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ROBOTIC MASSAGE: Let your fingers do the walking (sort of)

If you think that the only way to find true relaxation is to visit a spa, then think again. Now you can have all the benefits of a traditional massage and only have to travel as far as your living room.

With its patented technology, human touch is building robotic massage chairs that offer same type of muscle-relaxing experience from the comfort of your home.

“There are no scented candles or a cool, quiet room, but you get the same sensation,” said Andrew Cohen, president of human touch. “Unlike other massage chairs, ours don’t sit and shake you or just roll up and down your back. Many people who experience the chair say it feels like someone is actually in the chair.”

A proprietary robotic massage technology allows human touch’s chairs to operate three-dimensionally. This in turn provides a deep-tissue massage that is as close to humanlike as possible.

Cohen said the technology offers a massage equivalent to a masseuse using his or her arms, wrists and fingers.

In fact, some models have sensors that can detect acupressure points to customize the massage experience for each user. Other models have programs that stretch the spine and offer variable speeds for rolling, kneading, compression or percussion massage techniques.

“Being the owner of a chair — or a couple of chairs — I believe in using the chair on a daily basis as part of my everyday health regimen,” Cohen said.

If you use it in the morning, it wakes you up and gets the blood moving throughout your body. If you use it in the evening, it helps you wind down, relaxes you and makes you sleep better, he said.

There are three key benefits to using the massage chairs. They help relieve sore muscles, relieve back pain and provide stress relief.

“Whenever we ask customers why they purchased a chair, it always comes back to those three things,” Cohen said.

In addition to consumer use, the chairs can be found at chiropractors’ offices around the country, where they are both sold and used.

“They use the chairs as part of their daily practice,” Cohen said. “Patients sit in the chairs prior to their chiropractic adjustments. A 15-minute preprogrammed massage allows them to be more relaxed so that when they’re on the adjustment table their backs can be more easily adjusted.”

In fact, the massage chairs have been endorsed by the American College of Chiropractic Orthopedists, as well as the World Federation of Chiropractic. They also have received consumer endorsements from the Health and Wellness Foundation and been named a best buy by Consumers Digest.

The company has been in business nearly 30 years. Formerly known as Interactive Health, the Long Beach, Calif.-based firm first introduced robotic massage in 1979 with its Acu-Massage Table, which was similar to the massage beds used in chiropractic offices.

Although people liked the technology, they weren’t prone to putting massage beds in their homes. So, in the early 1980s, the company started developing massage chairs, Cohen said.

Up until this year, the company had spent millions of dollars developing its proprietary technology and building innovative products, but it was all done without any specific branding, said Ila Barot-Oldakowski, director of marketing.

With the human touch umbrella, the brand becomes associated with high-quality massage, for its chairs as well as other products.

“By being a branded product, we believe it will drive people into the retail environment and give the consumer permission to purchase this product,” Cohen said.

Once informed of all of the reasons for owning a robotic massage chair, particularly the life-enhancing health benefits, Cohen said people will feel less inhibited about making a purchase and treat it more like other appliances, furnishings or speciality items like an iPod.

Human touch also has strived to make the chairs look more like typical furniture so that consumers will want to include them in their décor.

“While consumers love the massage and think that’s terrific, they also want the chairs to fit into their lives. Our chairs do not look like robotic massage chairs. They look like stylish chairs … like the most comfortable recliner in your home,” Cohen said.

There are styles ranging from contemporary to traditional in various colors and materials such as faux suede and leather.

The HT1650 model, for example, was designed to look like a traditional club chair and was honored in January at the Las Vegas Market at World Market Center with an advancing design and innovation award for its looks and technology.

Features include a rotating foot and calf ottoman that tucks away to hide the massage mechanism, and an air bladder that doubles as a cushion from the mechanism when it is not in use or lessens the intensity of the massage, Barot-Oldakowski said.

Retail prices for the chairs vary from $599 to $4,799.

In addition to the chairs and ottomans, human touch offers other massage products that include those specifically designed for the feet, legs and neck.

Additional information about the company and massage chairs, as well as a dealer locator, can be found on its Web site, www.humantouch.com.

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