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Do I Need a Stationary or Portable Massage Table?

Portable massage table

A portable massage table is lightweight and mobile.

A portable massage table can be moved from one location to another, which comes in handy for mobile therapists and massage students. A stationary massage table, on the other hand, gives your office a more spa-like atmosphere. Listed below are some of the benefits and drawbacks to both portable and stationary massage tables.

Portable Massage Tables

A portable folding massage table is your best option if you value the ability to take your massage table with you wherever you go. A portable table is light enough to carry and folds in half for a more compact size that fits in the trunk or back seat of your vehicle. The more often you carry your table, the lighter you want the table to be. If you have back problems or cannot lift more than 30 pounds, use a massage table cart to transport your table. Some carts can even go up and down stairs.

A portable massage table comes in handy for massage therapists who travel frequently, visit clients at home or the office, prefer a lightweight table, and cannot afford a stationary table. Portable massage tables are popular because of their low cost and their flexibility for in-office and mobile appointments. Most new massage therapists start out with a portable massage table rather than a stationary table.

Stationary Massage Tables

A stationary massage table is designed for therapists who are established in their practice. They primarily offer massage in their own office, or they own a portable massage table that is used only for outcalls. With a stationary table, there is no hinge in the middle, which makes for a stronger table. The hinge is the weakest point in a portable massage table because of its tendency to flex under intense stress.

With a stationary massage table, weight doesn’t matter, since the table will never (or rarely) be moved. Manufacturers can use stronger materials, thicker foam, and a more stable leg construction without worrying about meeting a weight limitation. In addition, stationary tables can often hold a higher weight capacity, which is ideal for heavier, well-built clients.

Massage Students: Choosing Massage Table Equipment

Owning your own portable massage table gives you more chances to practice.

Owning your own portable massage table gives you more chances to practice.

When you’re paying for massage school, chances are that you don’t have a whole lot of money left over for buying massage equipment. Yet owning your own portable massage table gives you more chances to practice your new skills.

Rent, Borrow, or Buy?

Every massage program requires hands-on practice, and most require practice outside of the classroom. Owning a massage table lets you get in all of your practice hours when it’s convenient for you, without the need to plan ahead by renting or borrowing equipment. It also means you don’t have to compromise your body mechanics by using a bed or table to massage your friends and family.

If you don’t have the budget to buy a massage table just yet, use this time to try out as many different types of massage tables as you can, either by renting from your massage school or borrowing from other therapists and students. This will help you figure out what to look for when it comes time to buy your own.

How Much Should I Spend?

If funds are tight (as they are for most massage students), you may be thinking about buying a cheap starter table and upgrading later on, when you’ve had a chance to generate some income and get a better sense of which direction you’re headed.

Before investing in a higher end massage table, it helps to know what types of massage you plan to specialize in. For example, Reiki requires higher end plates that allow you to fit your knees under the table. Raised end plates are also handy for reflexology or hand and foot massage. If you plan to do a lot of outcalls, you’ll want to look for a lightweight aluminum massage table. For spa treatments and facials, you may want to consider a massage table with a backrest lift.

Before you drop a wad of cash on what you consider the Cadillac of massage tables, do some research on what is available. You may be surprised to find that you can get a better massage table for less money than you thought possible.

What Size Massage Table Should I Get?

The Aspire massage table is 30 inches wide.

The Aspire massage table is 30 inches wide.

Choosing a massage table width is important for the sake of your clients’ comfort and for proper body mechanics as a therapist. The standard width for massage tables is 28 inches; however, many therapists prefer a 30 inch table or wider for the comfort of their clients.

Massage Table Width and Client Comfort

Something as simple as massage table width can impact a client’s sense of security on the table. If the table is too narrow, they may feel like they are going to fall off the table, especially when turning over. This is especially important if you have overweight clients or work with athletes with large builds.

Certain massage modalities involve moving the client’s body (such as the arms and legs) while they are on the table. If you offer these types of modalities, make sure the table is wide enough to accommodate the extra movement.

Massage Table Width and Body Mechanics

Besides client comfort, therapist safety is also a concern. Particularly for short therapists (under 5′ 5″) or therapists with short arms, a narrower table will allow better body mechanics while working. If the table width forces you to modify your movements and compromise your alignment, you need a narrower table. Never sacrifice your body mechanics for a table that is too wide. Your body will pay the price.

Finding a Compromise

So what happens if you are a short therapist who works on large clients? One option is to purchase a massage table with side arm extensions. This allows you to choose a narrow width but still accommodate larger clients by giving them a place to rest their arms. If you use side arm extensions, just remember to ask your clients not to place their full weight on the armrests as they turn over. Another option is to look for a massage table that is narrower in the middle and wider on the ends. This allows you to reach across the table easier but still gives the client enough table width to comfortable rest their shoulders and arms.

Massage Outcalls

Table width affects the weight of your massage table, so if you’re on the fence between two different table widths, ask yourself how often you expect to carry your table. Saving a few pounds with a narrower table width may be worth it if you do a lot of outcalls. If you do outcalls with a wider table, consider investing in a massage table cart to make it easier on your body.

What Is the Best Massage Table for My Practice?

A massage table with a backrest lift is perfect for massage and beauty work.

A massage table with a backrest lift is perfect for massage and beauty work.

Knowing which table is best for your practice depends largely on the type of bodywork you perform. Listed below are a few tips on choosing a massage table based on your specialty.

Swedish Massage

Techniques for classic and Swedish massage vary widely. The table you need depends largely on how much pressure you apply, what kind of techniques you use, and how much comfort your clients prefer. Some therapists prefer the firmer surface of a 2-inch padded table. Others prefer a table with 3-inch padding for the luxury of their clients. For a compromise between the two, look for a table with 2 1/2 inch padding.

Deep Tissue

Deep tissue massage is easier to perform when the table padding is firmer. Two-inch padding provides more resistance, which means you will not have to work as hard to apply deep pressure. While deep tissue massage can be performed on tables with 3-inch padding, it will require applying more pressure for each stroke.

Sports Massage

Most sports massage tables are firmer (typically 2-inch padding) for increased pressure and deeper penetration. Aluminum massage tables are popular for sports massage because of their versatility for outdoor use, and aluminum is lightweight for easy portability to and from sports events. Some therapists prefer a table with an elevating backrest. This allows them to elevate the athlete’s legs in the prone position. Sports therapists need to consider the typical size and weight of the athletes they work with. You may need an extra long table, a more generous width, or side arm extenders to accommodate your clients.

Stone Massage

Stone massage can be performed on almost any massage table. Since the emphasis is often on the client’s comfort, thicker padding is preferred. A massage table warmer will add a touch of luxury and extra thickness to the table.

Reiki end plates, such as those on the Elite massage table, allow you to slide your knees under the table.

Reiki end plates, such as those on the Elite massage table, allow you to slide your knees under the table.


The most important feature for a Reiki table is the end plates. They should be high enough to allow you to comfortably slide your knees underneath the table when seated. Some therapists prefer a center-locking cable system for more knee room at the sides of the table as well. Reiki practitioners should also decide on the type of material (wood or metal) for their massage table, based on how it will affect the energy of their practice. Wood absorbs energy and tends to have gentler vibrations. Metal conducts energy rather than absorbs it.


We recommend getting the most comfortable table possible for acupuncture work. The more relaxed your clients are, the more effective the treatment will be. Look for a massage table with at least 3 inches of padding and at least 30 inches wide. Memory foam padding adds even more comfort.

Beauty Work and Massage

If you want to perform beauty work and massage on the same table, look for a table with an elevating backrest, such as the Professional or Deluxe Series. You can have the client can lie down flat on the table for massage, or you can lift the backrest to allow the client to recline for facials, waxing, and other beauty treatments.

Massage Table Accessories | Buying a Massage Table Series

Without certain massage table accessories, your options for client positioning are severely limited. That’s why most massage therapists look for a massage table package that includes a headrest and arm shelf, at the very least.

Other massage table packages may include side arm extenders, a massage table bag, bolster pillows, or a table cart. These accessories can also be purchased separately. So if you don’t have the funds to purchase all of the massage table accessories you need when you purchase the table, you can always make these purchases later or as the need arises.

Face Cradle / Headrest
An aluminum face cradle offers strength and durability.

An aluminum face cradle offers strength and durability.

Most massage therapists consider the headrest to be an essential massage table accessory. Unless your table includes a face portal (also known as a breathe hole), you will need a headrest in order to position your clients in a comfortable and ergonomic position.

Several types of headrests are available on the market. The cheapest headrests are stationary, which means you can’t adjust the height or angle. For a slightly higher price, you can buy a face cradle that allows for multiple adjustments. Most therapists prefer adjustable face cradles for more flexibility in client positioning.

Headrests are made from different materials. Some headrest materials are stronger and more durable than others. Plastic is the cheapest type of headrest but does not have the same strength or durability as metal or aluminum.

Forward Arm Shelf

Along with the headrest, most therapists prefer a forward arm shelf. A massage stool can double as a temporary arm shelf, but it is less professional and less convenient than a forward arm rest. A massage stool used as an arm rest can also get in the way as you move around the table.

Side Arm Extenders
Side extenders come in handy for wider clients.

Side extenders come in handy for wider clients.

If your clients are wider than the average body type, you may want to have a pair of side arm extenders on hand to temporarily make the massage table wider than normal. Your wider clients will appreciate the extra room, and you can easily remove the side extenders when you don’t need them.

Package Deals

For the best deal, look for a massage table package that includes all of the basic accessories that you need. It’s generally cheaper than buying all of your accessories separately.

For more information on massage table features, see the Buying a Massage Table Series.

Choosing a Comfortable Portable Massage Table | Buying a Massage Table Series

When shopping for a massage table, it’s important to consider both your clients’ comfort and your own comfort. As a massage therapist, you will be working long hours around your massage table. The more comfortable and ergonomic your massage equipment is, the easier it will be for you to prevent injuries and the more you will be able to enjoy working with your clients.

Massage table features that increase client and therapist comfort:
  1. Backrest Lift
  2. Do you offer facials and spa treatments? A back lift easily converts your massage table into a spa table. A back lift can increase client comfort during reflexology and massage in the supine position. Also, clients with allergies, sinus problems, or a runny nose may be more comfortable with the head and chest area in an elevated position.

    Most back rest lifts can be adjusted to different angles to meet your needs—anywhere from a few degrees of elevation up to a full sitting position. When lowered, the backrest is flush with the table top.

    These massage table side extensions are removable.

    These massage table side extensions are removable.

  3. Side Arm Extenders
  4. Do you have clients with a wide body type? Side arm extenders can increase your clients’ comfort while still allowing you to choose a narrow enough width to maintain correct posture as you massage. Side extensions are removable, so you can use them or remove them as needed.

  5. Face Portal
  6. A face portal, also known as a breath hole or face hole, can increase client comfort by giving your client the option to use either the face cradle or the face portal. Some clients may find it more comfortable to use one or the other. Also, depending on the type of massage you are giving, you may find it more convenient to position your client using either the face cradle or the portal.

  7. Rounded Corners
  8. One massage table feature that focuses on therapist comfort is the corner shape. Rounded corners make it easier to maneuver around your massage table without bumping your hip into the table corner. Some therapists also prefer the aesthetic appearance of rounded versus square corners.

Some massage table features can be added later, such as side extenders; however, most features cannot be changed once the table is in your hands, so choose your portable massage table wisely!

For more information on massage table features, see the Buying a Massage Table Series.

Choosing a Face Cradle or Headrest: Buying a Massage Table Series

Learn the difference between different types of face cradles.

Aluminum Face Cradles offer strength and durability.

Aluminum Face Cradles offer strength and durability.

A face cradle (also called a headrest) can extend the length of your massage table by up to 12 inches. This allows you to accommodate taller clients without buying a table length extender.

Face cradles can also increase client comfort and therapist access. Many clients prefer face cradles over breathe holes, which can feel somewhat claustrophobic. In addition, combining the use of a face cradle with a forward arm rest opens up the scapula area for easy access to those hard-to-reach back muscles.

There are a number of different headrest styles out on the market, including different types of frames and crescent pads.

Headrest Frames

The material used for a face cradle frame can be wood, plastic, metal, aluminum, or a combination of these materials. The preferred choice is an aluminum headrest because of its strength and light weight. A slightly cheaper but comparably strong option is a metal headrest. Both aluminum and metal offer strength, durability, and flexibility in positioning. They are typically constructed with a quality wooden head base.

A high-density plastic frame is strong and durable enough to withstand regular use and costs less than aluminum or metal. Wooden attachment outlets are also economical, but they are non-adjustable.

A fully adjustable, removable headrest gives you more options for client positioning than a fixed headrest. With a locking cam lever, it adjusts vertically and at any angle, including all the way down to move your headrest out of the way. Most removable headrests store inside the table for easy portability.

Headrest Pads

Headrest pads come in all colors. They are typically constructed with vinyl upholstery that varies in softness. The padding is usually small cell foam. Some face cradle pads come with memory foam for added comfort.

Most headrest pads attach with Velcro and are easily interchangeable. For extra comfort, you can cover them with a fleece pad or other special cover.

Reiki and Standard End Panels: Buying a Massage Table Series

There are 3 basic types of end plates available for massage tables: Reiki end plates, standard end plates, and a combination of the two.

Reiki end panels increase therapist access.

Reiki end panels increase therapist access.

Reiki end panels, also known as access end panels, are designed to accommodate seated work. They are shaped similar to an upside-down U, allowing the knees to easily fit beneath the arch. The sides of the panels extend downward and attach lower down on the legs.

Therapists who practice energy healing (such as Reiki) or do seated work (such as head or foot massage) need to be able to easily fit their legs under the massage table. In order to increase the stability of these higher-placed end plates, the end panels of most Reiki massage tables are two to three times thicker than standard end panels.

Standard end plates increase the stability of your massage table. They are usually thicker than Reiki end plates and they extend lower. This helps prevent the table from “rocking” under the force of vigorous massage techniques. The downside is that standard end plates hinder the therapist during seated work.

Since standard plates are attached lower on the table, there is not enough clearance to slide your knees underneath the table while doing seated work. For therapists who rarely sit while administering massage, this may not be a problem, but for Reiki masters and other therapists, access end panels are crucial to their work.

The half standard, half Reiki end panel option strives for a balance between leg room on one end of the table and added stability on the other end. The problem with this is that you can only do seated work on one end of the table (usually at the foot end)—at least without jamming your knees into the end panel. If you want to do seated work such as head massage or Reiki at the head end of the table, you’ll have to work around the standard end panel.

End plates are a permanent, structural component of your massage table, so choose your end plates carefully. There is no option to swap out the end plates for a different style after you have received your massage table.

For more information on massage table features, see the Buying a Massage Table Series.

Massage Table Length, Width, and Height: Buying a Massage Table Series

  • For taller clients and for using the face portal, choose a longer table. For shorter clients and lighter weight, you may be able to get by with a shorter length.
  • The best width depends on the size and comfort of both therapist and client. Typical width ranges from 27 to 32 inches.
  • The best height is adjustable, usually within a 10-inch range. Choose a height range based on your own height.
Massage Table with 77 Inch Extended Length

Massage Table with 77 Inch Extended Length

The industry standard for length is currently 73 inches. However, if you work with tall clients or clients of varying height and size, you may appreciate a massage table that is longer than the industry standard. With a massage table length of 77 inches, you will be able to accommodate almost any client.

If you use a face portal instead of a face cradle, you may need a longer table to comfortably accommodate your clients. Extended length is also helpful for sports massage, where many of your clients may be tall athletes.

If you are looking for a lightweight portable table for mobile massage, a shorter length can help cut back on overall weight. The face cradle adds up to 12 inches in length to your table, so if you always use the face cradle for your clients, you may not need any extra length.


The width you need depends on your size and body mechanics. The industry standard is about 30 inches wide, but the average width can range anywhere from 27 to 32 inches. Taller therapists sometimes prefer a wider width, while shorter therapists usually prefer a narrow or standard width. The more narrow the width, the easier it will be for the therapist to reach the client, but the table must be wide enough to fully support the client and provide the right amount of comfort.

If only a few of your clients require a wide width, consider adding side arm extenders to make your larger clients comfortable without sacrificing your back and legs. Don’t sacrifice your posture and ergonomics with a table that is too wide. You can only provide healing for your clients if you care for your own health and well-being first.


Most massage tables can adjust to a range of different heights. The range is typically includes a 10-inch span, such as 24 to 34 inches. Make sure the table you buy will adjust to the right height for your working comfort. Give yourself a little extra room for error, as well. For example, if you set your table height at 28 inches, choose a massage table that adjusts to as low as 26 or 27 inches.

Related Posts

For more information on massage table features, see the Buying a Massage Table Series.

For an explanation on how to adjust your massage table to the correct height, see the post on How to Adjust Height for a Massage Table or watch our video on How to Set Up Your Massage Table.

Wood or Aluminum Massage Table: Buying a Massage Table Series

  • Wood
  • – Aesthetically appealing
    – Cost effective

  • Aluminum
  • – Lightweight
    – Higher strength to weight ratio than wood

Wood Massage Table

Wood Massage Table

Wooden Massage Tables

Wood is the most popular material for massage tables in today’s market. This is partly because of its aesthetic appeal and partly because of its cost effective nature. Wood is a warm and natural material that appeals to the senses.

If you choose a wooden massage table, look for one that is constructed with North American hardwood. Canadian maple hardwood gives you the ideal balance of strength to weight.

Lightweight Aluminum Massage Table

Lightweight Aluminum Massage Table

Aluminum Massage Tables

Aluminum massage tables are perfect for mobile therapists. Although aluminum is lightweight, it provides the same quality of strength as wood; in fact, aluminum has a higher strength to weight ratio than wood. Aluminum massage tables also have a faster height adjustment system. Instead of unscrewing knobs, you can adjust the telescoping legs with the push of a button.

If you choose an aluminum massage table, look for one that is constructed with aircraft-grade aluminum and tubular legs. The cost of an aluminum massage table is sometimes a bit higher than for wood, but if you transport your table often, the extra expense may be worth it.

The Final Decision

Both wood and aluminum are reliable and stable materials for your massage table frame. The biggest difference between the two is weight. Wood weighs more than aluminum, so if you are looking for the lightest massage table possible, aluminum is your best option.

For more information on massage table features, see the Buying a Massage Table Series.