Features attachments that focus on back tension while also allowing for a full body massage. Boasts six levels of intensity. Aids in relaxation and helps in recovery for athletes. Powerful battery that charges quickly.
Some issues with controlling settings.
Massages with 20 separate nodes to simulate a real massage. Intuitive inline controls make it easy to transition between massage and heat modes. Quilted grips are comfortable to pull. Vibration mode is effective at breaking up tension and knots.
Device is shaped in such a way that it can only be used on chairs or sofas.
Powerful, quiet, and versatile handheld massage device. Includes six attachments and allows for 4 different massage angles. Designed for both relaxation and recovery. Comes with carrying case, batteries, and charger.
Only two speeds.
Features 4 shiatsu massage nodes to knead away knots, tension, and pain. Heat function soothes tired, aching muscles and promotes blood circulation. Adjustable straps can be fastened to any chair or seat for hands-free use. Auto shut-off enhances safety. Comes with both an outlet and car adapter. Well-constructed and surprisingly durable.
Strictly outlet-powered. May be too intense for sensitive individuals.
Targets the entire back, including the neck and shoulders. Can be set to focus on the upper back, lower back, the whole back, or a localized problem area. Features 2 vibration massage nodes in the seat for relaxed legs and hips. Soothing heat is a nice touch. Users rave about its ability to reduce aches and pains.
Shorter individuals might need to sit on a cushion to reach the neck and shoulder portion. Expensive.
We recommend these products based on an intensive research process that's designed to cut through the noise and find the top products in this space. Guided by experts, we spend hours looking into the factors that matter, to bring you these selections.
Ouch! A nagging knot or cramp in your back can take its toll on you, so you’re probably searching for relief any way you can get it. When a trip to the massage spa isn’t in the cards, choose a back massager instead.
Back massagers are designed to target sore areas with kneading, vibration, or heat. Handheld massagers are easy to manipulate around your back, even in hard to reach areas. Other popular designs include pillow and seat massagers, both of which let you sit back and relax while they do the hard work. While a back massager isn’t as personal as a spa massage, most models offer some degree of customization for a more personalized experience.
Unwind with a little self-care by way of a back massager. Our buying guide will introduce you to all the features of popular models, plus a few recommendations, so you can find the right one. Don’t worry — relief is just around the corner.
Handheld: If you’re looking for a targeted back massage, consider a handheld model. These resemble showerheads, though they tend to have a much longer base. These aid in reaching hard to reach areas, especially those that typically aren’t covered by pillow or seat massagers.
While most handheld units come with several vibration, heat, and massage settings, some have interchangeable heads for deep tissue massage. One thing to keep in mind with these massagers is that their mechanism causes the entire device to vibrate. For some people, this can cause fatigue while holding it and hence shorten the massage session.
Pillow: These back massagers are used in either a reclining or seated position. Their dimensions are on par with travel or airline pillows, which means they’re the most compact option among the designs. Massage pillows are best known for their kneading action that emulates a shiatsu massage. It’s also common for them to have heat settings.
Massage pillows are often used to soothe soreness in the lumbar and mid-back areas and between the shoulder blades. Depending on the design, they may have an ergonomic shape that accommodates neck and shoulder massage as well.
Seat: If your whole back needs attention, invest in a massage seat. By invest, we mean be prepared to spend considerably more on one of these than on most of the other back massagers. These tend to take one of two forms: either a bucket-seat style or those that resemble a patio furniture cushion.
Massage seats are outfitted with the most bells and whistles, especially since they have the most points of contact with your back. Some designs offer timers, as many as a dozen massage programs, and several choices for heat. That said, in some designs, you’ll need to lean back to apply modest pressure to receive the maximum massage experience.
Manual: Most of the back massagers we encountered are electric, though it’s important to mention manual ones as well. These are ideal if you prefer full control over the pressure of your massage, though keep in mind the pressure you apply isn’t as powerful or targeted as that from an electric model.
As far as design goes, there’s quite a variety of manual back massagers. Many resemble oversize hooks with nubs or textured wheels. These tend to be large enough to use on your back. Smaller manual massagers typically measure less than 10 inches long. They’re used either for light massage in easy to reach areas or for more focused trigger-point massage.
The majority of back massagers offer a few massage settings, and deluxe models offer as many as 25. Kneading and other massage modes are often multidirectional and move up and down the back, though this is more common in more expensive models. In some back massagers, you’re able to select a massage program in which multiple massage modes are combined to create a unique experience.
Not all back massagers have heat settings, so if that’s at the top of your list, make sure it’s one of the first features you compare. Those with heat settings typically come with three to six modes or levels of intensity. You’re able to add heat to your massage, though in many models you’re not able to use heat as a standalone mode.
Keep in mind that a massager with fewer heat settings isn’t necessarily weaker than others with more settings. In some cases, they can be more powerful and reliable because there may not be a noticeable difference in the intensity level in those with several settings.
Back massagers typically have a timer setting, so you can set a program to operate for a set period of time, usually in 10-minute increments up to an hour. Back massagers are also equipped with automatic shutoff. This powers down the device after it has operated for a maximum period of time, typically an hour. If you intend to use the back massager for longer than that, you’ll need to manually restart the massage program.
Back massagers use AC adapters, cell batteries, or rechargeable batteries for power. Those that use AC adapters often have USB plugs, making them ideal for travel or use at the office. Back massagers with rechargeable batteries are convenient, especially since there’s no bothersome cord in the way during use, but these are mostly handheld massagers. Back massagers that use cell batteries aren’t very popular because they only last for a few uses before the batteries need replacing.
Back massagers start at $10 and go up to $300. The more settings and modes, the more expensive the massager.
Inexpensive: You’ll find a decent variety of entry-level back massagers for $10 to $40. These include manual models, as well as some electric models with limited settings. Quality is generally hit or miss with these, so keep in mind that you get what you pay for.
Mid-range: You’ll find a broad range of well-made electric back massagers between $50 and $120, many of which are borderline therapeutic-grade models. These often come with carry cases and longer warranties as well.
Expensive: Top-of-the-line electric back massagers cost between $150 and $300. These models are built to last and equipped with a collection of heat and massage settings. Many are reputable and effective enough to be used in spas or physical therapy offices as well.
Buy a back massager for self care. If you’re looking to invest in self-care, a back massager is a solid choice. Not only is it easy to set up and use every day, but it also provides much-needed stress and tension relief.
Consider which areas of your back require the most attention. Some back massagers are better than others for treating certain parts of your back. Pillow massagers are popular for lower lumbar use, whereas handheld massagers are effective at targeting the shoulder blades and upper back.
Don’t apply lotion prior to using your massager. Back massagers don’t require that you apply massage oil or lotion, especially since it can complicate cleaning the massager. If possible, only use your back massager on clean, lotion-free, and sweat-free skin.
Q. Can pillow-style back massagers be used on the neck?
A. While massage pillows are versatile in their own right, not all of them are ergonomically designed for use on your neck. As you’ll notice, some tend to be flat as opposed to contoured, so they can’t cradle your neck. And the kneading nodes don’t protrude from the device, so it’s unlikely they’d reach your neck if you lie on it. That said, there are some massage pillows that are advertised for use on the neck as well as the back.
Q. Should I use my back massager on bare skin, or can I leave my clothes on?
A. It depends on the type of massager, as well as the thickness of your clothes. Powerful massagers can work through most materials without difficulty, but you might experience some chafing from the fabric. Many handheld massagers are most effective when used on bare skin or through thin garments like tank tops or undershirts.
Q. Should I use a back massager after I’ve had surgery?
A. If — and only if — your doctor approves use of the device should you use a back massager. You may need to wait a few weeks after your procedure to begin using it, as the operation site is still healing and may be sore. When discussing the back massager with your doctor, be sure to refer to the specific design, because some models are better than others when it comes to post-surgery relief.
Q. What is a percussive massager?
A. Percussive massage is a technique used by some implements, like the Theragun Elite, a favorite of ours which we explore in depth elsewhere. Sometimes called a "massage gun," these tools use very fast pulsations to deliver increased blood circulation to soft tissues. Some back massagers are percussive, but not all percussive massagers are designed expressly for the back.