Unprecedented Doctor’s Choice
January 7, 2010
How I Learned to Love a Ridiculous Massage Chair
Las Vegas–It’s become an annual tradition: I go to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, I sit in a ludicrously expensive massage chair, and proceed to make fun of it while someone shoots an slightly embarrassing video of me. No more. Inada’s newest model, the Doctor’s Choice, has officially rubbed me the right way. Most of the technology is the same as the company’s previous top-of-the-line chairs: It squeezes your feet, your hands, your neck, back and, yes, your buttocks with an auto-adaptive motor that conforms to your body height and shape. But the Doctor’s Choice does something else–it takes control. As the massage begins, two chest-level pads gradually close in on you. This is unsettling. It’s the firm and inexorable grip of a robot. It’s an iron maiden Transformer sliding into place around you. You must surrender.
If you do, the benefit is something unprecedented for massage chairs, which is leverage. The Doctor’s Choice supposedly includes posture correction functionality, where the machine draws your shoulders back, and pushes against your spine, forcing you to alternately arch, straighten, and widen. But like the hand, calf and foot-mashing, the chair’s posture-related features are gravy. The meat is those enclosing chest pads. It makes the back massage deeper and, frankly, useful. It discovered a spot in my back (middle, to the left) that I didn’t even realize needed attention. It made me stop talking, and make silly grunts as I might during a real massage. It also made me thrilled to hear that the chair tackles your pressure points, that a Shiatsu master helped design the chair, and whatever else the publicist was talking about, all of it dissolving into a pleasant drone as that one spot (middle, left) was poked, rolled, pinched and punched. Massage chairs are generally entertainment machines–dubious, lumpy things in down-market malls that eat dollars in exchange for 10 minutes of lackluster rubbing. The Doctor’s Choice, on other hand, feels like something that should be in a spa.
The other, equally compelling reason to stop lobbing journalistic bombs at massage chairs is that the Doctor’s Choice is being sold directly to healthcare professionals. Instead of marketing the device to consumers of a rarified tax bracket, the chair will be sold to physical therapists, rehabilitation clinics, etc. By officially joining the ranks of healthcare equipment, Inada makes all price-related scoffing moot. When an MRI machine can cost more than a million dollars, who cares is the world’s most advanced massage chair approaches $8000? Inada also predicts that insurance will cover the cost of sessions in the Doctor’s Choice in doctors’ or physical therapists’ offices. Add it all up and high-end massage chairs are suddenly viable.
A word of warning, though: Allowing a robot to grip your chest, palpate your back, and force you to emit grunts of pleasure in public is a poor plan. Writing a gushing account of such a sensual experience, of course, is perfectly acceptable.