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Updated Jan 24, 2023 1:00 PM

A back massager can’t replace a full-on visit with a massage therapist, but it can provide some much-needed relief for just about any back pain. These handy devices let you target sore spots, loosen tight muscles, and relieve pain. However, you’ve got some decisions because they come in many designs. From massage pads that cover your chair to models that mimic a deep shiatsu massage, these handy tools pamper and maintain mobility at the same time. You can soothe your muscles with vibration or beat out stiffness with a massage gun. Then, you can apply heat to keep everything loose. Back massagers can make you ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ or weep a tear as they knead tight muscles into submission. Here are some of the best back massagers for a variety of bodies.

How we picked the best back massagers

Splitting our time bent over laptops and lugging new gear to test around, we’re no strangers to back pain here at PopSci. To choose the best back massagers, we surveyed dozens of products and scoured reviews by media outlets and users. We have chosen a variety of types of back massagers, including percussion massagers and more deep tissue options. Ultimately, we relied on a mixture of hands-on experience, user reviews, editorial reviews, and expert opinions to land our picks.

The best back massagers: Reviews & Recommendations

All back pain isn’t the same, and neither are back massagers. There’s a wide variety of designs and features. Some models mimic shiatsu massage, a deep-tissue massage with roots in Japanese therapy. Others offer percussive massage, working out deep muscle knots, as tight muscles may just need heat and vibration to stimulate blood flow. Some massagers provide a range of massage movements, including different nodes to target various areas of the back and body. We’ve selected multiple types of back massagers so you can find one to heal, relax, and soothe your muscles whether you’re a fitness enthusiast or staring at spreadsheets for hours.

Best deep-tissue: Comfier Shiatsu Neck & Back Massager

COMFIER

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Why it made the cut: Four nodes dig into your tense muscles in the best possible way.

Specs

  • Levels of intensity: 3
  • Power source: AC adapter
  • Price at time of publication: $196

Pros

  • Also gets hips and neck in the mix
  • Easy to use in most chairs
  • Optional heat function

Cons

  • Pricey
  • Not very portable

The Comfier Shiatsu Neck & Back Massager uses slow, targeted movements to knead the back, shoulders, neck, and thighs. You can also relax the body into the massager to add a pressure massage to the lower back, waist, and thighs. The shiatsu massage balls in each location (neck and lower back) can be turned on or off independently, so you get a massage only where you want it. Users of different sizes can adjust the position of the neck massagers to fit a taller or shorter torso better. This model folds down for compact storage.

Best for lower back: MagicMaker Shiatsu Neck and Back Massager

MagicMakers

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Why it made the cut: This simple method for self-massage can also apply heat alongside pressure.

Specs

  • Levels of intensity: 3
  • Power source: AC adapter
  • Price at time of publication: $40

Pros

  • Targets common trouble areas
  • Doesn’t require a second person
  • Heat function

Cons

  • Requires arm strength some people may not have
  • Six-foot power cord can be limiting

The MagicMaker Shiatsu Neck and Back Massager features eight rollers that knead into the muscles. The rollers heat, but you can turn the heat on or off as needed. This model’s design works beautifully for the lower back, and its ergonomic design can rotate to fit the neck and shoulders, too. It includes two massage motions to adjust the massage experience to your needs. 

Best handheld: RENPHO Rechargeable Handheld Deep-Tissue Massager

RENPHO

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Why it made the cut: The extra-long reach makes it simple to get into tricky areas.

Specs

  • Levels of intensity: 5
  • Power source: Built-in battery
  • Price at time of publication: $40

Pros

  • Long reach to accommodate less-flexible users
  • Affordable
  • Five attachments provide ample options
  • Battery-powered for portability

Cons

  • Not all the attachments are particularly useful
  • Shuts off after 20 minutes to prevent overheating

The RENPHO Rechargeable Handheld Deep-Tissue Massager features a rechargeable battery-powered design that lets you reach behind your back or legs without getting tangled. This cordless model also comes with five interchangeable nodes to target problem areas. A full charge lasts 140 minutes, though it may be lower depending on the level of the massage. The RENPHO also includes a safety feature to prevent overheating that turns the massager off after 20 minutes.

Best percussion massager: Hypervolt 2 Pro

Stan Horaczek

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Why it made the cut: This pro-grade percussion massager has exceptional pressure and extremely robust battery life.

Specs

  • Levels of intensity: 5
  • Power source: Built-in battery
  • Price at time of publication: $329

Pros

  • Strong pressure options
  • Built for heavy use
  • All the attachments feel useful

Cons

  • Pricey
  • Heavy

Portable, high-powered massagers have become essential equipment for athletes and even casual gym-goers looking to bully their sore muscles into a quick recovery. This high-end option isn’t cheap, but it offers five levels of intensity as well as guided routines developed by athletes and trainers provided in the companion app (making it one of our top percussion massager picks). The package includes an assortment of five attachments designed to target specific areas. Attachments with larger surface area make the experience a little less intense. Advanced users will want more pointed attachments to really dig into trouble areas.

While this model isn’t cheap, it does offer a serious brushless motor designed to endure frequent and everyday use. A fully charged battery will also provide up to three hours of run-time, which is great if you want to bring it to the gym without having to worry about plugging it in.

It’s not all upside, though. It is rather heavy, and some high-end models offer a slightly more ergonomic design. But, when it comes to performance and durability, the Hypervolt has the advantage.

Best mini massager: BOB AND BRAD Q2 Mini-Massage Gun

BOB AND BRAD

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Why it made the cut: If you’re not going to use it constantly, this percussion massager can save you a lot of cash.

Specs

  • Levels of intensity: 5
  • Power source: Built-in battery
  • Price at time of publication: $69

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Travel case included
  • Useful attachments

Cons

  • Not meant for extended use
  • Attachments are a little flimsy

The BOB AND BRAD Q2 Mini-Massage Gun fits in the palm of your hand yet can do serious work on sore muscles. It includes five percussion speeds and comes with five heads, including a fork head to get muscles close to the vertebrae. Each 3.5-hour charge provides four hours of running time, so you don’t have to store this model in the charger. At only just under a pound, the Q2 can fit inside your gym bag or suitcase to give you relief when you’re away from home.

Things to consider before buying a back massager

Back massagers may be electric, battery-powered, or manual. Battery-powered models provide portability, making it easier to use the massager throughout your house or take it while you travel. However, electric massagers maintain consistent power. 

With so many affordable electric and battery-powered massagers available, manual massagers have largely fallen out of favor. That doesn’t mean you can’t find one, but you can easily secure an electrical or battery-powered model for a few more dollars. 

Designs range from massagers that cover the seat and back of a chair to a low back-only massager. Choose a design that targets your type of pain. For example, pain may strike only during certain positions like sitting or standing. A chair massager can help those stuck on the sofa, while a handheld model can work for those held hostage in the standing position.

Different muscle issues and pain points may respond better to certain types of back massagers. If you want a massager for general muscle soreness (not just in the back), handheld massagers and massage guns can be used almost anywhere on the body. However, if you suffer from severe back pain, a model that targets and is specifically designed for the back may work better.

Dig into knots and pain deep within the muscle

Deep-tissue massage requires a massager reaching the deepest muscle layers and fascia, the muscles’ connective tissues. The massager then uses slow, firm pressure to relieve aches and pains. 

Shiatsu massagers also fall into this category. If you are at a day spa, a shiatsu massage would involve the masseuse using their fingers, thumb, and palms to target the body’s pressure points. Electric and battery-powered shiatsu back massagers mimic this movement, using slow, intense motions.

Lower back pain (LBP) can make it hard to work, stand, or sit

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 28% of men and 31% of women over the age of 18 experience lower-back pain (LBP). Anything from an injury to weight gain can cause LBP, and it can limit activity, work, and sleep. 

Lower-back massagers target this sensitive area with designs that fit the natural curve of the spine. These massagers also feature nodes and balls that dig into the musculature of the lower back without touching the vertebrae. Lower-back massagers may offer vibration, deep tissue massage, and/or heat. Take your pick of the movement that works best for you.

How handheld massagers work

A massager that lets you target pain points yourself can be invaluable. Handheld massagers do just that. These portable models feature a long handle with a massage head that contains one to four massage nodes. Most include different node attachments, from multi-pronged to thin, pointed ones that dig deep into the muscle. 

Most massagers use vibration to stimulate blood flow and relax the muscle. However, some use percussion to press into hard knots to relax the muscle. Many include a heated option, too. Models with cases or storage bags let you keep all the attachments together, so you’re ready for a massage anywhere.

The difference between deep-tissue and percussive massage

Percussive massage differs from deep-tissue massage, even though both target muscles deep within the body’s muscle structure. Percussive massage, also known as deep-muscle stimulation, targets muscle soreness and soft tissue pain. With this method, short, rapid pulses press deep into the body’s soft tissues, stimulating blood flow and elongating muscle tissue. 

These massage guns go hard and fast. They’re not for the faint of heart, but they can work wonders on the sore muscles for which they are designed. Models with varying speeds and intensities provide adjustability based on your comfort level. These guns can be loud, so look for a model with a motor designed to keep noise down. 

Mini massagers save space and let you target problem areas

Mini massagers are smaller versions of full-size massagers. They come in manual, battery-powered, and electric designs. These handheld models may also include different nodes for a greater variety of massage options. They typically have fewer speeds and intensities than larger models, but a mini massager can also be much quieter.

If you’re on a budget, look into a manual massager. The only problem with these is you usually need someone else to do the actual back massaging. But a mini handheld with a long handle can do the trick if you’re usually massaging on your own. 

FAQs

Q: Are back massagers worth it?

Yes, back massagers are worth it. With the right massage motion, the best back massager can relieve and prevent back pain, soothe sore muscles, and loosen stubborn knots.

Q: What does a vibrating massager do to muscles?

A vibrating massager stimulates the muscle, increasing blood flow. More blood also brings more oxygen, which aids in recovery. There’s also evidence that vibrating massagers can temporarily improve flexibility.

Q: How often should you use a massage gun?

How often you use a massage gun depends on a few factors, including the type of massage, the reason behind the massage, and the level of muscle trauma. For mild soreness, you can use a massage gun every day for several times a day if you keep your sessions short, about 15-30 seconds per muscle group. That said, be careful not to use the massage gun every day in the same place for a prolonged period, as you can introduce trauma to the muscle. 

Final thoughts on the best back massagers

A back massager can work wonders on a chronically sore back. A massager that fits your lifestyle and includes movements that target your pain points will offer the most relief. The best back massager will soothe your hard-to-reach areas with little effort on your part. You can lean into them, close your eyes, and let the massager do its work.

Best deep-tissue: Comfier Shiatsu Neck & Back Massager
Best for lower back: MagicMaker Shiatsu Neck and Back Massager
Best handheld: RENPHO Rechargeable Hand Held Deep-Tissue Massager
Best percussion massager: Hypervolt 2 Pro
Best mini massager: BOB AND BRAD Q2 Mini Massage Gun