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Massage Today
August, 2004, Vol. 04, Issue 08

Stuck With Positioning in Seated Massage?

By Lee Chaffee

I feel a need to address the subject of client positioning during seated massage. I hurt for those clients I've seen in airports, malls, and wherever chair massage is administered, who are positioned with necks over-contracted, shoulders up to their ears, and severely arched low backs.

No wonder there aren't lines of people waiting to jump aboard! Just as a client cannot be expected to climb onto a massage table, lie down, and have everything "comfy," a seated massage takes some adjusting. It takes being familiar with your chair and "sizing up" the client.

Get familiar with your massage chair. Open and close it several times, and position your friends and family in it, adjusting for different body builds, before you attempt to sit a paying client in it. As clients enter your room, notice their height, weight and proportion. Sizing up clients will become easier with practice. For the comfort of the client, the neck muscles need to be elongated, not contracted. This position also gives you the ability to get your hands in between the upper traps and base of the occipital ridge.

Observe the positional needs of the client throughout the massage, since it can change based on the amount of pressure applied. Usually, asking the client to put his or her chin a little closer to the chest will correct any loss of position. If the neck is contracted after a few moments of applying pressure to the back, the client will usually end up with a headache. Would you want to pay a minimum of one dollar a minute to obtain that result?

This is how I help direct clients sit comfortably in my massage chair: First, I tell them to sit, then kneel on the kneepads and place their hands on the armrests. Then, with me standing in front of the chair with all levers unlatched (no matter what brand of chair I'm using), I ask them to put their chin to the chest and aim their forehead for the top of the hole in the face cradle, applying a little weight until they feel comfortable. Then I lock the face cradle in place.

Next, I check the client's shoulders to make sure they are not too high or low. I also make sure that the traps are not too contracted or over-stretched, and will raise, lower, or angle the chair's arm rest accordingly. If the chest plate is adjustable at an angle (as well as for height), make sure it is not pushing in on the diaphragm. Doing so can cut off a client's breath and may cause them to faint. I prefer a 45-degree angle, if possible.

The position of the knee rest is up to the clients, as to whether they feel comfortable with their feet touching the floor or not. Usually, if they are not comfortable with their toes touching the floor, they can slide their knees forward. On some chairs, the knee rest comes off.

On some chairs, the seat adjusts but not always to my height. If possible, and if it does not disturb the client's comfort, I prefer the seat of the chair to be a bit higher than my knee. I have found that this height works for any modality. Experiment with this aspect of chair adjustment so that you and your clients are as comfortable as possible.

With a little adjusting, clients can also sit face-forward in a massage chair. I have used the chair this way when clients want work done on their face, head and shoulders. The client carefully sits backward on the seat and leans back against the chest rest, while the headrest is brought up as far forward as it will go. Most chairs have an added adjustment to bring them forward for larger clients. I hope these suggestions have helped. Happy seated massaging!


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