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Ease Tension While You Work With This Simple Recovery Tool

Author:

Brittany Natale

Expert reviewer:

Sarah Kostyukovsky, PT, DPT, OCS

January 6, 2023

Contributor

By Brittany Natale

Contributor

Brittany Natale has a degree in advertising and marketing communications from the Fashion Institute of Technology. Her work has appeared in SELF, Popsugar, i-D, Teen Vogue, Domino, Martha Stewart, and Eat This.

Expert review by

Sarah Kostyukovsky, PT, DPT, OCS

Sarah Kostyukovsky, PT, DPT, OCS, is an orthopedic physical therapist who specializes in treating pelvic floor dysfunction and the perinatal population. She earned her B.S. from the University of Virginia and her Doctorate of Physical Therapy from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. She is co-founder of Flow Physiotherapy and the owner of Mom in Balance New York, which offers pregnancy and postpartum outdoor fitness classes in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Image by mbg creative

January 6, 2023

Our editors have independently chosen the products listed on this page. If you purchase something mentioned in this article, we may earn a small commission.

You don’t need to be in pain to step up your self care game. The best massage cushions offer versatility, relaxation, and, yes, pain relief–at an affordable price point. Many massage cushions, which often include vibration and heat functions, can be used at home, work, or even on the go.

In addition to being convenient (that’s right: no more having to run to a massage therapist every time you need some relaxation or relief), massage cushions have positive effects on your health. A 2016 study found that massage therapy can greatly help with pain management1, and additional research discovered a correlation between long-term massage therapy and lower blood pressure2. More recent studies have shown chair massages can help reduce stress3.

Since finding the right massage cushion may feel like a daunting task, we’ve done the heavy lifting for you. Using expert insight, research, and user feedback, we’ve rounded up the best massage cushions available today. So sit back and take a deep breath–relaxation is in your near future.

What is a massage cushion?

Ashley Rawlins, PT, DPT at Origin, explains that the term “massage cushion” tends to describe a variety of products that you can either lay or sit on for massage therapy (often with heat). “Although there are many different products and designs available, massage cushions typically target your back and hips,” Rawlins adds.

Often available in portable designs, massage cushions are easy to use while sitting on a chair or couch, or while laying in bed. These device’s massage nodes are meant to mimic a professional massage experience by heating and/or kneading your soft tissues.

Who should use a massage cushion?

Whether you are an athlete looking for faster recovery, a desk worker hoping to ease back pain, or would simply like to focus more on self-care, investing in a massage cushion could help. “Massage cushions may be helpful for those with mild pain or stiffness in the muscles of their hips and back,” says Rawlins. “But if pain persists, or increases with use, discontinue use and check in with your healthcare provider to see what could be causing your pain.”

She also mentions, however, that if you bruise easily, are on blood thinners, are pregnant, or are more prone to muscle strain or joint injuries, you should check in with your doctor before using a massage cushion. “There are likely special precautions that you may need to know about,” she explains. Take special note of any listed precautions before making a massage cushion part of your routine. And as always, when in doubt, consult with your doctor.

What are the benefits and drawbacks of a massage cushion?

Per Rawlins, similar to massage chairs and massage guns, massage cushions can often be helpful in reducing mild muscle-related pain and stiffness. “The combination of heat and vibration that most massage cushions offer can help to increase blood flow and ease tension in the muscles and tissues that could be contributing to your pain,” she shares. In fact, a recent study found that even just ten minutes of massage therapy can increase relaxation4.

While these cushions can offer great relief, it’s important not to overdo it. Kevin Cronin, PT, ATC, JSCC, owner of ARC Physical Therapy, often cautions clients about improper or overuse of massage cushions. “Using massage cushions, even high-quality, expert-recommended models can lead to injuries like bruising, sore muscles, tenderness and even nerve damage,” he says. Because of this, he points out that you should never simply turn the cushion on and forget about it. “Look for models that have an off-and-on type of application to avoid injury and limit sessions to 20 to 30 minutes at a time,” he suggests. With this in mind, we prioritized massage cushions that turn off automatically after a certain amount of time.

Cronin also advises evaluating how you feel the day after your first use, before starting up the cushion again. “It may feel good when you’re using it, but the next day could be a different story,” he explains. “And as always, if you have any pain, swelling, discomfort, or your ailment gets worse, stop using it and talk to your physician or physical therapist. You can buy the best massage cushion in the world, but if it’s making your pain worse, it’s useless.”

How we picked:

Quality

High-quality products not only last longer but can also be safer to use. We focused on quality design, materials, and durability during the selection process.

Reviews

We researched customer reviews to help get a better idea of how people use these products in their everyday lives, and how they feel about them after long-term use. Negative reviews helped inform our evaluation, too.

Expert Insight

There are many massage chairs out there, which is why we tapped experts to learn more about what we should be on the lookout for when choosing one.

Features

We zeroed in on special features for each product to help you better determine which model may work best to fit your needs.

Our picks for the best massage cushions of 2023:

Best for sciatica: Zyllion Shiatsu Massager

Pros:

PortableEasy to clean and wipe downVersatile

Cons:

Corded

Number of massage settings: 2

Dimensions: 13″ x 9.5″ x 3.5″; 3 pounds

Massage type: Shiatsu

Cordless: No

Heat: Yes

Zones of use: NeckShouldersBackHipsLegs

Both versatile and compact, this ergonomic shiatsu massager is a good choice for those suffering from sore muscles or sciatic nerve pain. It has four powerful deep-kneading nodes that switch directions each minute to help get you the most of each massage. Adjustable straps allow for the cushion to be quickly installed onto a chair, and its compact and easy-to-store. To prevent overuse, the device automatically shuts off after 20 minutes.

This cushion is made from premium synthetic leatherette that’s both durable and easy to clean. Its heating function is also useful for soothing tired muscles.

With nearly 35,000 5-star ratings on Amazon, it’s hard to argue with the quality of this massage cushion. Many reviewers mention that it has greatly helped their sciatica. One excitedly writes, “Wonderful product that has been a tremendous help for back spasms and sciatica.” Another adds that it “targets painful areas and gives heated, pressured massage. Relieved my sciatica caused by piriformis syndrome on the first use. After a few more uses, I’m confident I’ll be 100% pain free.” However, some people note that it can feel a bit bulky, so if you want something on the sleeker side, keep reading.

Best for home: COMFIER Shiatsu Neck and Back Massager

Pros:

Adjustable massage headsFits well on couches and chairs

Cons:

On the heavier side

Number of massage settings: 3

Dimensions: 33″ x 22.3″ x 10″; 25.5 pounds

Massage type: ShiatsuCompressionVibration

Cordless: No

Heat: Yes

Zones of use: NeckShouldersBackHips

This brand, which comes recommended by Cronin, makes a massage cushion that is both sturdy and comfortable–a great option for home use. With innovative technology, the nodes move both inward and outward to capture the feeling of an authentic shiatsu finger pressure massage. A compression function is also available for the seat and waist area and includes three different intensity levels, so you can get maximum comfort while sitting at your home desk or watching television. It’s also very adjustable and includes a removable neck cover that can be machine-washed.

Designed to target your neck, shoulders, back, waist, and thighs, this option is a solid choice for those looking for a multifunctional cushion. Just place it on a couch or chair and feel it do its magic.

Although a top pick on Amazon, some customers do mention that this cushion feels a bit heavy at 25 pounds. Because of this, this product may not be a good fit for you if you are looking for a more lightweight option. That said, the praise outweighs any negative comments. Shoppers love the high-quality build, powerful massage nodes, and thoughtful design. “This massager allows me to spend the hours and hours I need to in my chair at home without my back acting up,” one writes. It is important to remember, however, that frequent breaks from sitting are also important to reduce aches and pains.

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Best budget: Papillon Back Massager with Heat

Pros:

Bi-directional massage nodesAffordable15 minute auto-shutoff safety feature

Cons:

Power cord not very long

Number of massage settings: 3

Dimensions: 11.8″ x 3.9″ x 7.1″; 3 pounds

Massage type: X

Cordless: No

Heat: Yes

Zones of use: NeckShouldersBackLegsFoot

This compact electric massage pillow is significantly less expensive than high end options, yet surprisingly effective. It’s made from sofa cloth fabric, polyester, cotton, and linen, with three adjustable speeds and an infrared heat function to help soothe sore muscles. The soothing pillow also features a 15-minute automatic shutoff for safety.

Clocking in at just three pounds, it’s small but powerful, providing the most bang for your buck. Use it around the house in bed, on the couch, or while sitting at your desk.

As expected, customers praise this cushion for its affordable price and high quality design. An active 49-year-old customer who suffers from severe scoliosis says, “So easy to use and instant comfort. I could cry describing how amazing this product is and so affordable. I wish I had done this years ago.” Although there are thousands of glowing reviews, some customers find the massage node pressure to be too intense. Per our expert, give it a test and see how you feel the next day before continued use.

Best portable: HoMedics Portable Massage Cushion

Pros:

Comfortable pillow designContours to body

Cons:

Some people find that the heat setting isn’t warm enough

Number of massage settings: 3

Dimensions: 13.8″ x 5.1″ x 10.4″; 4.18 pounds

Massage type: ShiatsuVibration

Cordless: No

Heat: Yes

Zones of use: NeckShouldersBackArmsCalvesHamstrings

Another affordable option, this portable massager is made from plush fabric and equipped with heat capability. The lightweight design is convenient to toss in your luggage or overnight bag, with adjustable straps for attaching to your chair. The cushion also comes with a 6-foot cord for easy mobility whether you’re using it while resting at home or working in the office.

One of the standout features is the 3D shiatsu massage technology, which uses circular kneading nodes that move both inward and outward, mimicking the movement of an authentic shiatsu massage to loosen tight muscles. A vibration mode is also available.

With over 2,800 5-star Amazon reviews, this massage cushion is loved for its versatility, efficacy, and inexpensive price tag. One review writes, “I don’t normally write reviews, but had to for this one. This is by far the best massager I’ve ever used. It goes at the perfect pace, the massage balls are just the right size, and there are different settings to choose from. This product has made a major change in how my back feels everyday.”

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Best rechargeable: HoMedics Rechargeable Shiatsu Massager

Pros:

Reverse functionCordless portability

Cons:

Short battery life

Number of massage settings: 1

Dimensions: 15″ x 4.4″ x 9″; 3.95 pounds

Massage type: Shiatsu

Cordless: Yes

Heat: Yes

Zones of use: NeckShouldersBackHeadWhole body

Clocking in at just under four pounds, this battery-powered option is comfortable to use while watching television on the couch or relaxing in bed. This choice features a reverse function, which enables you to change the direction of the nodes, allowing for a deeper massage.

Users rave that this versatile massage cushion is capable of working out even the trickiest of knots. It’s great for muscle tightness in your neck and shoulders, and digs deep to alleviate pain and knots.

Many Amazon customers mention that they prefer this product over massage guns. People note that it helps with “acute muscle issues” and offers the “perfect amount of pressure.” Others praise the heat function and the rolling mode specifically.

A small complaint that some customers have is that the battery doesn’t last a very long time. For reference, 3.5 hours of charging time gives you 1 hour of use.

Best for back: Snailax Shiatsu Back Massager with Heat

Pros:

Comes with intensity control flapVibration massage on cushion’s seatLightweight

Cons:

May be too short for taller people

Number of massage settings: 3

Dimensions: 26.5″ x 17.5″ x 5.25″; 8.15 pounds

Massage type: ShiatsuVibration (on seat)

Cordless: No

Heat: Yes

Zones of use: Full back

Ideal for those living with back pain, this shiatsu back massager helps relieve kinks and knots, with flexible massage nodes that help curve to the shape of your body. The unique intensity flap can be used to lessen pressure. The vibrating seat area has three intensity levels, and the cushion itself can be used on the full body, upper, or lower back.

It’s also foldable and portable, making it a good choice for those who want to use it at work, home, or even while traveling. What’s more, massages can be controlled and customized via a remote control. The mesh material is breathable, too, for maximum comfort.

With over 10,500 5-star Amazon reviews, this massage cushion is beloved for its affordable price, downloadable app, and spot massage feature. For one review that sums up the rest: “This is my first massager of this kind so I don’t have previous experience to compare, but this is pure awesome!! It’s very strong, has many adjustable options, and it looks nice. It even comes with a car 12V plug. It would probably be amazing to bring on a road trip.” A handful of people do mention that the nodes don’t reach the neck area, which is good to keep in mind if you’re looking for a neck massager specifically.

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Best for neck and shoulders: Neckteck Neck and Shoulder Massager

Pros:

Multi-purpose use8 deep-kneading massage rollers6-foot long power cord

Cons:

Can feel bulky

Number of massage settings: 3

Dimensions: 15.6″ x 6.4″ x 8.8″; 4.6 pounds

Massage type: Shiatsu

Cordless: No

Heat: Yes

Zones of use: NeckShoulders

On that note, this versatile and high-quality cushion is one of our favorite neck massagers. It has eight spring massage heads and a built-in heating function–plus, it’s designed specifically to target acupuncture points in the neck.

Although mostly used for neck and shoulders, customers note that they have used this cushion for their legs, back, and calves, as well. This specific massager comes with a built-in automatic safety timer that shuts the device off after each 15-minute cycle.

This incredibly popular neck and shoulder massager has over 34,700 5-star reviews on Amazon for a reason: people love it. One reviewer raves, “bought this for my husband to use on his shoulder and back of neck. He said it is working so well that he does not need to go for expensive massages. He loves that he is able to place it in different positions to get to each of his trouble spots. He keeps thanking me for buying it for him!” Another shares that “it feels like having a personal [massage] therapist.”

Be sure to note, however, that the brand specifies that this massager is not a good fit for those with pacemakers, heart disease, cerebral thrombosis, or other major diseases, and those with sensitive bones or muscles. Some people may also find the intensity of its massage nodes too strong, in which case a towel can be added between the massager and your body, for less intensity.

Best shiatsu: Sharper Image 4 Node Shiatsu Massager

Pros:

Remote-controlledTravel-friendly

Cons:

May be too firm for some

Number of massage settings: 3

Dimensions: 5.5″ x 26.3″ x 17.3″; 6 pounds

Massage type: Shiatsu

Cordless: No

Heat: Yes

Zones of use: Full back

Recommended by Cronin, this shiatsu massager features four silicone nodes that work together to give you a deep massage without feeling painful. Users can expect multiple heat settings, a vibrating seat, and an easy-to-operate connected remote for easy customization.

The massage cushion is durable and simple to wipe clean, and can be quickly folded up for easy transporting. Each massager has a body scan function that allows you to target tight muscles and problem areas. The neck pillow is a great touch, too.

Reviewers on Bed, Bath, & Beyond rave about the wide range of functions this cushion offers, with one even calling it their “new best friend,” describing their initial reaction as a “melting, ‘wow’ feel.” While the majority of feedback is positive, some people wish they had more control over the intensity of the massage nodes.

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How to choose a massage cushion.

When choosing a massage cushion, Rawlins suggests first determining the features and body areas you want to focus on. “You also want to make sure it will target the muscle groups you are hoping to massage,” she elaborates.

Additionally, consider the product’s size, and confirm it will fit in the place you plan to use it (i.e. your office chair or in the car). “It can be really helpful to check in with a physical therapist as well,” Rawlins says. “They can make a full assessment of your body’s needs, and help you find the best option for your money.”

FAQ:

How much does a massage cushion cost?

There are massage cushions available at all different price points. The choices on our list range from $40 to $200. Choose a high-quality product that best meets your needs and fits within your budget.

Are massage cushions worth it?

If you are looking for relief from sore muscles or body pain, and know you are going to use it, then a massage cushion may be a good investment for you. If you aren’t sure, it’s best to consult with your doctor before implementing any new routine.

Who should not use a massage cushion?

Rawlins cautions that those who are pregnant, on blood thinners, are more prone to muscle strain or bone injury, bruise easily, or suffer from other ailments, should check with their doctor before using a massage cushion. Some massage cushions have warning labels providing more detail on who should not use the product. Make note of this before making a purchase.

Can you use a massage machine too much?

According to Rawlins, improper use of a massage cushion could lead to risk of injury. “Too much and/or too aggressive massage may lead to soft tissue injury in a muscle, and if used incorrectly may even lead to a burn, if heat is used for too long, at too high intensity,” she says. Nerve damage can also occur from improper use or overuse of a massage cushion in a sensitive area. To help prevent this, Cronin recommends using a massage cushion for no more than 20 to 30 minutes at a time.

The takeaway.

A massage cushion is a great way to unwind and relax, while soothing sore muscles and body pain. Convenient and often affordable, these devices provide deep relief, without weekly visits to a massage therapist. As always, consult with your doctor if you are unsure about whether these massage cushions are right for you. And, if you’re looking for additional ways to integrate more massage therapy into your life, check out our picks for the best massage guns and the best massage chairs for at-home recovery.

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