Massage Therapist

Could Robots Really Replace Massage Therapists?

A new robotic arm that is able to deliver personalized massages has called into question whether new technology could in fact end up replacing massage therapists all together.

Having had a primarily computer-based job for over 15 years, it’s fair to say that my back is a bit of a mess. My posture is not great and I carry a lot of tension in my neck and shoulders. Before lockdown, I would invest in a massage about once every 6-8 weeks, although really I could have done with having them much more frequently. Each time I attended, you could feel specific parts of my back clicking or popping, as the muscles were worked and tension was released. There is no denying that the type of massages I was having were very relaxing (I’m not a fan of the more painful ones). However, there have been many times when I’ve been busy working and thought, ‘ah, I could really do with a massage right now’. So given my penchant for this particular wellbeing treat, would I potentially be a new candidate for a robotic massage arm?

To be fair, I’ve had massage chairs at home before, you know the ones which plug in and attach to your normal chair. The elements inside of the chair rotate and move up and down the material to simulate a massage and certainly the one I had enabled you to vary speed, styles and pressure at the click of a button. Whilst this was a fairly pleasant experience and it did help to tackle some of the tension in my back that I struggled with daily, I did miss the one-to-one interaction and intuitiveness of a personal masseuse. When visiting a therapist, I was able to tell them about specific pain points and areas of tension and they could then ‘do their thing’ to make it go away. The funny thing about your muscles and your nerves is that they are all connected and the location of pain somewhere could be the result of an issue in another part that’s connected by nerves, muscle and tissue. The thing I missed with the massage chair was that at best it delivered generic massage style pressure, but it certainly wasn’t anywhere near close to the real thing.

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With lockdown preventing massage therapists from being able to deliver treatments to patients for many months, some may have had no option but to seek out alternative methods for treating muscle tension and back pain. So could the new ‘robot masseurs’ developed by French company Capsix Robotics be the answer to the prayers to those in need of a personalized massage treatment at home?

Capsix Robotics have created a robotic arm which can give highly tailored, personalized massages. It features multiple sensors and a camera so that it can easily adapt to the person’s body shape, and comes with a range of different massage options which have all been developed by physiotherapists. This means that the robot is guided by protocols to ensure that it utilizes proper massage techniques.

On further inspection, it appears that this is a market which has been building momentum for several years, with a number of players keen to get involved and take the lead. Massage Robotics, who are seeking out investment of $5,000,000, revealed just how significant this area of the market really is. They report that the wellbeing industry is worth $3 trillion, the massage spa industry worth $154 billion and the massage device industry worth $24 billion.

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The messages being put out by these companies is clear; people who don’t want close contact with others can now enjoy the benefits of massage from a robot instead. As someone who has never had a problem with getting a massage from a therapist this seems a bit of an alien concept to me, but I know many other people who couldn’t think of anything worse than having another person massage them, even a professional. But for those people, I’m not sure they’d entirely be happy with a robot either. I’m not entirely convinced I would, at least to begin with. To be fair, I’m not really an early adopter, but I definitely follow the crowd once the concept has been proven and it begins to pop up in everyday life.

There are very real implications to how this could impact the health and wellbeing sector though. Imagine going to your local gym in the future and alongside the tanning machine, there’s a room with a massage machine in it too? Or in the breakout room at work, there is now a room dedicated to a robot masseuse so that staff can book out the room for a treatment whenever they like? Over time, as this becomes the ‘norm’, will it mean that the traditional massage therapist becomes redundant and like many other roles in the past, is replaced by technology? Personally, I remain skeptical about that. Whilst technology is certainly able to deliver the goods, it doesn’t replace the human knowledge, experience and understanding about certain aches, pains or conditions. Many people visit massage therapists to deal with specific conditions or ailments, and it is their deep understanding of how to approach these challenges that makes their massages so good and so effective. For now then, I think I’ll just wait for the green light to visit my usual massage therapist.

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