She says the greater precision of the computers that are in today’s massage chairs make the chairs nearly as good as a massage therapist who can adjust a massage according to a patient’s feedback. “Massage chairs are really valuable in that they can really relax muscles, particularly the strong muscles that support structure of the spine,” Erickson says. Massage chairs, she says, “tend to focus on those muscles and relax them.”

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Robert Hayden, who is the spokesperson for American Chiropractic Association, agrees with Erickson that massage chairs have improved, particularly as relaxation and sleeping aids. However, he recommends that patients who have back pain still seek a massage therapist, because “there’s a caring thing in that transaction you can’t get with a machine.”

CHARGED UP. Cordless hand-held massagers that use alkaline batteries have been around, but since August 2011, two companies, Brookstone and The Sharper Image, introduced models that use rechargeable lithium-ion batteries.

We found six hand-held massagers that incorporate small (3.7-volt) lithium-ion batteries. These models start at about $50. The advantage of these models over conventional models that use AAA or C batteries, aside from their rechargeability, is that they’re comparatively lightweight, ranging from 2 ounces to 5.5 ounces, compared with 7–9 ounces for those that have conventional batteries. However, now three larger cordless models purport to deliver percussive and shiatsu massages that rival the same deep, muscle-invigorating massages that corded models provide. These massagers are powered by 12-volt or 15-volt lithium-ion batteries and start at $200. They weigh 3–4 pounds, compared with 6 pounds or more for comparable corded models.

Manufacturers of corded hand-held massagers, unsurprisingly, say battery-powered models still don’t deliver the same performance as corded models do. We believe that these manufacturers’ claims are valid, not only because corded models provide more power than cordless models do, but also because the cordless models deliver a narrower range of vibration frequencies. For instance, Brookstone’s cordless Max 2 Dual Node, which has a 15-volt lithium-ion battery, has a frequency range of 14 hertz, 29–43 Hz, while the company’s similar size Max 2 Dual Node corded model has a range of 24 Hz, 18–42 Hz. We found that a wider range of vibration frequencies equates to an increased ability to vary the massage. This means that a model that has a wider range will deliver a more humanlike massage.

Power as defined in run times, however, isn’t an issue for the large cordless hand-held massagers. Brookstone says its largest lithium-ion-powered cordless model lasts 2-1/2 hours on a single charge. That’s longer than the duration that you’d want to be able to massage even the tightest muscles, regardless of what type of device that you use, according to manufacturers. They suggest a maximum of 20 minutes of continuous use, with at least 20 minutes of rest between sessions.

When it comes to relieving achy muscles, you can get too much of a good thing.

Chris Gigley has written about consumer products for 17 years for publications that include Consumers Digest, Casual Living and Home Accents Today.

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