How to Choose the Electric Lift Table That Is Right For You

Some thoughts on choosing your table from Marten Gabriel

I would like to split the answer in two sections. The first section deals with aspects that a table has to have to help you deliver your best patient care. The second one deals with features that a table should have to keep serving you well year after year.

In order to arrive at a meaningful selection, you have to prioritize your needs. You will also arrive at a better decision if you replace the word “table” with “treatment support system.” As I have mentioned in other parts of this website, the most important aspect for you to consider is the adequate lift range for your body height, body build, and type of work. No other feature of an electric lift massage table will give you more return for your money than it’s lift range. Given that we all have different ways of working, and are built differently, you have to find out what approximate lift range you would need. Remember, until you can feel your upper body weight in your hands, your are labouring in your work. You exert pressure to enlist change in your customer’s tissue. Once you can place weight into your hands, and will “dialogue” with the tissue in a whole different way. Consider for a moment that every time you push, however you accomplish that, there is a chance that your customer or patient will respond by tensing up. It’s really quite simple we don’t like to be pushed. So, changing from pushing into tissues to leaning in to tissue with weight is the key to unleash your what I call “amazing power”. Whereby I have to say that the word power is wrong, because we associate with power, force, and that’s not what I mean. It’s more like what the philosopher Heidegger called “the allowing will”. You coming to the tissue with an idea, with a plan, so to speak. You have an intent as to what you would like to see happening. By leaning into the tissue, by putting weight there and listening for feedback from the tissue, you can promote change faster. Until you can place your client or patient at the height where you can comfortably place weight into your hands, you are simply working too hard. Not only that, you are endangering your own health. You may develop shoulder problems, or develop wrist problems, that in turn threatens your economic survival because now you can’t work any more. So, it is crucial to understand that the lift range is the only form of protection for these dangers that we face as therapists. If you've never had a chance to work on a electric lift massage table with sufficient lift range I suggest you do a little test.

Stand in front of a chair, place the palms of your hands on the chair, and feel how much weight you now experience in your hands. If you happen to be six foot tall, this might be too low. If you are five foot tall, this might still be too high. It should give you an idea what it feels like when you experience weight in your hands. Now you have to consider the depth of the body you are working on and deduct that from the hight of the chair. This gives you an idea how low your table would have to go to effectively place your upper body weight into your hands. At fist this might feel way to low for you especially if you never had an opportunity to work in this way.

Once you have determined what lift range is needed to deploy your “amazing power” rather than your strength, you can then look around for electric lift massage tables that offer that kind of lift range.

I have pioneered the design and building of treatment tables that will go extremely low for over 25 years. I have built custom tables that went as low as 10”.

Next in terms of importance is the width of your top. I know form dealing with hundreds and hundreds of therapists that it is much easier for me to convince a 6'-tall therapist off the advantages that a narrow table brings than to make this clear to a 5'-tall therapist. The farther you are away from the midline of your patient/client the more likely you will stress your lower back. If you buy a top wide enough to accommodate the 10% of your clientele that needs that with you will be working 90% of the time on a too wide top. That’s why I stared to develop the idea of “expansion tops” in the late 1980s. Ergonomically speaking, the narrower your top the better for your body. It is a very common mistake made every day by therapist to buy a table top wide enough to accommodate the largest client they ever worked on. Please don’t do it.

Look how you can make any size client feel comfortable on a expansion top and you will never have to work on a table wider than necessary. Remember if you injure yourself you jeopardize your livelihood, you may loose the investment in time and money you made to be a therapist.

Technical aspects of lift technology for electric lift tables

At this point, I would like to show you that there are considerations about a table that you want to keep in mind as you look around. There are three basic lifting mechanisms implemented in electric lift tables. Either a central pillar with some kind of hydraulic or electric piston, a scissor lift or some form of parallelogram lever. Let me give you some basic characteristics of each.

A center post lift: It’s main advantage is it’s simplicity. Tables made that way usually offer excellent access from all sides while working from a chair. The disadvantage is that you can’t go very low and on the high level they become wobbly rather quickly because of the leverage put on the single lift column. The best ones are hydraulic and have a double-stage piston. But as I said, the key disadvantage is that they usually will not go lower than about twenty inches, so for my concept about utilizing your amazing power via weight in your hands, they are impractical.

The parallelogram type lift table that utilizes some kind of double swing mechanism, is the most popular and they traditionally are very stable. It’s a very good construction method. The problem with these tables is, that in the process of raising and lowering the top moves back and forth. Some of these tables have as much as one foot back and forth travel. In other words, the head end of the table moves twelve inches backwards and forwards in its travel from high to low. Given that many people have to work in environments where space is an issue, I find that arrangement questionable. Besides, there is also a problem with the lift range. If you only lift about twelve inches up or down, it’s not too bad, but if you want to truly generate a lift range that is useful for today’s versatile therapist, you need more than a twelve inch lift range. Access to the top while sitting on a chair is poor sometimes even from the head or foot end.

That has lead me to the scissor lift arrangement. With a scissor lift and with the kind of lift technology, double-electro piston, that we employ, I can lift from twelve to thirty-eight inches. In other words, I can give you the ability to work comfortably in a variety of settings. You could be working standing on one of these tables doing some cranial sacral work on a child with the mother present on the other side of the table or you could be working on it in a sitting position, or you could be doing deep tissue work, all on the same table.

At the first glance it appears that all lift tables are the same, but when you start looking closer you will discover many important differences.

As you can see, once you have established your lift range, you will be able to focus in on the tables that can deliver what you need. Other considerations of course are: type of face rest, switch arrangement, and the upholstery or cushioning. Although these considerations are important when deciding upon your choice of table, they are not giving you the same kind of return on your dollar as the right lift range will give you. If you work in a small room, stay clear of tables that move back and forth while lifting and lowering.

The second aspect: table construction and technical features

Now that you have an idea as to what type of table would satisfy your needs in terms of lift range, you can look at some other aspects of a table. How easy will it be to make the table go up or down? I have made every effort to provide switches that are easily accessible from just about anywhere on the table and the arrangement is such that after a very short time, you will not even think about the switch any more. You will just know intuitively that there is a switch at your foot, that you can activate while you are working. In order to work at optimal height, to really dialogue with the tissue in a most effective way, you may find yourself adjusting the height of the table continuously up and down during the treatment. I have made every effort to give you that type of a switch. I believe, buying a table that only has one switch, is really defeating the purpose of a lift table. The reason why you have a lift table is to be able to work at a comfortable height, and that keeps changing. Even while sitting down, you will find that, while doing neck and upper back work, with a person supine and you sitting at the head end of the table, that lowering or raising the table by an inch or two, is like giving yourself a break. Just being able to reposition yourself feels like a mini break and I’ve made sure that you have access to a switch while sitting down. Look around, see what options there are for easy up and down manipulation of the table.

I would also like you to consider if moving your table or putting it away to make room for some floor exercises, yoga, movement work, etc., could be important now or in the future. Talking to my customers, I was always amazed at the positive feedback I received about how quick and easy it was to put the table away and the practicality of having the table in the home doing a few sessions and easily transforming the treatment room into a guest room. So, when I designed the FS3 series, I made sure it would still be easy to setup or stow away. As you look down the road at perhaps semi-retirement, this might be handy.

By contrast, if you have an electric lift table, a traditional one, or one of our FS2 models, that table will dominate the room. You will not move that table easily from one place to another. You cannot store it very easily and so, in any kind of situation where it would be handy to remove the table even temporarily from its location, it becomes a problem.

On the mechanical side of the table, if something goes wrong, we want to be able to help you fix it at your place. I have pioneered the idea of “customer self care”. Designing tables that can be repaired wherever they are in the world. The components that could break down over time or develop some kind of mechanical defect are the lift motors, the switches, the transformer and relay box and the gas spring in the face rest. Our lift motors are installed in such a fashion that you can remove a lift motor without the use of tools in literally five minutes and replace it with a new one. The exchange of a motor is straight forward and does not require any service personnel. In a 2-motor table, if one motor failed, you could always uninstall the defective motor and keep working with just one motor. You would not be able to raise the table from twelve inches up to about eighteen inches with the patient on it. This would be a “work around”, but at least you could keep on working until you received the replacement motor. If the relay box with the transformer had to be replaced, it would require that you unscrew two screws and unplug four plugs. Again, a procedure that doesn’t take long and can be accomplished by anybody. Replacing the gas spring on the face rest requires some tools, but again it’s not a technically difficult procedure.

When you look at tables, make sure that wherever you get it from, you can be reasonably assured that you will be able to get parts to replace components that have failed. I get regular calls from people that can’t get parts any more or would require a service technician to diagnose the problem. By the way we do repairs on tables not made by us. If we can help someone get a table going again, we are glad to help.

Let’s consider the shape of the top. Most therapists, especially those that are less than five foot six have a tendency to get tables that are too wide for them. The closer to the center line you can place yourself, or the center line of the patient you can place yourself, the less stress on your body. In order to accomplish that, I have introduced the idea of an expansion top making the basic table as narrow as is practical, with side and foot extensions that allow you to accommodate whatever size patient might walk into your room. There is no question that some of your clients are going to be big. That’s the nature of the business. But not all of your patience are needing a table that is 34 inches wide. So every time you can make your table as narrow as possible for that particular patient you reduce the stress on your body. Again, the less stress you experience on a daily basis the more energy you have at the end of the day, the greater your survival rate is, and it’s one way to protect your income, by eliminating dangers to your physical structure.

I would like to emphasize that with our tables, the side extensions and the foot extensions are not add-ons. Let me explain. I had a customer who specialized in treating over-sized patients. He made himself a good living taking care of people who were either much taller or much heavier than average, from 350 pounds up. What I learned from him was that big people, or obese people, get constant feedback from their environment that they are not okay. Furniture breaks down when they sit on it. So in his place everything was oversized. All the furniture was solid wood, extra strong, extra large, including the table we built for him. His observation was that if he provided his clients furniture and tables and so-forth to use that accommodates them, then they feel more at ease in his environment. He felt that any kind of work around, like adding side extension to a table and so-forth really amounts to giving a this type of person a subtle message that they are not okay; that we have to add these special things to a table in order to accommodate them. I thought I would incorporate that thinking into my design. Build table tops that can seemlessly expand and contract according to the need. You are not adding any kind of extensions to the table. The extensions are already there and you can just make the table wider when a bigger person comes, you are not giving the person any kind of messages that they are not okay because you have to go and find the extensions for your table. Now you may think that this is a minor detail, but feedback over the last ten years has confirmed that this, in fact, is an aspect that is appreciated by my customers - the fact that they can accommodate any size person and make them comfortable on the table without the need of adding special things to the table. We also make sure these extensions are solid enough that you can sit on them, which is another big advantage, because the extensions that are usually offered on traditional massage tables are fairly light weight and tend to break if one is not careful with them. By removing these extensions, on the other hand, you have the ability to reduce the size of your table even further, allowing you to get closer to your patient's midline and work more ergonomically efficient. As it turned out, the foot extension has proven to be useful in other ways as well. In a small room it is possible to shorten the table by 5" when treating shorter patients, effectively having a 5'6" table.


Care-Tech Research
Makers of ergonomically superior electric massage tables for 25 years.
Fanny Bay, Canada

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