Gadgets 946

Published on April 7th, 2010 | by Greg


Evolution of Massage: Towards the Sharper Image Deluxe Shiatsu

Here’s the thing about mechanical massagers: they’re mechanical. The best a back, neck, or foot massage device can do is to mimic human touch and sensitivity. That feedback is important in the massage process. An actual person can also – immediately – adjust for height, width, even variations in tension areas.

Remember all those old massage trinkets? There was the wooden one that made you feel a little less like you were buying something from an infomercial because the thing was so craft-y looking. There was a wooden handle with a short rod that had carved wooden rings around it. You tried this one on your feet – because that was about all you could do with it. There wasn’t any deep kneading action because that would have been about as comfortable as using a large stick to poke out the knots in your muscles. The trick of the rings was to roll along your feet or legs or wherever you could reach- your back was pretty much out of the question. Trying to get a back rub out of that wooden handle was like trying to reach that itch in the middle of your back. You can contort yourself into all sorts of twists and expend plenty of energy – maybe even over-rotate something – in the end the effort will far outstrip any possible relief or benefits from the “massage”.

So later you tried that hand held, double-headed beast that looked suspiciously like a hammer from an alien planet. The smooth white plastic and casually innocuous vinyl cover seemed vaguely deceptive. Any device that offers a stubbornly annoying vibrating drone as a useful back massager is shamefully misguided. It makes me think of exercise equipment from the 50s and things that do more harm than good. The shiatsu version wasn’t much better. Thinly veiled metal ball protuberances moved in little circles. While I will grant this was a step toward approximating human touch, there was a dangerous lack of sensitivity. Any spot that you used this massager on had to be quite flat; otherwise you got a painful pinch when the knobs came together.

In spite of the early issues, the market for a mechanical massage machine continued to develop. The field moved toward robotic designs so that there was some programmability providing that essential feedback and adjustment for individual variations. The shiatsu knobs got pulled back into the devices and combined with the old wooden ring concept so that the knobs – now rollers that don’t jut out as far from the base – are no longer as prone to pinching. Heating pads got added to the mix. These days there are a few insanely luxurious massage chairs out there that actually feel like there are little hands hidden behind the leather upholstery, running up and down your back, entirely customizable so they don’t go too low or too high or too narrow or too wide. They skip your tender kidneys and go to work on the knots you carry closer to your shoulders. They even roll along your lower back smoothing out the tension in your lower back.

The best chairs cost around $4,000 though. I will grant that if you plan to head to the spa and get a real massage – and if you go at least once a week – these chairs could pay for themselves pretty quickly. For the rest of us – those that can’t budget weekly or even monthly spa visits in the current economy – but need a moment to de-stress and re-focus because of said economy there is another option. Massage cushions are getting more and more popular because they share a lot of basic features with the larger chairs for a fraction of the price. And the cushions are easily transportable, even usable in your car or on your couch.

You’ve been putting in extra hours at work? Meet your new best friend, the Sharper Image Deluxe Shiatsu Back Massager. It comes with a carrying case so you can pack the cushion and take it to work, set it up on your chair at the office, and enjoy a really relaxing lunch. Your partner has been fraying at the edges from job stresses too? Pack the cushion back up and home it goes, and at 14 pounds it won’t put too much stress on your back. The cushion has four rollers that move up and down the back together and across the back in pairs. There is a heat feature to help the muscles relax and a programmable remote; like many, it wasn’t particularly strong but did make a slight difference.

There are 6 programs to choose from and these can be combined into customized sessions. The Perfect Fit feature lets you adjust the settings to your personal back height. If you’ve got a particular problem area kick on the shiatsu spot massage and the rollers will stop and focus on that region. The included remote is straight forward and easy to use. Important note: you’ll want to use this cushion with a high-backed chair, especially if you’re on the tall side. All in all though, these cushions are a pretty good value. Stress treatments at spas can easily run you $100 – $150 for each session. The Sharper Image Deluxe will run you around $150, a pretty good deal.

About the Author

Greg dreamed up the idea for the Truly Network while living in Hawaii, which began with a single site called TrulyObscure. In 2010, when advertisers and readers were requesting coverage beyond the scope of that site, TrulyNet was launched, reaching a broader audience over a variety of niche sites. Formerly the head technology correspondent for the Des Moines Register at age 16, he has since lived and worked in five states and two countries, helping a list of organizations and companies that includes the United States Census Bureau, TripAdvisor, Events Photo Group, Berlitz, and Computer Geeks. He also served as the Content Strategy Manager for HearPlanet, a multi-platform app that has reached over a million users and has been featured in the New York Times, Hemispheres Magazine, National Geographic Adventure, Fox Business News, PC Magazine, and even Apple’s own iPhone ads. Greg has written as a restaurant critic and feature journalist for a number of national and international publications, including City Weekend Magazine, Red Egg Magazine, the Newton Daily News, Capital Change Magazine, and an arm of China Daily, Beijing Weekend. In addition, he has served as a consulting editor for the Foreign Language Press of Beijing, as well as a writer and editor for the George Washington University Hatchet, the school newspaper of his alma mater. Originally from Iowa, Greg is currently living in the West Village of Manhattan.

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