Sit Back and Relax

Automatic massage chairs are the ideal antidote to the stressed and time-compressed.
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Photo: Premier Massage Chairs

Do you find yourself tense, stressed out and with little free time to do anything about it?

Do you wish you could have a relaxing massage whenever you want, even at 3 a.m., in the comfort of your own home?

If you're not ready to hire an in-house masseuse, an electric massage chair might be a good option for you.

It's a significant investment, but your entire body will thank you.

The first massage chair was introduced by Japanese company

Family Inada in 1962. "One of the reasons they designed

the chair was because people wanted to have massages from their home," says Eric Henderson, president of

Premier Massage Chairs. "They were introduced to the U.S. about 25 years later," Henderson adds.

There are many high-end offerings to pick from, but I've narrowed it down to three of the top performers, from

Panasonic

, the

Sharper Image

(SHRP)

and

Sanyo

(SANYY)

.

The Real Pro Elite Massage Lounger

Panasonic's pick carries the most impressive credentials.

It is the first chair endorsed by the

American Chiropractic Association, the largest professional chiropractic association. The process to endorse a product takes three to six months, and the product is often tested within chiropractic offices. "The doctors reviewing the product, as well as their staff and patients, provide ACA feedback on the overall quality and performance of the product," says Angela Kargus, director of public and media relations at the American Chiropractic Association.

Panasonic's chair massages not only your back but also your calves and -- get this -- your feet, too. (That's just perfect for me, since I live in a city where I need to walk everywhere.)

If you get bored with one type of massage, the chair offers a five-minute and four 14-minute preprogrammed massages, varying in intensity, in many styles: shiatsu, which provides squeezing and finger pressure; deep, a slow kneading; Swedish, a flowing massage; and stretch, which uses a blend of various techniques.

The Panasonic chair can store six settings, so you won't have to program the massage time and time again. And if you're impatient, like so many of us, the included remote features an easy-to-use voice guide to make sure you can figure out the plethora of options.

And what makes this chair a standout for the professionals? "The ACA concluded that the

Panasonic chair provides outstanding deep-tissue relief, which can temporarily relax tense muscles, offering an ideal complement to chiropractic manipulation," says Kargus.

All this can be yours for $4,300; Visit

Panasonic or other retailers, such as

Brookstone.

The Ultimate Human Touch Robotic Massage Chair

What comes to your mind when you picture the Sharper Image? For me, it's going to the store as a child with my family on a Sunday afternoon and watching my dad sit on the massage chair for at least a half an hour until the salesperson asked him to get up so that other customers could try it.

After checking out one of its latest models, the Ultimate Human Touch Robotic Massage chair, I can't blame him.

This sophisticated chair molds to your measurements by automatically adjusting to your height and body type.

If you can't decide the type of massage you want, this chair has eight preprogrammed massages, including full-body sore-muscle relief, sports and back therapy, and after-work stretch (which sounds pretty appealing to me right about now).

At first glance, the chair appears to be your run-of-the-mill recliner, but prepare to be pleasantly surprised once you sit down: Additional features are hidden within.

Rotate the footrest, and a powerful foot and calf massager is revealed. You might even drift off to sleep midtreatment as the chair's ergonomic pillow adjusts to the specific shape of your spine and the back reclines 170 degrees.

For the fashion-conscious, the chair is offered in black or brown, and it's upholstered in genuine leather. The

chair retails for about $4,500.

The SA5000K

Do you want a chair that can pay close attention to your body?

Sanyo's unique SA5000K massage chair detects stiffness by analyzing changes in your temperature, perspiration and pulse. The chair also features sensors that adjust to your specific shape and shoulder height, even if you change positions while seated.

The chair's massage options include tapping, kneading and stretching modes, or a combination of all three. It can also memorize four full-body automatic massage programs and 12 manually set ones.

But there's more that makes this chair stand out. Its exclusive GK roller technology -- with its grasping motions -- feels the closest to a live massage, and its leg mechanism uses airbags with multipoint shiatsu techniques on your legs, feet and calves.

And if you're one of those people who can't relinquish worries about things breaking, the Sanyo chair has a one-year warranty, and the rolling device is guaranteed for three years.

Of course, you'll be paying for all these unique features -- this

chair is priced at $4,300. But at least delivery is included.

These chairs are expensive, but you'll never have to schlep to the spa again. You can even have a massage right in your office if you've got the space. So sit back, relax, and let the chair get to work.

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