When shiatsu gets real, it's time to hunt out one of the best massage chairs... or at very least a massage chair pad. A certain amount of pseudo-scientific nonsense is spouted about the health benefits of massage chairs and pads, but one actual, proven benefit of massage is that it makes you feel better.
Whether it's some intangible science or a placebo effect or the aforementioned feel-good factor, many of us get pain reduction from having our backs, shoulders or legs manipulated, and for those who don't, the sensation of a massage can still be deeply relaxing. It can also be expensive, but there is a happy ending to this intro: massage chairs and pads deliver a full-back massage whenever you feel like it. And they won't look at your bits, either.
This guide is focused on the best massage chairs (actual chairs with with massaging capabilities built in) but also includes some massage chair pads, which are designed to be attached to a chair you already own (these are good if you're short on storage space). If you need something even more portable, head to our general best massager article, or start from the toes up with one of the best foot massagers.
How to choose the best massage chair
One of the interesting things about shopping for massage chairs online is that the same photos crop up again and again. Often, supposedly British companies banging on about innovation and design are simply sticking a badge on products clearly sourced from Alibaba.com and charging massive markups. At the low end of the market that means eerily similar chairs from all kinds of different firms; at the high end it means firms adding hundreds or even thousands of points to the price of cheap imports. Aside from these, you want to be looking at reputable brands such as Homedics and Beurer.
To avoid further confusion, we've done the legwork for you. Read on for our guide to the best massage chairs and massage chair pads to buy now.
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T3's favourite massage chairs and massage chair pads
The Beurer MG320 Shiatsu Air Compression Seat Cover is our pick for the best massage chair pad around. As we'd expect from Beurer – a big name in health and wellbeing tech – it's a great quality option with a range of features to explore. Four rotating massage nodules (two at neck height and two for your back – you can adjust the height of the neck rollers to suit taller users, but unfortunately can't make the rollers wider or narrower) deliver kneading Shiatsu-style massages. You can alter the intensity as well as choosing which massage area you want.
If that's a bit much, you could opt for compression therapy, delivered using the inflating and deflating airbags in the seat and back. As detailed in our Beurer MG320 review, we found this a standout feature of this massage chair. And finally, you can add heat and infa-red light to make things even more soothing. Overall, we found this extremely comfortable as well as relatively accommodating for larger bodies – an all rounder that's well worth the slightly higher price point compared to some other massage chair pad options.
HoMedics is another popular and trusted name in the world of wellness gadgets. Its previous Shiatsu massage pad was a big seller, no doubt helped by its regular appearances in flash sales on sites such as Amazon. The thing was, HoMedics massagers of that period were sometimes rather vigorous – in a bracingly healthy kind of way, sure. We had one that on its top setting was a bit like being prodded with half bricks.
This has been toned down a bit, and remains a good, solid massage pad with rollers rather than just vibrating pads, so you do actually get a massage rather than a faint vibration. You can adjust the rollers’ positions to target specific bits of your back and switch between programmes as you fancy. Head to our Homedics ShiatsuMAX 2.0 Massage Chair review for more info.
This chair is everywhere on the likes of Amazon and eBay from a dizzying range of supposed manufacturers and suppliers who share remarkably similar photos. It’s an armchair/footstool combo that looks like an Eames chair, made by a school woodwork class, and is made of bonded – i.e. fake – leather. But while it’s cheap for furniture it’s actually surprisingly comfortable if you aren't obsessed with quality fabrics.
The chair makes for a nice recliner and we can testify to its comfort for a quick afternoon nap, but be aware that it comes flatpacked, and you’ll have to put it together yourself. Okay, that isn’t desperately hard, but sometimes the screw holes aren’t quite where they should be. The massage element is an eight-point unit that can jiggle around under your upper and lower back, thighs and legs. There are five different modes and two intensity settings. No, you’re not going to get amazing style or quality for this money, but the Generic Leather-style Massage Chair is both cheap and pretty cheerful.