Massage Chair - A Handy Device To Decrease Stress And Help Relieve Muscle Tension

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Recently, we had a chance to catch up with Osteopath Dr. Kerry Martret from Healthy Living Osteopathy in the Melbourne suburb of Keilor East. Dr. Martret informed us of the various reasons why patients come to her, and why she recommends massage chairs to her patients. Here are her thoughts.

As an Osteopath located in Victoria, I treat a wide range of musculoskeletal complaints , ranging from headaches & migraines, treatment for neck & back pain, joint stiffness, work-related repetitive muscle pain and muscle tension, just to name a few. As Osteopaths adopt a holistic approach to treatment and management of musculoskeletal pain, it is important to also determine the health of other nearby structures. To obtain a good overall picture of what could be causing, influencing or maintaining a patient’s presenting problem, I like to take a very thorough medical history.

I therefore take this opportunity to share with you what I find all too often. As our lives become increasingly ‘busier’, we find that we do not factor in ‘me’ time. Work-life balance is extremely important for preventing and managing musculoskeletal pain. Stress is often THE, or a very big contributor for, most of the neck and shoulder tightness or pain that I see in my clinic.  When we are stressed, anxious or worried, we often hold this tension in the muscles that surround the neck and shoulders. We tend to elevate the shoulders, which shortens the distance from the muscle’s attachment to its insertion point. This is not ideal as this reduces the efficiency for oxygen & elimination of waste products to flow freely through the muscles, resulting in areas of spasm, tightness or pain around the neck & shoulder regions. As certain muscles also attach to various joints in the neck and shoulder blades, the joints of the spine and neck can become limited in their general mobility, resulting in stiffness or pain (particularly with specific movements). Persistent stress, and shortening of specific muscles can also alter a person’s posture with continued ‘pulling’ on the joints where the muscles attach to.

(Photo Credit: Healthy Living Osteopathy)

If we consider stress as a main role in neck or shoulder pain/tightness and also the pressure we put on ourselves to ‘fit everything in’ in a regular day, I find it is so extremely important to educate my patients as to the significant influence ‘stress’ has on our life. I also find that many of my patients who acknowledge that their lives are quite stressful or that they have little time to ‘spend time on themselves’ often also complain of headaches. Sadly, often my patients tell me “I’ve been living with this pain for years, I’ve just gotten used to it over the years and have headaches for ages”.

For my patients that present with neck/shoulder pain, muscle tightness or joint stiffness, I always like to explain the importance of just ‘taking time out’. Yes, this then becomes another ‘added’ responsibility, but it is crucial that my patient begin to see the value in just making time for themselves each day. I also often receive the challenging response of “Yes, but where do I find the time?”.

At times it may be difficult each day to have ‘time out’ but I have often even encouraged my patients to consider purchasing a massage recliner chair. I explain to my patients that owning their own massage chair can allow them to achieve some ‘time out’ time without having to leave their home. The chairs are inbuilt with a massaging program that allows complete personal preference as to which areas of the body are to receive the massage and allows for variable massage intensity. Some chairs even have extra features such as heating inbuilt into the seat & back and some also provide massage for the legs.

The reasons why I like to recommend massage chairs are as follows:

1. It forces you to have ‘time out time’ - If I asked you when the last time you sat down on a comfortable & supportive chair, closed your eyes and just listened to your own breathing, when you would say you last did this? Ever? Other than sleeping, or relaxing on a chair or couch whilst being stimulated by television, mobile phones or other electronic devices, can you ever recall just sitting and fully unwinding? Probably not. Making time every night, to spend 20 minutes sinking into your very own massage chair, with no TV, no book or other device, is what I would suggest is one of the easiest and time convenient ways to fully relax

2. Stress reliever – How many of you feel so sleepy, relaxed and like ‘walking on air’ when you have just experienced a satisfying massage? Isn’t it just a wonderful feeling? I often suggest a regular massage to my patients, who I feel their problem is purely tension-related. Often I am told that it takes up too much time for them to get away to get the massage, or that they have specific preferences of massage that never end up receiving. For tension-related issues, a massage chair can really help here to improve blood circulation, increase oxygenation of the tissues, release those tight knots, improve muscle & joint flexibility and also reduce frequency or intensity of tension and cervicogenic headaches.

3. Assists in blood circulation and lymphatic drainage – Some of my patients complain of tired or heavy legs. Often they can notice that their ankles have begun to swell and they feel the only way to alleviate this is to finally sit down and raise their legs. While sitting down and elevating the legs to promote venous return is effective, choosing a massage chair that reclines to allow elevation of the legs that also has a gentle leg/calf massage feature can really help with removing all that excess fluid (I always recommend only a very light and gentle intensity for this).

4. Help with muscle or joint compensations with gentle stretch feature – If you consider our shoulder, arm, elbow and scapula position in most of our daily tasks, what would you conclude? Here are just some examples:

Cooking – shoulders forward, chopping or preparing food with our hands in front. 
Computer use or students – shoulders forward, fingers typing on keyboard in front.
Tradespeople – Repairs or replacement of devices in front.
New mothers – Breastfeeding, picking up baby shoulders forward, in front.

No wonder we end up with compensatory tightness to the chest muscles! What I really like about some massage chairs is that they have a ‘stretching’ feature, particularly for the shoulders (to depress the shoulders and stretch out the chest muscles). Ensuring this is on a light setting, and with proper use, this can be very helpful in reversing that ‘rolled shoulder’ appearance, provide relief for those tight chest muscles and also help improve posture.

5. Comfortable recliner optimisable for preferred lumbar , hip & knee alignment - I often ask my patients about the chair or couch that they frequently use to relax on. It is important that their favourite chair or couch is not too soft where their knees are higher than their hips (lumbar flexion & pelvic posteriorisation) and that getting up from the chair or couch is not an exhaustive activity! Due to the complexities involved in the design and programming of massage chairs, I often don’t seem to question my patients about the softness and design of their chair if they tell me they own a high quality massage chair that has been purchased from a well-trusted and reputable company. I have even noticed improvements in my patients who have purchased a different regular chair or couch to their previous one during my assessments and find it helpful that they too often feel a decrease in their pain or symptoms. Although on a case-by-case basis, owning a high quality massage recliner chair permitting ideal lumbar and hip support that also provides a fully customisable intensity-varying massage + heating feature and leg massager is an ideal product that I would often recommend to my patients.

Dr. Martret’s clinic is located at Suite 2, 49-51 Wyong Street, Keilor East, in Victoria.
Her clinic is open Thursday through to Saturdays.
You can reach her at www.healthylivingosteopathy.com.au or call her at (03) 9336 7230.
Her clinic is located approximately 30 minutes by car from our Richmond office.

Disclaimer:The information contained in this article is general in nature and does not take into account your personal situation. You should consider whether the information is appropriate for your needs,
and where appropriate, seek medical advice.