Apart from your hands and the training you have received, the massage table is the most important piece of equipment for maintaining your livelihood.
One of the most important choices you need to consider is the size of the massage table. It should be wide enough to accommodate a broad range of clients yet narrow enough to ensure good body positioning on your behalf. Make sure you can get close enough to the table so you can pivot at the waist and have your shoulders squared up to the clients hips, with your hands parallel to the clients spine.
As a rule of thumb, the most popular and ergonomic choices are massage table widths of 70cms (28 inches) and 76 centimeters (30 inches). You can get 25" wide massage tables but you should only choose this width if you are shorter in height and having a wider table will jeopardise your own back over the course of your career. You can also get hour glass shaped massage tables whereby the middle section is narrower for the therapist's benefit of getting in close and the top and bottom ends of the massage table are normal width so the client will feel comfortable. Clients will obviously be more comfortable on wider tables. 28" wide massage tables are the most common but 30" wide massage tables will offer more comfort to the client but only choose this if you are tall enough (I would suggest over 6'). Do the fist clench test I describe below if you are unsure.
The length of the massage table is also important for your client. Standard length is 185cm (73inches). You can get shorter massage tables at 180cms and longer massage tables at 195cms but 185cms is the best really. If the massage table has an extending face cradle it will add about 20cms making the table 205-210cms. When choosing the length in my opinion the only things you need to consider are: Shorter tables may leave taller clients legs hanging too much off the massage table but you will probably save a bit of weight on the overall weight of the massage table which may be a good compromise if you are a mobile therapist and longer massage tables at 195cms will add to the weight of the massage table quite considerably making mobile work much more difficult.
Nowadays, almost all portable massage tables come with height adjustable legs. A massage table should come with a wide height range to accommodate all size of therapists and cater for a broad range of therapies. A common height range of massage tables is 60-83cms and this height range should cater for almost anybody.Again do the fist clench test I describe below if you are unsure.
You should be able to adjust the height of a massage table in a maximum of about 2-3 minutes. There are 2 types of height adjustments found on modern massage tables.
1) Twist knob adjustments found only on wooden massage tables.
They take longer to twist off and adjust than option 2 below but we are only talking a few minutes! When you’re buying a wooden massage table it is better to have two knobs for greater strength and reliability. When buying online, make sure to ask how many knobs are on the legs. Cheaper tables have only one knob and when you raise the legs to the highest heights they will be less stable and I have seen some snap.
2) Telescopic height adjustment found on aluminum massage tables.
I'm sure some of you will have been unfortunate enough to have had a crutch from the hospital at some stage or at least known someone with one! The way you raise the height on the crutch is similar to raising the height of an aluminum table. It takes seconds and simply requires you to press in a button and adjust the height of the massage table accordingly by slotting the button into a new hole.
Weight of table:
The weight of portable massage tables generally ranges from 12-21Kg's. The weight of the massage table should be a primary concern if you intend on making regular call outs or visits to clients in their homes or business. If this is the case, then try to aim for a table of 14kg's or under. The lighter the better. If you are a home or clinic based therapist, anything up to 21kg's should be fine so that you can fold it up, put it away and/or move it from room to room with ease..
You can get massage tables as light as 8kg's, but in my opinion, if you can afford them at around £800, then you don’t need to earn an income from being a therapist!!
Lighter massage tables are usually made of aluminum as it is a lighter material than wood. But this also pushes up the cost of the massage table as aluminum as a raw material is much more expensive than wood.
If you find a heavier massage table that you like, you can overcome its weight a little by investing a massage table trolley to wheel your massage table around in. They are a fairly new product to the UK and as of yet I have yet to test one out but I have heard from friends that they come in handy on mobile visits.
A word of warning with the weight of massage tables. You will see very light massage tables but some cheap massage table cut down the weight by reducing the size of the table. So for example the width might be 60cms wide instead of the standard 70cms width. Ok, you get a lighter massage table but whats the point if some clients won't fit on it? A truly lightweight massage table will cut down on weight by using high quality aluminium and materials. It will cost more sure but you get what you pay when you buy a massage table just like anything in life!
Wood or aluminum?:
This is a common question I get asked. Many instructors advise their students to get wooden tables because that is what they have used and aluminum massage tables are a fairly recent innovation (circa 5 years). Please note when i say aluminium I don't mean metal or steel which older tutors may confuse as being aluminium.
My current massage table for mobile work is aluminum and I must say I prefer it to my wooden massage tables. It is stronger yet lighter. I think aesthetically speaking wooden massage tables can be easier on the eye but don't be a sucker for good looks when personality (functionality in this case) is more important! ;)
For more strenuous therapies such as sports massage I would personally recommend an aluminum massage table. Some massage tables have wooden legs but have an aluminum frame, which is a compromise in weight reduction.
At the end of the day it's a personal choice which you will have to make with both options having pros and cons. I prefer aluminium firstly because I feel they stand up to greater abuse and secondly they will be light enough to take to games, matches and mobile visits on a regular basis.
Another word of warning! There is a huge difference between cheaper aluminium massage tables around the £100 mark and truly professional aluminium massage tables which cost over £250. The cheaper ones have plastic joints in between the aluminium legs and frame which make them unstable and the plastic being the weakest link in the chain quite often breaks under a lot of use. When I say I prefer an aluminium massage table above, I DO NOT mean cheap aluminium massage tables.
Working weight of the table is the amount of weight a table can take spread out evenly or proportioned evenly across the surface of the table, during normal treatments.
Standard working weights are around the 450lb mark with some offering up to 500lbs. Bear in mind that the client weights that you would regularly come into contact range from 120-250lbs and you will never really need to use the higher end of the 450lbs working weight.
A word of caution, when I first started out many years ago I broke the base board of one of my tables. It was actually my client, but I say I broke it because I should have instructed or helped the guy to turn.
When a client is prone for some time and turns supine they are often a bit weary and turn in a quick and jerky movement. I am sure you’ve experienced this yourself when receiving a treatment. During the quick turn, if the momentum of the client turning is driven through a small area of the body such as the elbow or knee it creates a lot of force through one point. The recommended working weight should be spread out evenly across the table. I hope this info helps prevent what happened to me, happening to you.
I have done some research into this recently by contacting retailers and manufacturers and found that massage tables are tested on average to the tune of 2000lbs. This means 2000lbs is dropped on the massage table to test the strength of the model. But in no means can it take this weight during regular table work, not that you'll ever be massaging zoo animals!!
The foam on your massage table is important for two reasons. Firstly, the client's level of comfort is naturally very important. Secondly, the long term wear and appearance of your table is affected by the density of the foam. The higher the density, the greater the substance between the air pockets of the foam. Over time a higher density foam will not sag or flatten creating a longer life for your massage table. Cheap massage tables such as those found on eBay these days tend to have thin low density foam.
I was on a weekend break away just before Christmas and popped into a massage therapist in the town I was visiting. I got on the massage table and it felt very unsafe, I didn't tell the woman that I was also a massage therapist as I didn't want to make her feel too conscious of what she was doing. The foam was just so thin I was starting to hurt in places. I asked her where she got the table and she told me she got it from eBay.
It really did baffle me. How can you expect to hold on to clients if you create a bad experience for them, and then they wonder why business is slow? Madness!!
Anyways, I digress. Standard foam thickness is 5cms and is more than adequate. You will find some tables have up to 8cms foam and these are very nice but 5cms will do fine. Make sure you are buying high density foam though. You can test by pressing into the foam and if it takes too long to return to its original consistency then it may not be high density foam.
The upholstery on your massage table is usually made of either PU leather or PVC leather. I have seen certain websites advertise "ecological" PU leather and "PU leather, oil and water resistant" both of which is utter Bull**** and is very misleading. How can something be ecological if it is mass produced in a factory? Here is an explanation of the two, it is really very simple:
PVC Vinyl leather is generally the norm and is synthetic leather. It is similar to what you would find on many imitation leather couches and sofas. It is strong, durable and oil and water proof. It can be wiped clean very easily.
PU Leather is as close as possible to leather that you can get synthetically. It is very soft and feels very nice against the bare skin and is also very strong. But it is not oil and water resistant like some websites may lead you to believe.
Personally i don't think it matters which one you choose. What does matter is the quality of each one. The higher priced massage tables will have higher quality and the lower priced massage tables will have lower quality. Simples!
Couch covers and protective coverings have become very cheap nowadays so it is economical to have several different covers which can be washed and reused time and time again. This makes the choice of upholstery less important a factor in choosing a massage table. You don't see the upholstery as it is covered or at least it should be for hygiene reasons.
This is a feature I recommend all portable massage tables have and wouldn’t recommend you buy a massage table without this feature. It is fairly commonplace nowadays anyway. Also known as a tensor cable support system it provides much more strength and stability to a portable massage table. It also prevents the table from rocking forwards or backwards.
Your choice of retailer is important. Personally, I think its best to buy from retailers who have therapists working there. They know what they are talking about, they will have tried the tables so they can recommend what they think is best for you and also they generally don't have a quick sell attitude because there job is to advise and they have been in your situation before so they know what it's like!
Make sure your purchase comes with a guarantee or warranty. 1 year is standard and anything above this is great!
Hopefully by now you have a good idea of what you need to look for in a massage table and everything is a bit clearer. When you buy the massage table, make sure you look after it well as outlined in my caring for your massage table link above. Happy shopping
The Clenched Fist Test I described Above:
This is a good way of measuring what height table would be good for you. Stand with your hands by your sides and your fists clenched. get someone to measure the distance between your knuckles and the floor. This should be the height of the couch. Remember you will have different size clients on the couch so you can give and take a little with this measuring method. It doesn't have to be exact but is a good rule of thumb!
Individual Massage Table Reviews:
I have not reviewed individual massage tables. Another therapist by the name of Stephen Trust has made a great site where he has reviewed what he considers the best massage tables on the market. Having read it I own two of the massage tables he has reviewed and I agree with what he has said. He also keeps his reviews up to date.
Check out his massage table reviews at www.MassageTableReviews.co.uk.
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