When Rachael Scott, owner of Rachael Scott Bodywork in Lynnwood, Washington, worked in a clinic, the company purchased a massage table from Craigslist for $200. After three months, the table broke mid-session while a 300-pound client was having a massage.
Fortunately, the client was not injured—but the incident caused embarrassment for both the clinic and the client. Although keeping costs to a minimum is a smart business move, doing your homework before purchasing used massage equipment ensures that you hold the line on finances while maintaining the integrity of your practice.
Ask a lot of questions
Susan G. Salvo, owner of Bodyworks Massage Therapy in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and author of Massage Therapy: Principles and Practice and Mosby’s Pathology for Massage Therapists, emphasizes the importance of asking questions prior to purchasing any used massage equipment, such as: “Has the equipment been stored in a smoke-filled environment?” “Were there pets near the equipment?” and “Was the table stored in its case, or in a garage or storage bin?”
“If the equipment has been exposed to extreme temperatures, it could affect the vinyl,” Salvo says. “And if there were pets, there could be cat scratches on the wood.”
Salvo also notes that high-quality manufacturers apply a company-specific marking, much like a vehicle identification number on a car, to the underside of massage tables. If you call the company and provide the number, they should be able to offer relevant details, such as make, model, dimensions, weight limits and any recall information.
Whether a therapist opts for used or new equipment, Salvo recommends choosing a reputable company with a long history in the industry. “These companies have a good track record and build equipment that lasts,” Salvo notes.
Roseanne Longo, owner of Hands-On Healthcare in East Brookfield, Massachusetts, embraces the buyer-beware philosophy and agrees that therapists should do their homework when it comes to used massage equipment.
“People have to know what they are buying,” she says. “I would check manufacturers’ catalogs online or call them. It’s one way for a buyer to know what they are buying. I believe brand names carry certain standards. I would be more concerned with some of the non-brand-name tables, as they are not tested.”
Individual manufacturers set their own standards for weight limits, strength and stability; this information can be found online or by calling the company.
Inspect used massage equipment
Buyers should do a thorough inspection before finalizing a purchase. “Any buyer should inspect the legs, cables and the sheet of wood under the table for dents and cracks,” Longo says, pointing out that the potential buyer has no other way of knowing if a table took a tumble down the stairs or served as a trampoline for the seller’s youngsters. “Buyer beware is always the case.”
When she was ready to upgrade to a new massage table and sell her original, Longo provided detailed information to potential buyers. The company from which she had bought the table had gone out of business due to some construction issues. While she never had any problems with her massage table, when she sold it she informed the buyer about the recalls.
“I made the buyer fully aware of what the problem was and how my table was not involved,” Longo says.
Avoid legal hassles
According to Longo, the biggest market for used massage equipment is the massage student population. While in school, students have an opportunity to try out different tables to determine what they like and don’t like. It’s wise to test-drive a number of different makes and models to learn about different table heights and widths, structure and other important construction details before investing in a table, she points out.
Some massage schools post notices for used equipment in their student lounges. With the financial burden of school, students often can’t afford to spend top dollar immediately upon graduation. Finding good used equipment enables students to begin practicing without significant additional expense, according to Longo.
Scott, the therapist who experienced the used massage table breaking mid-session, says that massage therapists who consider purchasing used equipment do so primarily as a cost-cutting measure. “However, it won’t save money if [the equipment] is in poor condition and needs to be replaced—and it definitely won’t save money if it breaks and injures a client,” she says. “Years ago, I learned through my liability insurance provider that the number-one reason massage therapists are sued is injury due to equipment failure.”
She advocates for buying new in order to prevent any mishaps, legal or otherwise. “Massage tables require maintenance to stay in good shape year to year. In order to have a warranty, you need to buy directly from the manufacturer or register an item purchased through an approved retailer and you must be the original owner,” Scott says. “There are no warranties for new items that can’t be registered, like those from unapproved sellers, or for secondhand equipment.”
Scott purchases only new equipment and prefers to buy directly from the manufacturer—with good reason. She recently had a segment of her water-filled face cradle cushion rupture, two weeks before its warranty expiration date. The company sent her a new one for free, which would not have been possible had it been purchased secondhand or from a third-party seller.
Quality over price
When it comes to other massage equipment, such as rocks, table warmers, towel cabis, pillows, bolsters and other, lower-cost items, it might be best to opt for new. Salvo says, “I would not encourage buying used pillows or cushions. They are cheap enough to begin with. It’s fine to buy commercially made vinyl bolsters, although in 30 years mine have never worn out.”
Regardless of whether you buy new or used massage equipment, be sure to choose a well-made product, Salvo says. “When you buy quality, it says a lot about how you feel about your practice.”
About the Author
Phyllis Hanlon has written nonfiction articles and book reviews as well as human-interest stories, profiles and award-winning essays. Her specialty areas include health and medicine, religion, education and business. She regularly delights in the joys of massage. She wrote “Reiki: A Complementary Therapy Gains in Acceptance” for MASSAGE Magazine.