Massage Chair vs Massage Therapist Pros & Cons - a person getting a chair massage

Massage Chair vs Massage Therapist Pros & Cons

Amelia Wilcox
June 25, 2020
October 9, 2022

If you're looking into investing in stress relief for your company, you may be wondering what's best: a massage chair or massage therapist. It's a fair question with a lot of factors to consider. Learn more about the pros and cons of massage chairs vs human massage!    

Electronic Massage Chairs vs. Massage Therapists:

Regular massage is a great way to kick stress to the curb. Because of the way massage moves muscles and tissues, muscle knots are reduced, and good-feeling hormones start flowing. But is all massage created equal? There are some real benefits to therapeutic massage chairs, but when you compare a massage chair vs human massage, we believe that human massage has benefits technology just can't beat!  

Related: Massage at Work: Top 10 Questions Answered


Though there are variations among models, the basic premise of a massage therapy chair is to provide massage-like effects on the body. There are typically a number of cycles to choose from, as well as the option of a heating element that can be turned on or off.

These are the most standard options for therapeutic massage chairs:

  • Location controls—To indicate where the massage should happen (legs, upper back, lower back, etc)
  • Heat controls—To choose temperature
  • Intensity controls—To set the desired strength of the massage

Massage Therapist Techniques

Masseuse vs Massage Therapist – What’s the Difference

Speaking of massage therapists, what’s the difference between a masseuse vs massage therapist? Most massage practitioners prefer the term massage therapist -- the work they provide is truly a therapeutic treatment that can help with healing and injury prevention. Massage therapist is also a more gender-neutral way of referring to your practitioner (whether they're male or female!).

The most standard form of massage in the Western world is known as Swedish massage, though there are hundreds of styles of therapeutic massage. These are the basic Swedish massage techniques:

  • Effleurage – AKA “warming up”, used to apply lotion or oil, tells the nervous system it can chill for a while and start to relax, helps to warm up muscles
  • Petrissage – Deeper than effleurage, more of a kneading technique, best for working out areas of deeper tension and stress
  • Tapotement – The famous “karate chop” move is included in this category, any kind of repeated striking technique
  • Friction – Also called “cross-fiber friction,” helps to break up tissue adhesions
  • Vibration – Used in very localized areas on stubborn muscle knots and areas of particular tension

Human touch is an important factor as well. Studies have shown that that physical touch sends signals to the nervous systems and endocrine systems that help to ease tension and produce stress-reducing hormones. This doesn't happen with a massage therapy chair.

Related: Do Massages Hurt?

What Massage Chairs Try to Do -- But Can't

Alternative Types of Massage

  • Hot Stone – A massage technique where warm stones are placed on the body for added relaxation
  • Aromatherapy – Is a practice where massage practitioners will use essential oils and plant extracts for their calming properties
  • Deep tissue – A type of massage therapy that firm pressure that reaches deeper layers of muscle and fascia--or connective tissues in the body
  • Sports Massage – Focused on treating active people, typically meant to prevent injury or treat past injuries
  • Reflexology – This practice is based on the idea that the hands, feet and ears have additional nerve endings and connections to the rest of the body, and can be used to treat pain or tension elsewhere
  • Shiatsu – Shiatsu translates to 'finger pressure' in Japanese! This practice involves steady pressure for therapeutic massage therapy
  • Thai – Thai massage is done fully clothed, and involves stretching and movement-based therapy techniques
  • Prenatal – Prenatal massage is designed to be safe for pregnant women, and to help with the aches and pains of pregnancy

Do Massage Chairs Work?

Here's the key: most massage therapy chairs excel at one main thing -- vibration. Massage therapists use this technique when there is a particularly stubborn trigger point or area of high tension.

The big difference is that a therapist would never spend an entire massage session using only this one technique, yet this seems to be the main technique electronic therapeutic massage chairs are able to do.  

Related: What is Seated Massage?

The more expensive massage therapy chairs will provide other ways of massaging the body, including compression on legs and arms. There can also be internal rollers that move up and down the back.

However, none of those extra features are as customizable as the work of a massage therapist. Massage therapists will assess the client's situation and make decisions based on their training:

  • What level of pressure is appropriate for the client's muscle pain and discomfort?
  • What's the best way to address an injured area to help promote healing?
  • Which muscle groups should be worked together given the areas of tension the client has?
  • How long should each area be worked so the main issues are addressed most efficiently?
  • Given their understanding of muscle attachments, trigger points, the nervous system, and physiology, what's the best approach for each client?

Because automated massage therapy chairs are programmed, there aren't any case-by-case assessments done. However, massage therapists address each session with every client in an individualized way.

So don't worry, massage therapists, robots can't replace you just yet! In the comparison of a massage chair vs human massage, we'd say any massage at all is a winner -- but we'll pick an in person massage every time.  


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Amelia Wilcox
Amelia Wilcox
Amelia Wilcox is the Founder and CEO of Nivati, a leader in corporate massage and employee mental health support since 2010. Her high-growth B2B company provides employee stress management tools that arm businesses with actionable data and positive employee experiences to improve wellbeing, boost morale, and increase engagement. Amelia has exponentially grown her company from a solo living-room service business to an international technology brand.