Updated January 2022
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Buying guide for best handheld massagers

If you have pain after a sports injury or aches from working at a desk all day, a handheld massager can provide the relief you need. These electric or manual massagers give you salon-quality relaxation in the comfort of your own home.

If you’re unsure where to start your search for a handheld massager, look no further. We’ve put together this shopping guide to take you through the basics and beyond.

Once you’ve perused the available features, be sure to check out our top picks for the handheld massagers we think stand out from the rest.

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If you have circulation problems, a pacemaker, heart condition, tumor, diabetes, or are pregnant, be sure to talk to your doctor before using a massager. It doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t use one, but your physician may have specific recommendations for you.

Key considerations

Electric vs. manual

Handheld massager come in two types: manual and electric.

  • Manual: Small, lightweight manual massagers have balls, knobs, and textured surfaces to manipulate muscles. You provide the power to remove aches and knots, and while these are labor intensive to use, they’re also small and inexpensive.

  • Electric: These massagers are a step up from the manual models. These use vibrations, percussive motions, or rollers to reach deep into the muscle tissue. Electric massagers are larger, heavier, and more expensive, but many come with a wide variety of features that may make one worth the extra cost.

Battery powered vs. corded

  • Battery-powered massagers give you freedom of movement and portability. They’re also lightweight and easy to maneuver as you target your problem areas. However, they aren’t as powerful as corded models. Some battery-powered models are rechargeable, but you’ll have to remember to keep the charger on hand.

  • Corded models offer consistent power and vibration control, but these massagers are heavier, and the cord restricts your mobility. You might have to hold the massager in some awkward positions to keep the cord from getting in the way.

Targeting problem areas

Neck, back, joints, and feet are only a few of the places you might want to target with a handheld massager. Some models are better at reaching certain areas than others. Massagers that come with a wide, flat head work better on the lower back, while small single- or dual-node models with low vibration are better at massaging sensitive feet. You can narrow your choices by taking the time to note the areas of your body you’ll want to target most often.

Handheld massager features

Movement type

Handheld massagers may provide one or several movement or vibration types, including the following:

  • Roller: These handheld massagers use several rollers with nodes. The nodes grip the surface and work the muscles underneath. These massagers may not reach as deeply into the muscle tissue as vibration or percussion massagers.

  • Vibration: Vibrations send waves through the muscle to loosen the tissue and release built-up lactic acid.

  • Percussion:  The nodes on a percussion massager move up and down in a gentle hammering action, mimicking massage by human hands. There are many massagers that have both vibration and percussion movement to be used together or separately.


  • Speed: Sometimes you need gentle surface vibrations and other times it’s going to take some work to reach deep into tight muscles. Several vibration speeds let you adapt the massager to your changing needs. Not everyone likes or needs a high-speed massage. Variable speed and power settings let you adjust the vibrations to your comfort level.

  • Mode: Some handheld massagers offer several vibration patterns. These patterns can be changed in rhythm, intensity, and duration to increase the depth and comfort of the massage. Variable speed coupled with a choice of vibration patterns offers the most versatility in a handheld massager.

Node type

Handheld massagers may come with several types of nodes to target different areas of the body or types of pain. A few of the most common include the following:

  • Rubber coated: These nodes have a soft surface that works well on sensitive areas like the joints and neck.

  • Heated: Heated nodes get warm. The penetrating heat promotes healing by relaxing the muscles and bringing blood to the surface for effective pain relief. Some massagers have special nodes for delivering heat while others produce heat with any node. To prevent overheating, some models also have thermostatic sensors.

  • Textured or patterned: A smooth surface doesn’t always get the job done. Textured or patterned nodes can help dig deep into the muscles in a way smooth nodes can’t. The deeper the texture or pattern, the more intense the massage.

  • Pointed: Pointed nodes reach the deepest muscle levels for the most targeted massage action. They aren’t for the faint of heart, but they can get rid of pesky, hard-to-reach muscle pain.

  • Curved: The upper arm, forearm, and shins may need massaging as well, and a curved node is the attachment to do it. This type of node isn’t as common as the others, but it can work wonders for some difficult areas.

  • Number of nodes or rollers: You’re probably used to seeing single- and dual-node massagers, but there are massagers with four nodes and roller massagers with up to six wheels. A model with lots of nodes lets you target a larger area at once, such as the back, and a single-node massagers lets you pinpoint a specific location, such as the shoulder.


The design of the handle can mean the difference between using the massager yourself or needing the help of another person. A longer handle allows you to reach your shoulders or lower back without assistance. Ergonomically designed handles are intended for those with limited hand strength or dexterity, but anyone can appreciate how they take some of the awkwardness and discomfort out of reaching difficult areas.

Timer and programs

A handheld massager with a timer allows you to massage various parts of your body for an equal amount of time. Some models also include timed programs in which the speed, vibration pattern, and massage type change in a given time period.

Handheld massager prices


You can easily find manual massagers and handheld mini massagers for under $20. These models may have as many as four nodes. You won’t see variable vibration speeds or changeable nodes here, but these massagers are great for travel or targeting small areas of the body.


You’ll find electric massagers that start at $20 to $50. These models may be single- or dual-node and have several interchangeable node options and vibration speeds. Some may provide heated massage along with vibration and/or percussive massage action.


In the $50 to $100 range are powerful percussion massagers that may also offer vibration, but not all of them do. These also come with timed programs and several node options. These models are more likely to have point, patterned, and curved nodes.


The massagers that cost over $100 have just about everything. Curved, pointed, and textured nodes, as well as heat, timed programs, and a timer, will most likely be on the list of features that round out these top-of-the-line massagers.


  • Take your massager when you travel. A manual handheld massager can fit in a carry-on bag and easily be used to relax tight shoulders after a long plane ride.

  • Warm up your muscles before using a massager. Warm muscles are more relaxed and pliant, which will allow the nodes to penetrate more deeply into the tissue. Even models that apply their own heat will be more effective if the muscles are already warm.

  • Clean the massager periodically. Handheld massagers shouldn’t be used with lotion, but if the massager gets dirty, unplug it and wipe it down with a damp cloth.
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Some massagers include specialty nodes for the scalp and face. Be sure to put the massager on the lowest vibration or percussion setting for these sensitive areas.


Q. Can a handheld massager be used on the feet?

A. The short answer is yes, but there are definitely models that work better on the feet than others. The foot has relatively little muscle and tendon over the bones, which can make a massager with strong vibrations too powerful. Models with several massage levels and a small pointed node work best.

Q. How portable are handheld massagers?

A. Portability depends on a couple of factors, namely power source and cord length. Manual massagers are probably the most portable, but they’re also labor intensive. Battery-powered models may eat through the batteries in a hurry, but you can pack them in a carry-on and use them almost anywhere. While a corded model with a short cord may pack more easily, it limits your ability to get those tough-to-reach areas.

Q. What kinds of aches and pains can a handheld massager help alleviate?

A. Massagers are obviously great at reducing muscle and joint pain. But they can also relieve headaches, improve circulation, and reduce stress.

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