The massage chairs we sell today are light years more advanced than those designed just 3-5 years ago, and these advances in construction, electronic components and materials continue to evolve with each new model. It’s much like the automobile industry where the car off the showroom floor today is likely much more dependable than previous years’ models, and incorporates the latest in materials and engineering R&D.
The same goes with massage chairs; the release of a new model is both exciting and a lot of work. No matter how much QA testing before final production, you learn a lot in the first year about each new chair under heavy use conditions. During that time – again much like in the auto industry – you quickly assess any service calls to determine refinements to components, mechanisms and overall design to add durability for the long-term.
Fortunately, we are in that “sweet spot” currently. This is when our massage chairs boast our latest technology and innovations, and the models have been in production for 1+ years. By this time in the product development cycle we have an ideal mix of great massage chairs with proven build quality – resulting in durable massage chairs that under normal use conditions should generate very few problems.
That doesn’t mean things can’t go wrong in a massage chair – even the most proven models. It’s a converse relationship between performance and the inevitability of statistics. The advances that make our massage chair perform new therapeutic massage functions at higher levels can also introduce new variables. For example, a new transformer with a more streamlined design saves weight while providing a more efficient change-voltage in the coil. This is great; but the new configuration can impact other electrical components such as compressors, circuit boards, VFR transformers, etc. in ways different than the previous, older transformer design.
The good news is that with all the advances, generally the reliability of massage chairs trends positive over time. Our massage chairs are more reliable than they’ve ever been, but things occasionally can still go wrong in a massage chair. This gets back to the subject of this post, or those calls from wonderful customers, “My massage chair stopped working!”
If this happens to you, and you make that call to massage chair support – regardless of the manufacturer, I’ve provided a simple trouble-shooter that might help you more quickly identify, and ideally resolve your issue. This is not meant to be a comprehensive massage chair trouble shooter, but rather a list of the most common massage chair problems that can arise. If nothing else perhaps you’ll gain insight into how these wonderful beasts of therapeutic burden work, and you can narrow in on some possible causes of your massage chair that stopped working properly.
Let’s start with the most common issue. I estimate this cause accounts for about 80% of the “my massage chair stopped working” calls to our support queue.
As shared in past articles, today’s full-body massage chairs use surprisingly little electrical energy; in fact, more than a smartphone, and about the same as your average PC. Unlike a smartphone, a massage chair demands higher voltage and current, so it generally needs a larger inductor and higher power switching components – and accordingly with those larger, heavier components there is the need for more heat dissipation.
Obviously you plug your massage chair into an outlet in your home for the electricity needed for those luxurious massages. But that electricity is not constant – it can ebb and flow, sometimes less voltage, and other times surging with extra power. Either of these conditions can have adverse effects on your massage chair. And this is just for the normal anomalies of home electrical power – it’s another possible scenario altogether if there is a significant power spike due to lighting or other factors.
When a power drop or surge occurs, things can go bad in your massage chair. As in our chairs there are electrical “relief” systems. For example a small 6 amp fuse at the power input, and two more 6 amp fuses on the power circuit board in line/en route to the motherboard. However it is not uncommon that a stronger power surge will cause the voltage to “jump” these fuses and overload the resistors on circuit boards, and in turn cause your massage chair to stop working.
In these cases your trouble-shooting steps should be to check any in-line fuses for damage (the filament inside the glass tube will be severed), and if you find any compromised fuses carefully inspect the circuit boards. Be on the lookout for resistor damage – those little plastic “rolls” in various colors that look like small sleeping bags when they are rolled up.
If you find blown fuses, start by replacing those and then powering your chair up again. If it still does not function – whether completely dark, or odd behavior – then damage has likely occurred to either the power circuit board or motherboard. The good news is that either is fairly easy to replace in well-designed massage chairs.
Here’s some advice before moving to the next potential cause of “my massage chair stopped working” calls. Two words: Surge Protector! If your massage chair is currently plugged directly into an outlet without a surge protector – do NOT use it again without adding this simple protection. In fact it is likely your massage chair warranty is voided if you fail to use a surge protector – so make sure to enable this simple, and relatively inexpensive precaution. Be advised too that not all surge protectors are the same – I’ve provided a link to a helpful article on this, accessed by clicking the word ‘surge protector’ above.
Massage Chair Motors
Inside your massage chair there are between one, and up to five electrical motors. These motors drive the function of particular movements of the massage experience. Using one of our massage chairs as an example, there is a motor for the 3D mechanism (that makes the massage hands reach deeper into muscle tissue), another motor for the kneading function, another motor for the “rolling” massage stroke, and yet another motor for the tapping massage (or percussion) motion. If your massage chair loses on of these particular functions or more than one, the motor driving the movement could be to blame.Massage Chair Footrest Motor
There are also different style motors that power the reclining and declining of the footrest and backrest. If your particular massage chair issue involves the loss of functionality of either of these, one of these motors might be going out.
Massage Chair Kneading Motor
In both cases, the motors in a massage chair have something called MTF, or mean time failure rating, and this MFT is generally 10 years under normal usage. However if one does fail, in well-designed chairs they are usually quite easy to replace quickly.
Each one of the motors in a massage chair (mentioned above) has something called a “slinger” at the top end. The slinger is the small wheel that rotates, and in turn drives the circular rotation of the drive belt which is attached to a mechanism that is responsible for a movement – whether the massage hands, or a simple rising/lowering action.
These belts are made of reinforced, high-tensile strength cords and synthetic rubber – designed to withstand constant tension, movement, and limited friction generated by the movement. However these belts can be compromised, whether stretched and/or broken during higher than normal heat, or due to a slinger that is not adjusted properly they can simply slip off altogether.
When this happens you will likely detect the sounds of electrical energy to your chair – such as the activation of small transformers by their “click” during power up, or perhaps the sound of motors internally working. However despite these sounds, your massage chair stopped working properly. If these are the symptoms you experience, there is a good chance one of the rubber belts has been compromised or has come off altogether.
This is a simple fix generally; however it will be important for the technician to determine the conditions that caused the belt to fail in the first place. This could be symptomatic of other issues – such as a mis-aligned motor, a slinger not adjusted properly, or a failing motor that is seizing and causing damage to the drive belt due to overheating.
Air Pressure Issue
The air pressure system in your massage chair applies pressure to the muscles, often called Acupressure in massage. This pressure is applied to various known points on the body that benefit from this pressure. Also in the case of more advanced or full-featured massage chairs, this pressure is used to hold your body in place for stretching or more intensity during the massage motions.
The massage chair air pressure system is comprised of five primary components:
1. Air compressors that generate the air flow
2. Solenoids which control the amount of pressure applied (this is adjustable via the massage chair’s remote control)
3. Motherboard (or main circuit board) which sends the signals to the air compressors to indicated when to generate the air and to which body zone
4. Air hoses that run throughout the chair to deliver the Acupressure (back, seat, legs, arms and feet)
5. Air bags or bladders that inflate and apply the direct pressure
The good news is that in our case, the vast majority of trouble tickets are generated by the easiest of these components to address, and I’ll start with that one first. The rest are provided in the order of complexity to fix (easiest first, followed by the more difficult).
Most of the time when we hear of air pressure problems, one of the air hoses is the culprit. In these cases it is typically that an air hose has become detached, or pinched. Fixing this issue is a matter of tracing the air hose that is connected to the particular air bag that has stopped working, and inspect it for one of these two problems. Both can usually be quickly identified and fixed.
In the case of a pinched hose, it is important to check to be sure the hose was not cut or severed partially when it was kinked. If so, the hose can be replaced, or the problem section can be cut out and the hose re-joined with a small hose-to-hose connector. In our chairs there is an intentional amount of extra slack to enable this solution for a severed air hose.
Occasionally something gets damaged on the motherboard. This is most often caused by an electrical surge (see the Electrical section earlier in this article), and why we strongly recommend you ALWAYS plug your massage chair into a high quality fused surge protector, not directly into the wall.
In the event that the motherboard is the cause of the loss of air pressure, this means it is failing to send the sequence of instructions to the air compressors to activate when necessary. If a compromised circuit board is the cause that your massage chair stopped working properly – the good news is that they are typically covered under warranty, and easy to replace.
Air bags or bladders
While these air bags are constructed of durable rubberized plastic designed to withstand considerable pressure without being compromised, there can be times when they break. Usually it is a small point in a seam caused by a particularly dry climate.
If this is the cause of “my massage chair stopped working”, while they are not complicated to replace, it can be somewhat time consuming depending on which air bag is leaking. For example, the shoulder, arm, back and seat airbags are generally easy to replace. However the airbags in the legs and feet can be a more involved process to replace.
If one of the solenoids is the culprit for loss of air pressure, replacing it varies widely among massage chair manufacturers. In our case we have been meticulous about placing the solenoids in the easiest to access areas, so that if they do cause problems, they can be quickly fixed or replaced. But alas, some massage chair manufacturers are not so diligent, and solenoid replacement in those models can be a difficult process to address.
The good news: Air compressors in a massage chair rarely fail, even in chairs 7 and even 12 years old. The bad news: They can be a bear to replace. Due to their robust nature and the low likelihood an air compressor failure, it is rare for this particular issue to be the cause of loss of air pressure, but still I wanted to include it in this list just in case.
So there you have it; our list of likely causes of those “my massage chair stopped working!” calls. I hope you find this article informative, and ideally helpful if you need to do a little self trouble shooting on your massage chair that isn’t working like it used to.