How to Choose a Portable Massage Chair

Article by Gretchen Rieger LMT posted March 22, 2016 Last Update November, 7 2017

How to Choose a Portable Massage Chair
A Historical Perspective

In considering how to choose a portable massage chair we will begin with how it has played a key role in the increased acceptance and utilization of massage therapy over the last 35 years.  To understand how profound the evolution of chair massage has been in the massage industry, it is necessary to take a closer look at its history.  The invention of the massage chair began with David Palmer in 1982.

David had the innovative idea of offering seated massage to office workers as an employer health care benefit.  He believed that he could develop an entirely new way to promote the benefits of massage within the work place.  David put together a team of graduates from his own massage school to provide professional massage at offices and promotional events in 1982.

In the beginning they utilized existing office chairs, stools, desks and conference tables. They performed an acupressure technique based on Amma Therapy.  When they had clients sitting in backed office chairs it was virtually impossible to reach down the spine in order to stimulate the "bladder channel" all the way down to the hips.  Turning the available office chairs around was step one.

Problems arose most chairs at the time had arms and wheels.  Pushing into the shoulders and back resulted in rolling the client across the room. Turning the office chair around and allowing clients to support themselves on desktops and conference tables was an initial solution.

To resolve the rolling issue they choose a folding portable drummers stool to take with them to events and offices.  Positioning people this way was awkward and clumsy at best.  The acupressure technique required significant pressure into the muscles of middle to lower back creating an issue for clients who began to relax into the therapy.  The front of the body needed to be braced to allow the client to relax without falling over.

David quickly realized that in order to successfully establish chair massage as a viable office and event massage alternative he would need to build a massage specific chair.  His initial aha moment was the Balans chair or "kneeling chair" developed in 1979 by Peter Opsvik of Norway .  He knew that a massage chair would need to incorporate this knee supported forward posture position.  His next big move toward the realization of an actual prototype came when he met a French cabinet maker Serge Boussou.

He discussed his ideas with Serge in 1984 which produced a series of prototypes ending in the invention of the massage chair credited to David Palmer in 1986 patent No. 4,746,167.  The unique qualities of the first massage chair were most definitively influenced by Serge Boussou as a maker of cabinets he visualized the need for a portable chair as a box.  The box opened and the components came together to form a face and chest supported massage chair. 

How to Choose a Portable Massage Chair
The Original High Touch Massage Chair from Living Earth Craft

He took his prototype developed with Serge to the owner of Living Earth Crafts, Jim Everett.  They produced a series of pre-production models until they had what they thought was a winner.  Production of the High Touch Massage Chair began in May of 1986 and continued until mid-1990. 

By this time almost every table manufacturer had their own version of a portable massage chair.  It should never be overlooked that David Palmer started the revolutionary massage chair industry and has been instrumental in the conception of marketing chair massage to corporate America.  He was one of the first to place trained massage therapist in the work place performing chair massage.

David sold his interest in his initial chair massage company in 1984.  He turned his focus to developing the chair massage industry.  He decided that he needed to train therapists to do chair massage.  He launched a new industry by offering training classes at 24 of the best massage schools throughout the major Cities in the United States, Canada and Europe.

Although there are no statistics to prove that the Massage Therapy Industry owes a great big thanks to David Palmer, it would be safe to say that every working massage therapist today owes him a heartfelt thank you.  The industry has grown by leaps and bounds since the 90's with employment opportunities growing by as much as 18%.  A study performed by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2014 projected the continued growth of the industry through 2024 to be as much as 22%.

How to Choose a Portable Massage Chair
Quality Brands in the Market Place

The fundamental simplicity of the original High Touch massage chair has changed very little since its conception back in 1986.  The materials used to form its framework have become lighter, changing from wood to aluminum making the chair easier to transport.  The basic face cradle support has become adjustable, along with the arm rest & seat angle affording a greater degree of comfort for the client.  Yet the padded knee, face and chest supported design remains unchanged. 

So what defines a solid choice for purchasing a massage chair for out call and event use today?  It is easy to point out the top contenders for a quality constructed massage chair.  The best quality chairs are produced by the big massage table manufacturers. 

So how do you choose the best massage chair for you?  Then we must consider the biggest innovation in massage chair design.  This came in 1996 with the development of the Dolphin II massage chair by Pisces Productions, which allows the therapist to give a massage in a vertical or horizontal position.   Check out the Get Massage Smart massage chair comparison chart for chair specifications, pros & cons, and price ranges.  These are known manufactures that have been around for a long time click on the following links to see a video series of chair routines & techniques performed on the highlighted portable massage chair.

How to choose the best massage chair for your particular needs?  Let's take a closer look at the pros and cons of each of the above selected chairs.  Then we will look at a few economy choices.

The top five contenders all have a solid history of use out in the field.  Oakworks was one of the first table manufactures to re-invent David Palmers original designs.  Their Portal Pro is manufactured using an aircraft brushed aluminum tubular frame.  Today's version weighs in at 19 lbs. and includes attachments for a strap for carrying and wheels for moving the chair from place to place just like wheeled luggage.

The Oakworks Portal Pro is the most commonly seen massage chair at Airports and Shopping Malls.  It is most notably praised for its ease of transportation as its luggage like portability makes it very popular.  On the other hand, many have noted that the face cradle locking system is made of plastic and will break down over time. 

The Ergo-Pro by Stronglite was co-develop by David Palmer and Stronglite engineers.  David still uses the Ergo-Pro today.  It is a quality manufactured massage chair that has also withstood the test of time. 

This chair is the most comfortable chair for the widest number of people based on short to tall and skinny to those up to 600 pounds.  For comparison the Portal Pro has a working weight limit of 350 pounds.  The Ergo-Pro has a working weight of 600 pounds and a static weight of 1200 pounds.  The chair scores well with massage therapists as providing much better ergonomic positions based on the height of the chair.  It allows for a wider range of adjustability and comfort for both the client and therapist.

The only consideration for this chair is the ease of portability.  It is a portable chair that like the Oakworks Portal Pro provides wheels and weighs in at 19 pounds.  Some therapists have indicated that they find it a little more challenging to move from venue to venue on a daily basis.  The bottom line consensus with those owning the Ergo-Pro and having used or owned an Oakworks Portal Pro was that they loved the versatility and comfort that they found with the Stronglite Ergo-Pro.

Golden Ratio sold its designs to Touch America in 2007 and is now only providing the sale of used tables and replacement parts for their older tables.  The Golden Ratio massage chair is a solid portable chair design that has done well in the field.  Many massage therapists report using their Golden Ratio chair for 11 or more years with no structural issues.

Today the chair is available through Touch America and is now called the QuickLite Go-Anywhere.  The compact design allows the chair to be comfortably carried in its carrying bag.  The chair manufactured today weighs 14 to 15 pounds, depending on the fabric chosen, making it the lightest solid built chair.  Its small size allows for ease of placing the chair into and getting it back out of a compact sized car. 

The Dolphin II portable massage chair is a versatile massage tool.  The most common response from clients is that it is the most comfortable massage chair they have ever had a massage on.  The chairs, unique circular design allows the therapist to provide a vertical posture or rotate the chair forward placing the client into a horizontal posture.

The chair frame is formed from powder coated aluminum and weighing only 18 pounds. making this a very portable chair.  This chair provides the largest range of adjustability allowing for extreme comfort for all individuals.  Pisces Productions also provide a specially designed, bolstered chest support for women and wheels for transporting.  The Dolphin II can be a little more challenging to put into and take out of an economy or compact sized car.

The Avila II from EarthLite was designed with the comfort of the client in mind and most would agree that this mission was accomplished.  The chair weighs in at 25 lbs. and has a working weight of 350 lbs.  It is constructed of a composite material that allows its frame to evenly distribute the weight of the client increasing stability.  The chair itself does not have wheels, but the case that comes with it in a package does.  The chair folds down into a compact unit that can be placed in its protective bag for transportation and storage,

Owners of the Avila II have reported that their clients love the comfort of the chair and that it really does adjust for a wide range of sizes even children.  They also find it takes some time to get use to set up and break down and requires practice to get it into its wheeled bag.  So pros very comfortable for the client, cons although great adjustability challenging to set up and take down.  Its a little heavy to lift in and out of a car, but its compact size does help with smaller vehicles. 

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How to Choose a Portable Massage Chair
A  Promotional video Presentation

Massage schools will often have a few massage chairs to provide a massage chair experience for their students.  Depending on what region of the country you may have gone or are going to massage school you may have the opportunity to work with an Oakworks Portal Pro or a Stronglite Ergo-Pro.   A few schools may have a Dolphin II around for comparison.  As we have suggested in our article on "How to Choose a Portable Massage Table", we recommend asking your massage instructors what chairs they have used and liked and to bring them into class for a demonstration.

We are providing the following promotional videos for their educational value.  We hope the presentation helps provide additional information for those wanting to decide which massage chair will be best for them.   The purchase of a quality massage chair is a significant investment.

First a few points for consideration from a therapist's perspective.  The QuickLite Go-Anywhere provides a very compact design that may be easier to transport and set up for smaller therapists.  The Stronglite Ergo-Pro is often described by therapists as providing the best ergonomic situation for the therapist allowing for a more erect posture for the practitioner.  

The Dolphin II allows for a great client experience and provides a horizontal position which affords the therapist the use of their body weight into their work.  A caution with the horizontal positioning is that the chair is low as compared to a table and will require a deep lunge.  This may make it difficult for therapists with any knee issues. 

The Oakworks Portal Pro is a great choice for the average height therapist.  The Portal Pro places the client in a slightly more forward posture than the Ergo-Pro which requires the therapist to adjust themselves into a deeper lunge.  The Portal Pro does allow for the client to be placed on the chair with their back to the face cradle, but the Ergo-Pro accommodated this position with greater ease for the client. 

The Oakworks Portal Pro

The Stronglite Ergo-Pro

Pisces Dolphin II Massage Chair

EarthLite Avilla II
Break Down Demo From Massage Nerd

How to Choose a Portable Massage Chair
Cost Effective Solutions

The two primary tools for the professional massage therapist is a quality massage table and massage chair.  Today it is entirely possible for students to graduate and begin work without ever purchasing their own table or chair.  The industry has grown consistently over the last two decades and many corporate massage business will provide everything the therapist needs.

The basic chair design has not changed much since David Palmers original wooden box High Touch massage chair from Living Earth Crafts.  There are so many manufactures of massage chairs today that it is not possible to discuss them all.  Our next list contains several known brands that offer a quality product at an economical price.

  • Earthlite Vortex Portable Massage Chair
  • Master Massage Bedford Portable Massage Chair
  • Custom Craftworks Melody Portable Massage Chair
  • Stronglite Standard Portable Massage Chair

In many areas of the country office, event, airport and shopping mall chair massages have become so popular that there are companies that actually rent massage chairs.  You may consider renting one for a few days to see if chair massage is really for you.  If you are still in massage school call a few mobile chair massage companies in your area and ask what chair they use.  Find out how well they like the chair and ask if they would consider coming into the classroom to do a demonstration.

The EarthLite Vortex weighs an amazing 15lbs and sets up quickly.  Its working weight limit is only 300 lbs. and is probably more like 250lbs. Neither the chair nor the bag it comes with have wheels.  Some reviews have reported problems with stability.  If you know you will be working with average sized clients this may be the chair for you.  The chair is easy on the budget, light weight to carry and easy to set up and take down.

The Bedford from Master Massage has a working weight capacity of 500 lbs. and has a powdered aircraft aluminum frame.  The chair weighs 18 pounds and has a chest cushion designed to make it more comfortable for the clients to place their arms on the arm rest.  Unlike other chair designs the chair's main support touches the seat as it rises to support the chest cushion and face cradle.  This can cause discomfort for both male and female clients.  This chair does not support shorter individuals less than 5'4" or taller than 6' well.   

Stronglite Standard portable massage chair is a great chair for those that will not be moving it around or can work with a 300 lbs. working capacity.  The chair weighs 16 pounds and has double layered 2" cushioning.  The seat and arm rest each have three positions while the chest cushion can slide up and down.  Its weight makes it very portable while still being economical to purchase.

The Bottom Line
Which Chair will work for Your Needs?

What fundamental questions need to be asked and answered when looking to purchase a massage chair? 

  • Will the chair stay in one place or be transported?
  • How do you intend to transport the chair? Will it be easy to put the chair in and out of your vehicle
  • How heavy is the chair?  Is it stable when the client gets on or off the chair?
  • What are the break down dimensions of the chair?
  • What kind of strap, carrying bag or wheels are provided with the chair or bag?
  • How often will the therapist be using the chair?
  • What range of adjustability does the chair have? How efficient is the set up, adjusted between clients, or break down?
  • What are the physical characteristics of the therapist and what are the potential physical characteristics of the clients that will be using the chair?
  • How much are you able or willing to spend on purchasing a portable massage chair?
  • Does the chair come with a Warranty?

If the chair is not going to be transported often from location to location, then the weight, folding dimension, and ease of set up is less of an issue.  The Earthlite Avila II has a stable base, is very comfortable and lends itself well to a permanent location over portability.  Dimensions and weight become more important when the chair will be transported frequently from venue to venue.  Will the chair fit easily into your vehicle?

Quality control within manufactures and production of the chair can play an important role in the decision making process.  Some chairs are more stable than others with Oakworks Portal Pro, Stronglite Ergo-Pro and Avila II rating well for stability.  How heavy the chair depends on the therapists ease with lifting and carrying the chair.  All the chairs tend to weigh less than the average portable massage table.

The question becomes how awkward is the chair to actually carry?  The chairs with wheels are easier unless they must be carried up stairs.  If the chair will remain in one location, then weight and set up become less important.  The size of the therapist can be important to a point, some chairs have been rated easier on the therapist working posture such as the Stronglite Ergo-Pro.

Always make sure you understand what company you are actually purchasing your chair from.  Confirm the warranty and that they will honor the warranty.  In addition, it can also be valuable to be aware of the responsibility of the shipping company and seller if the chair is damaged during shipping.  Ask before you buy if the company will accept returns or simply send replacement parts for damaged or missing parts.


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