THE HISTORY OF MASSAGE TABLES21 Apr
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The term ‘massage table’ is less than one hundred years in use, arriving sometime during the late 1920’s. Prior to that, devices used for massage were called ‘couches’ and in even earlier times were known as ‘slabs’.
In the World of Massage Museum located in the U.S.A, there is a display of massage tables dated in range from 1000 B.C to 1998.
Greek and Roman times
Whilst massage tables are likely to have featured in the lives and healing practice of earlier cultures, the first tables were reportedly used during the time of the Greeks and Romans and were marble slabs called ‘plinths’. These were used in the great gymnasiums and the solariums for hydrotherapy treatments, cleaning, scraping or defoliation procedures and massage.
The next generation of massage tables were the doctor’s examination table. These were usually made of solid oak, had various adjustments available, and were a multiuse device, of which massage was one use.
The padding on these exam tables was made of horsehair and the tables were covered with rough leather. Horsehair was widely used because it was resistant to insect damage, whereas cotton was not.
Victorian era ‘en Vogue’
The ‘massage couch’ was a term used for massage tables that were truly pieces of furniture. These were in vogue during the Victorian era of the late nineteenth century, usually stuffed with horsehair and upholstered with velvet or similar material. They were quite cushy in their comfort compared to the doctor’s exam table and were fashionably coloured in bright reds and yellows.
Portable Massage Tables
The first portable massage table was invented around 1930 and was made of a wooden frame with metal or wooden legs. A stationary massage table used after World War 1 was made from common woods, with simple padding under a vinyl covering. Neither the first portable nor the first stationary massage tables contained face holes.
The face hole cut into the head of a stationary or portable table appeared sometime during the late 1940’s. Portable massage tables of this period were quite sophisticated in their design and quality, especially those that had mechanisms to unfold the legs and fold them back again as the table was opened and closed.
The first tables designed specifically for massage were made almost entirely of wood and vinyl covered foam padding. Current models are ergonomically designed using special alloy tubing and multilayered padding and come in a variety of colours and styles. Speciality tables such as those designed for working on pregnant women, doing special bodywork that requires an extra wide tabletop or tables that will also fold down to lie flat on the ground for Asian therapies, are among the numerous options available in today’s market. Electric tables allow for easy height adjustment and are a popular investment in multidisciplinary clinics where a range of therapists practice.
Tips on choosing the right table for you
At ACM we have always researched, recommended and chosen high quality massage tables that are durable, flexible, well padded, height adjustable and of a width that supports both relaxation and remedial massage. Students in their introductory massage classes have the opportunity to experience working with the massage table as both the therapist and the client.
Factors which may influence your choice of table include the type and duration of massage you will focus on; the size of your practice room; your budget; whether you require it to be portable or stationary; height adjustable or fixed and whether the table is compatible with accessories such as a face cradle and arm rest. Massage Tables have excellent re-sale value and represent one of the most significant investments you will make as a practitioner so it is worth considering the choice and quality of table you invest in.