Article by Gretchen Rieger LMT
Posted 10/16/15 Last Updated 7/19/17
There are several things to consider when deciding how to choose a portable massage table for your personal needs. If you're leaning toward an out-call practice weight and strength will bear prominently in your decision making process. In the addition thickness of foam, type of overall covering, leg support system used, width of table top, length of table, height variances and quality of materials used during manufacturing will all play a role. One of the most important considerations is the functionality of the face cradle or head rest. The types of modalities that you prefer to practice may also factor into your choice of a portable massage table.
As massage therapists we are in the business of helping people relieve back pain and relax. The lighter your table the longer you will enjoy carrying your table from place to place and the more energized you will be during massage treatments. Table carts and skate boards are helpful, but there will always be those times that you will need to carry it upstairs and lift it into and out of your vehicle. I am a big fan of lightweight tables and there are two quality manufactures that build the lightest portable massage tables Astra-Lite and Pisces Productions.
If you know you will be moving your table around frequently then the strongest and lightest weight table, will be the best choice for you. Astra-Lite manufactures one of the strongest lightweight tables in the United States. Astra-Lite builds four tables that they refer to as super lightweight designed for weight and economy.
They also build four tables that they refer to as professional lightweight portable massage tables. These tables are built stronger while still maintain the lowest overall weight of any other table manufacturer. The Astra-Lite professional line is made of aircraft aluminum tubing and allows 11" of leg room on either end of the table providing comfort of use for Reiki or Craniosacral practitioners.
This is the only table with legs angled rather than vertical to the table top. The advantage is its ease of opening and set up. You will notice on the web site that the center of the table is rated for a higher load capacity than the table ends. This is due to its design, if your methods of technique require sitting on the end of the table this may be a consideration that excludes this table for you. Modalities that require you to climb onto the table with the client should be considered carefully. The center of the table is extremely strong and can support the weight of you and your client. The ends of the table have a lower load bearing capacity.
The Pisces Production New Wave table is truly a remarkable functional design. It uses a unique woven web top. This table has an amazing load bearing capacity in relation to its total structural weight with a maximum static load of 2000 pounds and a maximum working load of 500 pounds. The New Wave II lite weighs in at 23 1/2 lbs. with rounded corners, welded hinges and diagonal brace brackets. The New Wave II is a strong and lightweight option for out call and mobile massage practices.
This table is not only lightweight but because of the manufactures unique patented Versa-cable system the table will lay flat on the floor for those massage therapists that practice shiatsu or floor stretching. It also has a Velcro latching system and its foam and the outer covering can be replaced easily at home. Order the materials you need from Pisces Productions and utilize the Velcro hooking system at any time to change the outer fabric color or replace the foam.
There is a third manufacture well worth mentioning that has patented two innovative table designs. Nirvana Massage Tables have developed a lightweight table that they call the Dharma Lite Massage Table which incorporates their patented neck and breast contour features. The Dharma Lite would be at the higher end of what I would consider lightweight weighing in at 27 pounds. The patented spring mattress top might best be described as a trampoline top with lightweight padding and welded aluminum frame.
My first table was an Astra-Lite. I purchased the table while attending massage school. I chose the table for its weight and because clients could lay down comfortably. Do not tell anyone, but I actually slept on my table for several days after bringing it home. We had the opportunity during our training to try out several lines of tables. I purchased my table in 1990. I was able to use several manufactures at school, at that time many schools commonly carried and sold massage tables and supplies.
I had the option of using Oakworks, Custom Craftworks, Astra-Lite, Golden Ratio and Pisces Production tables during our massage clinical hours. Our clinical room was the same room as our lecture classes. We were breaking down and setting up tables on a regular basis as the room changed from clinic to lecture.
All of the mentioned table manufactures produce quality tables. My Astra-lite is still in great shape and my go to table for out call appointments. Since graduation, I have had the pleasure of owning a Custom Craftworks and a second hand Robert Hunter Bodywork table. I like both these manufactures very much and would like to point out that Robert Hunter Bodywork tables are manufactured with a unique pin locking system. This system increases the table's stability and allows it to take full scale bodywork year after year and remain stable.
I had never heard of Robert Hunter until I needed another table for my massage office. I took a chance and looked at a few online ads for second hand tables and came across a well written ad for a Robert Hunter Bodywork table. The therapist was clearly in distress over their need to sell their beloved table. After years of use I now understand why. They are built to last a lifetime.
If you are the type of therapist who uses bodywork modalities that require that you climb on top of the table with your client or to apply deep tissue with forces that puts stress into the table from the sides then you should seriously consider a Robert Hunter Bodywork table. All pop up tables will require maintenance to their cable support systems. Robert Hunter teaches you how to maintain all of their tables and they need the least amount of maintenance. This table with careful use may need no maintenance at all. The only down side to a Robert Hunter table is that they are on the heavy side weighing, depending on the style and added features, from 29 pounds to 43 pounds. Many times, knowing that your table will last your entire career is worth the extra weight.
Finding the formula for what kind of portable massage table will best work for you is a matter of knowing your own body proportions, personal preferences, massage modality preferences and researching all the manufactures features that are available today. The massage table is a massage therapist's tool and the most expensive investment they will make beyond their education and licensure. Knowing how to choose a portable massage table is a bit of an elusive concept as many students do not purchase a table while in school. In today's massage therapy industry massage retail chains are common place. Many students do not purchase a table while they are in school and go on to work for a physician's office, Salon & Spa, Day Spa, Resort Spa or Massage Chain and never have a need to own a table.
The obvious way to get to know the various table lines is to actually have the opportunity to touch and feel one. Even better is the ability to use a particular table while providing a massage treatment or better yet receive a massage treatment on one. What is it that you are actually going to do with a massage table to earn a living? You will be setting it up, breaking it down, moving it around and doing massage therapy. The opportunity to do these things with a table before you purchase it is invaluable research information.
Massage Schools are the first opportunity to interact with a massage table as an educational tool. Many if not most massage schools use portable massage tables. Some still have retail stores loaded with tables, chairs, stools as well as books and educational DVD's. If your school does not have a retail store take a look at all the schools within driving distance to see if any of them have retail stores and sell massage tables.
Today many schools have found it less profitable to offer a retail store with the increasing number of internet retail sites like massagewaerhouse.com. Making it much harder to touch and feel different lines of massage tables. Ask your instructors what tables they use or have used during their careers and what they liked or disliked about the table or manufacturer. The best way today to see other tables while still in school is to ask your instructors to bring their tables to school and show them off.
Industry conventions and showcases are great places to have an opportunity to speak with and learn from knowledgeable professionals. Multiple suppliers and manufacturers will have displays that provide access to massage tables, chairs and other related products. The American Massage Therapy Association holds a convention every year. Not only does the AMTA hold a national convention every year, but state chapters will also hold state level conventions yearly or bi-annually.
The One Concept American Massage Conference is held annually. One Concept also is the organizer of the annual Canadian Massage Conference. The International Spa Association holds an annual conference with speakers and spa industry vender showcase. The Alliance for Massage Therapy Education holds an annual educational conference, which includes educational opportunities and access to an industry trade show.
State Massage Therapy Associations will also hold annual conferences such as the Florida Massage Therapy Associations Convention held in Orlando Florida. The resort and spa industry hold regional market place trade shows every year. Taking the time to find a conference or convention near you will be well worth the effort and expense. Purchasing a massage table from a manufacture with a solid track record will ensure that it provides you with a mobile business for many years to come.
Many times while you are in massage school your instructors will provide guest lecturers or opportunities to go out into the community to see a massage establishment or Day Spa. Make sure you take full advantage of these occasions by asking questions about how they chose their tables. If you have not yet been on a field trip to a local Spa, it might be time to ask.
Check out your area for local distributors of massage and spa products, they are often eager to have to opportunity to go to a local massage school and show off their product lines. They may even be open to allowing massage classes to come to their warehouses for a tour. If you are located near the offices of any of the biggest manufactures of massage tables, do not hesitate to call them for a tour of their facilities.
Receiving a massage from a professional massage therapist is an important educational opportunity for any massage therapy student. Massage therapists by nature are usually open to answering questions about their profession. Take a look around your area to see what types of massage business exist. Call a few of them and ask if any of their therapist's would be interested in trading massages. Let them know that you are a student and would like to experience different massage styles. Keep calling until you get a yes, ask your questions and make sure to find out what they like best in a massage table.
I hesitate to include this suggestion, but their are several companies in larger cities and regions of the US that actually rent massage tables. It may be worth your while to see how expensive it would be to rent a table for a few days or a week to try it out before you purchase. The down side of this suggestion beside the rental fee is that they may or may not have the brand of table that you are most interested in owning. It may be worth asking someone you know who owns a table that you like if you may borrow it for a few days. Not everyone will be open to lending out their personal massage table.
How to choose a portable massage table and how to know what specifications will work best for you. The remainder of this article will focus on the dimensions of tables, construction quality and features found in portable massage tables. Before we focus in on these features you need to know how your height, arm length, basic proportions and injury or disabilities may affect how you work as a massage therapist.
How high or low the table is able to adjust should fit you as an individual. The size of the client on the table will also affect the height and width of the table. Your arm length will affect the width of the table. Arm length is often proportional to your height, but not always. If you are very tall, very short or have short arms these will be important considerations. Make sure the table is able to adjust high enough or low enough for you.
The width of a table can vary from 25 inches to over 33 inches. Table width can affect the quality of your massage treatments; especially if your technique requires you to perform certain methods while on the table. If you know you intend to work with large individuals such as football players, basketball players, bodybuilders, and weight lifters for example you will need a wider table. Your personal reach is something that would be favorable for you to assess before you purchase a table.
The comfort of the table should be considered the width of the table will affect those clients that are wider or who have wider shoulders. The height of the table will affect the client's ability to get onto and off of the table. Step stools can be used but, always make sure your client is stable enough to use one.
The comfort of the table from the client's perspective is as important as the comfort of the table from the therapist's perspective. The padding on the table and the face rest will have the greatest effect on the comfort of your clients. A head rest is not usually designed to support the added weight of the client's arms, although some manufactures take this into consideration. An adjustable face cradle can break and those entirely made of plastic often do. The functionality of the adjustable face cradle is of vital importance.
The majority of tables today come with an adjustable face cradle. The greatest difference between a table made from a manufacture that specializes in massage tables and those that mass produce multiple types of products is the quality of the face cradle. Table support systems and quality of materials used can also vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.
Your ability to adjust your height by going into a lunge position will also play a role in your decision making process. Those who have back pain, knee pain or hip pain may need to work with a table in a higher position than those who can lower their center of gravity comfortably. It is best to err on using a lower table height than a higher table height; this will facilitate the ability to apply pressure into the client with greater ease. Getting it right will affect your body mechanics as well as the length of your career as a massage therapist. Working on a table that does not fit you can lead to back pain, hip pain, neck pain and increase stress on the shoulders and forearms. Let's take a look at massage table specifications.
The width and height of the table will play the greatest role in your comfort and longevity as a massage therapist. The best width for a massage table will vary depending on your average client's size, your size, your body mechanics and the types of massage modalities that you prefer to perform. The average width of a massage table chosen by the majority of therapist and establishments is 30 inches (76 centimeters) those with shorter reaches commonly choose a table of 28 inches (70 centimeters). The width of a table will also reduce or increase its carrying weight.
I personally prefer to have a table that is 33 inches in width especially if I know it will remain stationary a majority of the time it is in use. In general an individual that is 5' 4'' or less would be most comfortable with a table that is 29 inches or less. An individual that is 5' 10'' or taller would be most comfortable with a table that is between 27 and 33 inches.
A narrow table can be chosen for its portability or for the comfort and reach of the massage therapist while performing a massage. When a narrow table is a better choice, it can be helpful to choose a manufacture that offers arm extensions. Two last considerations for the width of the table is the space in which it will most often be used. A wider table will require more room on either side of the table. In today's market place several manufacturers, such as the Oakworks Advantage, are offering contoured tables. They are designed to allow for a wider shoulder end while narrowing along the torso to afford greater access for the therapist.
The height of the therapist and arm length will have the greatest effect on what the best table height will be for them. The size of your clientele will also factor into the equation. Those therapists who are very tall or very short will need to pay special attention to the highest adjustment or lowest adjustment on the tables that they consider purchasing. A rule of thumb is that the table top should align with the therapist's hip joint or a little lower to account for a client on the table. Another is that the knuckles of the first metacarpals should lightly brush across the top of the table.
Tables will most typically have a 10 inch span, for example from 24 to 34 inches. Metric table specifications usually range between 60 centimeters to 83 centimeters in height. Tables can be found that adjust as low as 20 inches or as high as 36 inches. If you require a height above or below these specifications you will need to place a special order with a company that builds their own tables. Such as Oakworks, Custom Craftworks, Robert Hunter, Astra-lite, Earthlite and Master massage tables.
The ease of adjusting the height of a table is also a consideration when choosing a table and one of the hardest to assess unless you have the opportunity to try a table out first. Wooded tables typically have a screw and knob system of adjustment. Some tables have two knobs as shown in the picture above while others have one knob to lock down the legs. The stability of the table can be affected by how well the manufacturer reproduces this feature over and over again. The holes need to line up properly in order for the table to be level at all four corners. The knobs need to unscrew easily and will undergo a lot of wear and tear if used for a mobile business or used by multiple therapists.
Some wooden tables have the ability to adjust the length of the table leg via an adjustable end cap. This rubber end cap screws into the bottom of the leg and allows a small range of movement. This feature is helpful when setting up the table on an uneven surface or floor.
Lightweight Aluminum tables have a telescoping height adjustment that utilizes a button that pushes in allowing the leg to slide in or out until it reaches the next position. This feature works the same way as a pair of crutches or an adjustable walking cane. This type of leg adjustment is usually easier and quicker than adjusting the height of a wooden table.
The standard length of a portable massage table is 73 inches. The main considerations regarding the length of the table is the room or setting in which it will most often be used in. A small treatment room may require a specially ordered length to accommodate a defined space. The comfort of tall clients is the second concern. Certain brands of massage tables have head and foot extenders that can be purchased separately.
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