The 12 Best Back Massagers That Will Soothe Sore Muscles and Work Through Knots
Here’s some unfortunate news for you: It’s estimated that 80 percent of Americans will suffer from back pain at some point in our lives. And the Cleveland Clinic reports that two percent of the work force is sidelined by back pain every single day. Ow. With numbers like this, it’s no surprise that back pain is the second most common reason people visit their family doctors. Luckily there are back massagers to help alleviate tension and soothe sore.
What Causes Back Pain?
Well, there’s acute trauma—anything from a fall to a car accident—that can cause the elements of your back to slip out of alignment, due to fractured bones, torn ligaments or sprained tendons. Being overweight can be a risk factor, but simply standing or sitting for too long can lead to a sore back. You might develop poor posture, which can lead to strain. Or the muscles in your back might weaken from lack of exercise, then tear under the force of your body’s motion when you jump right back into running, biking or lifting weights. It’s enough to make you feel anxious when you think about everything that can lead to these aches and pains.
What Types of Massagers Are There?
Back massagers can be separated into two main categories: Vibrational and shiatsu. Dr. Todd Peterson, a former college and pro football player and a chiropractor based in Chicago, says that percussive (aka vibration-powered) back massagers are useful to “gate” pain. As Peterson explains, nerves can only send one signal at a time, and the fastest signal is registered by the brain first. Since vibrations travel faster through the body than dull soreness does, a vibrating massager basically outruns aches, and makes it harder for your brain to register the other, uncomfortable sensation. Shiatsu massage, on the other hand, focuses on deep kneading, paying attention to pressure points on the body. Shiatsu is great for specific points of pain, like the knot in your shoulders or your aching middle back; vibrating massagers are good for general relaxation of an entire tense or tired area.
How Do You Choose the Right Massager for Your Pain?
Since there are so many different types and causes of back pain, it’s no surprise that there a bajillion styles and shapes of massage tools. Picking the one that’s right for you is all about finding the one that best addresses where your pain usually is (shoulders or lower back?) and where you’ll use the device (on the go or on your bedroom floor?). Here, the 12 best back massagers that money can buy.
The Best Back Massagers of 2021 at a Glance
- Best Pillow: Zyllion Shiatsu Back and Neck Massager - Kneading Massage Pillow ($55)
- Best Portable Design: MyoStorm Heated Vibrating Massage Ball Roller ($149)
- Best Budget Massager: Beurer Handheld Mini Body Massager With LED Light ($12)
- Best for Intense Massages: Theragun Elite ($399)
- Best Neck Pillow: HoMedics Shiatsu and Vibration Body Massager ($80)
- Best Vibrating Foam Roller: Hyperice Vyper 2.0 Vibrating Fitness Foam Roller ($199)
- Best Chair Pad: Snailax Shiatsu Neck & Back Massager ($140)
- Best Car Pillow: Ohuhu Electric Massager Pillow ($30)
- Best Dual Temperature: HoMedics Dual Temp Percussion Pro Handheld Massager ($100)
- Best Manual: Body Back Buddy ($30)
- Best Wearable: HoMedics Cordless True Touch Neck & Shoulder Massager with Heat ($194)
- Best Mini Percussive Massager: Theragun Mini ($199)
1, Zyllion Shiatsu Back and Neck Massager - Kneading Massage PillowBest Pillow
With almost 20,000 five-star reviews on Amazon, users love this compact design for its versatility. The shiatsu-style pillow also has a heat function and an automatic The Bestshut-off after 20 minutes—which is super useful when you’re lulled to sleep by its comforting motion. “I have severe arthritis, bursitis, plantar fasciitis, frozen shoulder, joint pain, tight calves, a replaced hip and shoulder,” one user states. “This modest little piece of equipment is phenomenal for loosening tight muscles and relieving pain.” The pillow is electric, so it needs to be plugged in to work, but power of the three-dimensional rotating balls, and their ability to loosen neck, shoulder and individual back areas with its 13- by nine-inch surface, make it worthwhile to be tethered to a cord. (There’s also a power adapter for the car.)
2. MyoStorm Heated Vibrating Massage Ball RollerBest Portable Design
This Shark Tank-approved tool heats up to 120 degrees in 10 minutes, for a super effective massge. With a four-inch diameter, we appreciate how you can place it right on the tense muscle and set it to whichever of the four intensities you need. With a simple toggle on-off switch and up to 90 minutes of operation per charge, this ball is super easy to use. Also, since it weighs only two pounds, it’s light enough to hold between your back and a wall, so you can press backward onto the vibration more gently than you could if you were laying on it.
3. Beurer Handheld Mini Body Massager With LED LIghtBest Budget Massager
For users that don’t want hurricane-force pounding on their sensitive back, this little massager that fits in your hand and uses three AAA batteries is the best option. One review confirms that the device is “enough to ease kinks and sore muscles but not so hard that it beats you up.” At four inches in diameter, this it’s also portable and lightweight, so it can be stashed in your luggage or your car for a quick recovery massage whenever you need it.
4. Theragun EliteBest for Intense Massages
We were pretty skeptical about the high price point of and cult-like devotion to Theragun’s percussive massage guns. But then we tried this little number, which was so strong yet quiet, and managed to work much faster and harder than any other massager we’ve tried. Theragun says this is because the gun can deliver up to 40 pounds of force while staying quieter than an electric toothbrush—and get 60 percent deeper into muscle than other massagers. The handheld style takes a bit of practice to figure out, but after watching a few online tutorials, we could really get into the problem areas on in our neck, shoulder and back. And shout out to the thumb attachment, one of five shaped massage heads included, because it’s a precise way to target trigger points on your lower back. There’s also a Therabody app that you can sync to your massager, to get suggestions and techniques based on your recent workouts.
5. HoMedics Shiatsu and Vibration Body MassagerBest Neck Pillow
With shiatsu trigger point manipulation, overall vibration and heat options, this little combination neck pillow/body massager from HoMedics has it all. Positioned under your neck, on shiatsu function, it’s going to help unlock the kinks put there by traffic or hunching over a desk. Moved down under your mid or lower back, the overall vibration will loosen large muscle groups. And the heat is the next best thing to a warm massage table at a spa. At 24 inches long and 19 inches wide, it’s plenty big enough to get most of your back treated in one go, and since it’s got an automatic shut-off after 15 minutes, you’re free to fall asleep in mid-massage, confident you won’t wake up well-done.
6. Hyperice Vyper 2.0 Vibrating Fitness Foam RollerBest Vibrating Foam Roller
Dancers and athletes have long known that rolling out their muscles after—and before—a strenuous workout is key to pain-free mobility. Now, weekend warriors are getting the message, too, since foam rollers are now commonplace. What’s not commonplace are vibrating rollers, which add a high intensity element to rolling. This Hyperice roller has a 40 hz motor with three settings (45Hz, 68 Hz and 92 Hz speeds) which, for translation, is almost twice the power of a professional Vitamix blender, aka fierce. The rechargeable battery has a two-hour life, which should give you a week’s worth of sessions, because a few back-and-forth rolls with this under you on the floor is going to really decrease muscle soreness and improve circulation. The grooves in the foam are the right depth to encourage myofascial release without causing pain. One downside of all this vibration, according to one reviewer? “The vibration is a little loud but it’s worth it for the results.”
7. Snailax Shiatsu Neck & Back MassagerBest Chair Pad
With 905 five-star ratings, this plug-in gel pad by Snailax fits onto a chair or couch and delivers heat, roller manipulation and kneading shiatsu strokes. “The neck massager is AMAZING on skinny petite and thick muscular necks,” reports one user. The pad can be moved up or down to hit the right areas, though a few commenters had slight issue with the neck massaging elements, saying they needed to be moved forward by placing a pillow under the pad. Finally, there’s an extra added element in this pad that’s good for people who prefer a softer touch—the mid-back has a detachable intensity control flap.
8. Ohuhu Electric Massager PillowBest Car Pillow
Long commutes and traffic jams can leave your back spasming and stiff, but not with this small-but-powerful Ohuhu pillow at the ready (which comes with a car adapter). One user reports: “The intensity is very much like a live massage, and it is very comfortable for me.” Massager elements move in two directions and auto-reverse once a minute, to eliminate kinks. There’s an attached strap to wrap around your car’s head rest, for neck-specific complaints, but it’s the lumbar region this little guy will be used on the most (since that’s what really rebels in a long car trip).
9. HoMedics Dual Temp Percussion Pro Handheld MassagerBest Dual Temperature
It’s surprising that more massagers don’t have a cooling option, since chill can reduce inflammation and sensitivity, two potential causes for discomfort. Two modes can be adjusted to five speeds (gentle to intense, it’s all here), and at almost 15 inches long, this HoMedics handheld device’s long handle enables you to reach the middle parts of your back that you can’t with others.
10. Body Back BuddyBest Manual
The Body Back Buddy is the combination back massager/tire iron was first marketed in 1995 and is still going strong. But seriously: The BBB, basically an s-curved piece of super-strong plastic, has trigger-point nubs and knobs jutting out from it at points that manipulate pressure-release points. One user reports it “looks like a Klingon weapon but I must say I was very impressed as it can take a lot of pressure and really gets into the knots,” and “I had a knot for years under my shoulder blade and boy did this contraption get rid of it. Once you know your angles, you’re off into another world.” A 12-page manual comes with this tool showing how to best rub, position and self-massage your pain away.
11. HoMedics Cordless True Touch Neck & Shoulder Massager with HeatBest Wearable
"The only thing that could be better is a true hands-on massage by a human,” one user reports about the HoMedics Cordless True Touch Neck & Shoulder Massager with Heat. “The harder you want the massage, the tighter your hold should be on arm straps. I love mine!” This massager drapes around your neck and unlike many wearable massage devices, it’s got little thumb-like appendages that rotate on either side of your neck (or your spine, if you wrap it around your mid or lower back) to simulate the powerful fingers of a masseur. Combine that with the heating function and the three-speed functionality, and you’ve got a guaranteed relaxation session that lasts for up to 15 minutes before automatically shutting off.
12. Theragun MiniBest Mini Percussive Massager
Smaller and less costly than the larger Theragun models, this mini is a hit for back pain sufferers looking for relative portability and affordability without compromising on power. “My husband was having tough back muscle pain...he was complaining a lot, and he loves being active, so this pain was a big issue. I bought the Theragun mini for him. The tool brought instant relief and now his back feels much better. He says the percussive therapy took out the knots in his back.” Three speeds and a 150-minute battery life mean it’s easy to use, and the design of the chassis is easy to grab for when you’re pressing into your shoulders and mid-back. Of course, it’s also idea for using all over the body, for relaxation and pain relief, too.
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