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A Table That's Stable

Massage Therapis Linda Gutowski didn't opt for an inexpensive table. Yet, she has had the unfortunate experience of having a client fall to the floor during treatment.

“He was a large football player in his youth and just generally of a thick build,” she says. When Gutowski asked the client to turn over, he shifted his body with a bit of a jump, placing most of his weight on the opposite end of the table. “The legs on my side [of the table] came off the floor slightly, and off he rolled.”

Gutowski was horrified, not only about the fact that her client might have gotten hurt, but also that he was left completely naked and stunned on the floor. “I immediately lifted the sheet over my line of sight and asked him if he was okay,” she remembers. Thankfully, he was, and they were able to laugh about it—after the fact.

Letting a client sit directly on the crease of a portable massage table is another way to cause undue pressure, potentially resulting in the table buckling under a client, warns nurse and massage therapist Dianne Polseno, president of Cortiva Institute in Boston, Massachusetts. “That is the most vulnerable point [of your table] and your client can easily fall through,” she explains. “It happened to me once, and the client was humiliated... it is an experience I wish I could forget.”

These stories drive home the importance of buying dependable equipment. Without a reliable table, the safety of both you and your clients is at risk. The following are some suggestions from table manufacturers and massage therapists to help take the guesswork out of purchasing a massage table.

Crunching the Numbers

Jeff Riach, owner and founder of Oakworks, likes to use a per-use cost analysis to help put purchasing a massage table into perspective. An established massage therapist averaging approximately 1,000 massages per year will have completed 5,000 massages in a five-year period. If the therapist paid $500 for her table, the cost per massage would average 10 cents. Provided the table withstands the test of time, this

When you look at it this way, buying a lower-quality table doesn't make sense, says Riach.

Table Basics

WIDTH: Get a table that is not so wide that it ends up hurting the massage therapist using it, but also a table not so narrow that the client is uncomfortable and feels like he is going to fall off. While a narrower 24-inch table may be easier for a massage therapist to work with, it may not be comfortable for the client. A table 28 inches to 32 inches wide is a safe bet.

ERGONOMICS: Make sure the face cradle is comfortable for the client and easy to adjust. You can undo all the neck work you just


  • a good stool. You should purchase one that is adjustable and comfortable for the work you may do while seated.
  • a bolster. You should always have at least one bolster with you at all times.
  • a carrying case with shoulder straps and handles. This product makes toting your table around easier.
  • a table cart. You may want to have a table cart on hand if you need to travel long distances or climb stairs.


    Dollars and Sense

    As with most retail products, there is no shortage of options on the market. But trying to shop solely for the lowest price on a massage table, says Teri Sura, director of sales and marketing at Custom Craftworks in Eugene, Oregon, is just not worth it in the long run—especially when client and practitioner safety is compromised.

    “You have to spend money for a good table, especially if you are purchasing one that will last you your career,” says Polseno, who still uses one of her first massage tables that she bought 19 years ago for around $300. “I could have gotten one at half the price, but it would not have been worth the money.”

    Today, you can expect to spend $400 to $600 for a moderate table, and up to several thousand for a hydraulic model. The heavy price tag can be daunting for a therapist just starting out or still in school. However, Jeff Riach, owner, founder and chief table designer of New Freedom, Pennsylvania-based Oakworks, says students get the misconception in their heads while they are still in school that they should not invest in a quality table until they know their specialty. He can also demonstrate how they can get a versatile table that will last the duration of their career for a couple hundred more, and why it matters.

    Playing It Safe

    Safety should always be the top concern when purchasing a table, says Sura. Her main concern is making sure massage therapists understand how to correctly tighten knobs and connect cables. “A lot of tables have a shiatsu option, but I have seen many tables collapse because this feature was not attached properly,” she says. Loaning your table out is another great way to ask for a disaster. “If your table is taken apart and not correctly put back together, it’s a lot like creating a

    Aside from having all the table mechanics in sync, adjustable weight levels are another commonly misunderstood table feature. “It’s buyer beware as far as weight ratings are concerned,” warns Riach. “Every one of our portable tables is loaded up with 1,400 pounds [before they are shipped out to customers] to make sure that they are strong enough,” he says. Not every table manufacturer will subject their tables to the same testing.

    The real measure encompasses not only the weight of the client on the table, but also the weight of pressure being applied by the massage therapist, Sura says. A table that claims to hold 300 pounds is not going to fare well with larger clients like athletes. “Get a table that supports the maximum amount of weight you need,” she urges.


    When talking to a table manufacturer about weight issues, Zackary Van Valkenburg, sales executive at Stronglite LLC, Salt Lake City, Utah, suggests massage therapists ask this question: “What vocabulary are you using?” Typically, he adds, there are three main terms common in the industry when it comes to weighing in on massage tables:

    • STATIC WEIGHT: The amount of weight that can be placed on the table without it breaking. The catch, Van Valkenburg says, is that the weight is not moving and is added on progressively and gently.
    • WORKING WEIGHT: The amount of moving weight that can be placed on the table without it breaking. For example, says Van Valkenburg, the Classic Deluxe Stronglite table has a static weight of 3,200 pounds but a working weight of 800 pounds.
    • DROP TEST WEIGHT: “Ask for clarification when this term is used,” says Van Valkenburg. To some companies, drop test weight refers to the amount of weight dropped from six inches above the center of the table, centered on the hinge, which is the weakest point of the table. The table passes if it holds without cracking. Other companies, he adds, claim to use a drop test, but drop the weight over a table leg or on an end rail, which are some of the strongest points of the table.

      Avoiding Liablility

      In today’s lawsuit-prone society, the reality is that you could be sued by a client for any number of reasons. One good way to avoid potential lawsuits is to make sure your equipment and work space are in order and taken care of properly. Should an unexpected event occur, however, you should immediately ??le an incident report with your insurance agent, advises Shari Pataky, assistant vice president and account executive at Aon Af??nity Insurance Services Inc.

      Some basic things to keep in mind:

      • Inspect the table you are using daily, whether it is one you own or one your employer owns.
      • Make sure the table is located on a level surface.
      • Do not borrow or use another person’s table, as you may not be informed of the age, strength and stability.
      • Make sure the height of the table is right for you.
      • Assess how your workplace is set up. Are hallways or aisles clear? Are floors kept clean? Are there sharp objects or edges exposed?
      • Be realistic with your workload. Poorly planned or overly stressful work schedules make for practitioners who are tired and less alert on the job.


    Making Your Table Last

    Gutowski purchased her first table through massage school as part of a student package. It came with a face cradle, ankle bolster and carrying case for just under $500. She says that while her equipment has held up well, about five years into use the table started to creak and the vinyl began splitting. “It turns out,” she says, “the cleaning solution I had been using was making the fabric less supple.”

    Exposure to the oils and alcohols found in many cleaning agents breaks down fibers over time and are the main culprits for table fabric scuffs and tears, says Riach. He says the best way to protect your table is to keep it covered so no oil actually makes contact with the table’s surface.

    When cleaning your table, use a mild soap and water and follow with a final rinse, suggests Sura, who estimates that the normal life span of a good table is approximately 20 years if cared for and used properly. But regardless of how meticulously you care for your table, “foams will break down and get softer over time.”

    You definitely don’t want your table to bottom out, so Sura suggests that every five to 10 years you take your table in for a tuneup at a local massage table store. If you don’t know where to go, try calling your table’s manufacturer and asking for a recommendation. “I’ve learned to periodically check the knobs on the legs to make sure they haven’t loosened,” says Gutowski, who schedules monthly checkups for her equipment. “Having a table leg come loose could be disastrous.”

    Should your table fabric reach a point beyond normal wear and tear, never have your table reupholstered at a furniture or specialty store, says Sura. “The table will be dismantled in the process and you run the risk of having it put back incorrectly,” she explains. The safest bet, she says, is to go back to the manufacturer for this service.

    All things considered, what it really boils down to at the end of the day is finding a table that works for you. While the selection can seem overwhelming, finding the right table—or tables—to meet your needs and your budget can be done.


    Table Buyer's Guide


    A company that has been around since 1977, Oakwork’s mission is “to be the manufacturer who encompasses the equipment needs of all the professions within integrative health care, and their clients.” With nearly 200 employees, the company has the capability to produce more than 250 pieces of equipment per day—all of which have been rigorously tested.

    Products :: Available products range from athletic training tables, examination tables and hydraulic tables to portable massage tables, massage chairs and spa tables.

    For more information, visit www.oakworks.com.

    Pisces Productions

    Founded in 1977, this company has been designing tables and accessories for many years. “Because I’m a massage therapist, I discovered I had a knack for designing innovative products with therapists in mind,” says president and founder Michael Gillotti.

    Products :: Pisces Productions offers a variety of products, including massage chairs, massage tables and accessories like bolsters, face rests and travel cases.

    For more information, visit www.piscespro.com.


    At Earthlite, the goal is to “provide the high-quality products that will aid in healing mankind.” The company strives to use earth friendly manufacturing techniques and does not use any rainforest wood when constructing its massage tables.

    Products :: A wide range of massage tables for both the sole practitioner and salon and spa owner. Massage supplies like bolsters, stools and oils are also available.

    For more information, visit www.earthlite.com.

    Custom Crasftworks

    This company has been in the business since 1986. Handcrafted in Eugene, Oregon, each chair and table is extensively tested and inspected. The company’s philosophy says it all: “Everything we do at Custom Craftworks is guided by the simple philosophy on which our company was founded. Treat every person with honesty, integrity and caring, providing the highest quality products.”

    Products :: A variety of tables ranging from bamboo, chiropractic and contour top to lift, portable and specialty. Accessories such as bolsters, linens and coverings are also available.

    For more information, visit www.customcraftworks.com.

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