Massage Tables – Tips for Purchasing the Right One for You

by Anne Reith, Ph.D.
Picture of a brown massage table with head and arm rests
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Picture of a brown massage table with head and arm rests

Do you need to purchase a massage table?

Many new Reiki Practitioners want to begin practicing their new skills as soon as possible. Because massage tables were used in their Reiki class and/or they have received Reiki sessions where a massage table was used, they assume getting a massage table is necessary.

Unfortunately, their delightful enthusiasm sometimes leads to purchasing a massage table that often ends up being a storage nightmare. Even though massage tables fold in half, they are very big and bulky. They definitely are too big to fit behind a door or inside most closets.

Consequently, massage tables often end up in a garage. This often results in damage to the surface of the table, which is made of plastic or leather. Sadly, once the surface of your table is damaged, it cannot be repaired. The only real option is to re-cover the table, which usually costs a lot more than purchasing a new table. (NOTE: A massage table with a damaged surface almost always has a resale value of $0.)

For all of these reasons, I always recommend that my new Reiki students delay purchasing a massage table. With time, it will become clear if they truly need one. Usually this is because they are beginning to offer Reiki sessions (paid or unpaid) on a regular, ongoing basis.

Alternatives to a massage table

If you do not have access to a massage table, luckily, there are alternatives. Here are some suggestions:

  • A bed, sofa, or the floor (NOTE: All of these will be hard on YOUR back, so healing sessions should be short in duration.)
  • A chair or recliner (NOTE: Again, this alternative may be hard on YOUR back.)
  • The following are probably the best options because (a) they often are close to the correct height (i.e., will protect YOUR back) and (b) they can be comfortable for your client if you put down a thick blanket:
    • 6′ folding table (NOTE: Be careful of weight limits.)
    • Dining room tables that are at least 6′ long (NOTE: These are great options, but only if the table is sturdy/well built.)
    • Desks that are at least 6′ long (NOTE: Another good option, but the surface of desks are often hard to clear off.)  

Factors to consider when purchasing a massage table

If you are ready to make the financial and space investment in a massage table, then it’s time to start deciding what type of table you will need.

Here are some of the major factors that you should consider when choosing a massage table:

  • Table Use
    • The first question you need to ask yourself is whether the table is going to be fixed (i.e., it will be in a dedicated location and won’t be moved) or portable (i.e., it’s likely you will be carrying it to different locations).
    • As you’ll see below, the answer to this question will determine some of the following factors. Therefore, think about this carefully.
    • NOTE: If you aren’t sure, go with portable.
  • Price
    • Many of the features listed below will help you determine how much you will need to spend. Again, buying a massage table is an investment, so it’s important to think this through carefully.
    • Prices for a new massage table can range from less than $100 to as high as $6,000 (usually stationary tables with hydraulic or electrical features).
    • Used tables can be found for less than $100. (IMPORTANT: See the section below that addresses where to find massage tables for more information about purchasing used tables.)
    • The more expensive tables are usually (a) lighter weight and (b) have more “bells and whistles.”
    • NOTE: If you are going to be offering services professionally, remember that this is a business expense and tax deductible.
  • Table Weight
    • If the table will be stationary, then weight doesn’t matter.
    • If the table will be moved/portable, then a lighter weight is preferable.
    • Massage tables can range from 20 to 38 pounds. 35 pounds is average. (NOTE: As a smaller woman, I was surprised how heavy 35 pounds can feel!)
    • Heavier tables are usually constructed of wood (versus aluminum).
    • Extra weight is added if the table is extra long, extra wide, or has extra accessories.
  • Carrying Case vs. Handles
    • All massage tables come with attached handles that are located on one side of the table. They can be used to carry the table when it’s folded in half. Be aware that to lift and carry a massage table with these handles requires quite a bit of shoulder strength. It also becomes more difficult to carry tables with the handles if you are shorter than about 5’3″.
    • If the table will be portable, then investing in a carrying case is almost essential. In addition to helping you carry the table, the canvas case helps protect the surface of your table as you transport it between locations. The case provides a strap that you can put over your shoulder, and there’s a handle on the side of the case that you hold in order to help lift and maneuver the table when it’s in the case. Usually, the case also has a large pocket where you can put things like sheets, a small pillow, or lightweight blanket.
    • There are dollies that are made for moving massage tables. They are great until you get to a location where you will be providing services upstairs and there is no elevator. I’ve seen this happen! If you don’t have a case, then you will have to carry the table upstairs by the handles alone.
    • There are also massage chairs that can be rolled around on wheels. However, keep in mind that (a) clients will not be lying down during treatments, (b) you will need to make adjustments in order to protect YOUR back when conducting healings, and (c) the chair will need to be carried upstairs if there is no elevator in the location where you’ll be providing services. Again, I’ve seen this happen!
    • NOTE: A carrying case is also helpful if you have to store the table (e.g., in the garage). It will help protect the surface of your table.
  • Table Dimensions (i.e., height, length, width)
    • Height: Almost all massage tables allow you to adjust the height of the table using movable bolts on each leg. Typically, tables will adjust to between 22″-33″. (NOTE: If the table is either too tall or short for your frame, it can wreak havoc on YOUR back.)
    • Width: The typical width of massage tables can be between 25″ to 35″, with 28″-30″ being standard. However, wider tables are available and can accommodate larger-bodied clients. Alternative: Some higher-end tables have detachable “extensions” for the sides of the table. (NOTE: A table that is too wide can also be harmful to YOUR back if you need to reach.)
    • Length: The standard length of a massage table is 72″-73″. If you plan to work with taller clients, there are tables that are up to 84″ in length. Alternative: Some higher-end tables have a detachable “extension” for the end of the table.
  • Weight Capacity
    • The weight capacity of massage tables can vary from 200-600 pounds. The average is 250-350 pounds. A higher weight capacity will accommodate larger-bodied clients.
  • Donut or Slit?
    • Lower cost tables typically have a “slit” or hole for the person’s nose when they are face down on a table.
    • Better quality tables have a detachable headrest, which is called a donut.
    • NOTE: Typically, Reiki Practitioners do not treat clients when they are face down on a table. However, you never know what may be required with a client.
  • Quality and Durability
    • Although they are heavier, tables made with hardwood (e.g., birch, oak) will last longer than those made with softer woods (e.g., pine, cedar, spruce). Bamboo, which is technically a grass, is very strong and durable, and it can be used as a wood alternative.
    • The thickness of the foam covering the table can give you an idea of comfort. The industry standard is 2″, but some are up to 3″. (NOTE: You can also add a memory foam table topper.)
  • Other Equipment You May Need
    • A step stool for children or shorter clients. Make sure the step stool is approved for higher weight limits (e.g., 300 lbs). Step stools that fold are nice because they are easier to store.
    • Sheet to cover your table (see section below about the care and maintenance of your table). If you will be seeing more than one client, then you should be prepared to change the sheet between sessions. Sheets are used both (a) for hygienic purposes and (b) to protect the surface of your table. (NOTE: You can get smaller fitted sheets specifically made for massage tables.)
    • Blanket or flat sheet to cover a client if they are chilly.
    • A pillow for clients who want one under their heads. (NOTE: Not all clients want a pillow, but some do.)
    • For clients with back problems, you will need a bolster (round roll) to put under the client’s knees (if face up) or shins (if face down). (NOTE: A rolled up towel or blanket will also work.)
    • If you will be working with clients face down and you have a detachable headrest (i.e., donut), then you should have a covering for it.
    • Optional equipment: (a) detachable arm rests, (b) a foam pad under the sheet to make the table softer, (c) a table warmer under the sheet to accommodate clients who get cold easily, (d) a wedge that can be placed under the client’s shoulders if they need to lie down at an incline (e.g., indigestion), and (e) extensions that make the table wider or longer.

Where to find tables and making your final selection

Although I wish there were stores where you could go and look at different tables, they are few and far between. Looking for tables through online sources is really the only viable option these days.

Here are some options:

  • Most online department stores carry them (e.g., Amazon, Walmart, Costco). Suggestions for what to look for:
    • Read the reviews. Look at the positive and negative reviews. However, I have found that the negative reviews are more important. All tables will have negative reviews, but you want to look for patterns of reported problems. For example, if 5 of the 7 negative reviews say something like, “It’s a great table but it has a smell to it,” then believe it!
    • Look for free shipping. These are heavy tables, so shipping can be expensive!
    • Make sure there’s a return policy that does not require that you pay return shipping.
    • Regarding return policies, make sure you understand the time limits. If it’s only 2 weeks, then make sure you have time to open that massage table and use it a lot during that 2-week period. Don’t assume they’ll make an exception and allow you to return the table after 1 month.
  • You can find a lot of lower priced massage tables on places like Craig’s List. The market is usually flooded with tables because many people purchased one only to find that they are big and bulky items to store. They eventually want that storage space for other things. I’ve seen tables listed for less than $50. However, BE VERY CAREFUL! NEVER purchase a used table without visually inspecting it first. Make sure that the surface is not damaged and that all the parts of the table are working properly (e.g., all bolts are on the table legs, all the cables under the table are connected and in good shape). Also, be sure that you have a car that is large enough to transport the table if you decide to purchase it.

Care and maintenance of your massage table

Now that you have a massage table, here are some quick tips on how to care for it:

  • As mentioned before, make sure you cover your massage table with a sheet when providing a healing. Although the sheet is for hygienic purposes, I believe it’s more important for the protection of the surface of your table. All it takes is one client with high-heels or certain jewelry to ruin the surface of your table. A sheet “slips and slides” on the surface and thereby protects it.
  • If you need to clean your massage table, it is not advisable to use rubbing alcohol or harsh cleansers because they can cause the leather or plastic cover of your table to dry out.  Mild soap and water are fine. 
  • And at the risk of being a broken record, remember that the surface of the table is easily torn or gouged. Make sure the table is set up in a room where people won’t use it for another purpose (e.g., kids, pets) and store it carefully (e.g., in a carrying case, in a place where things won’t be moved into it and harm the surface of your table).
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  • Portions of this Blog post include excerpts from Anne’s Reiki I manual.



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By Anne Reith, Ph.D.

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