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Sitting All Day? Here’s An At-Home Recovery Tool Your Back Will Thank You For

Author:

Jenna Tidd

Expert reviewer:

Sarah Kostyukovsky, PT, DPT, OCS

January 12, 2023

Contributor

By Jenna Tidd

Contributor

Jenna Tidd is a freelance writer and Certified Nurse Aide who has worked for Thrive Global, HealthDay News, OneCare Media, and Healthline.

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 12, 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.

Whether it’s caused by sitting in a chair all day, working out, or sleeping in the wrong position, back pain is becoming increasingly common. A 2019 National Health Survey reported that over 50 million adults in the U.S.1 (about one in five) reported pain on most days, with the most frequent pain being in the back, neck, hips, and feet. Pain can disrupt your sleep, productivity, and overall quality of life. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to manage your pain. The best back massagers can help provide relief throughout the day, no matter where you are.

If you’ve had a massage, you know the relaxing state it can induce–but did you know it’s actually a proven method for improving your physical and mental health? One systematic review of over 60 studies indicated that massage therapy can effectively ease pain and anxiety and improve quality of life2. The review concluded that massage therapy should be strongly recommended as a pain management option.

Below, we’ve consulted with an expert to learn more about who should use a back massager and how to use these handy at-home tools. Plus, we’ve done the research to find the best back massagers of 2023, so all you have to do is decide which one is right for you.

What is a back massager?

A back massager is a device that’s designed to provide a DIY back massage; alleviate pain, soreness, and stiffness; and boost muscle recovery.

“Back massagers come in several different shapes and sizes,” explains Matt Tanneberg, chiropractor and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and owner of Body Check Chiropractic & Sports Rehabilitation in Scottsdale, Arizona. “They can be beneficial in loosening up tight or spasmed muscles that commonly occur from sedentary positions, such as sustained sitting.”

Back massagers come in the form of massage guns, massage chairs, and more, with manual and electric devices available. As more options have hit the market in recent years, there are even more bells and whistles, such as added heat, infrared therapy, multiple settings, and interchangeable heads for a more customized experience.

Who should use a back massager?

“In general, the majority of people would benefit from using a back massager,” Tanneberg says. “We all typically have a chronic spot or area that we like to either have massaged or are constantly trying to massage ourselves.”

A back massager might be especially helpful if you experience back pain on a regular basis, or you often have sore muscles from working out.

Tanneberg adds that you should ask a medical professional about using a back massager if you are pregnant, or have diagnosed systemic disorders such as kidney or liver issues; hypertension (high blood pressure); or certain types of cancers. It’s always best to consult with your physician before implementing any new routines or using new devices.

How to use a back massager.

Since each back massager is created with unique settings and functions, every product has specific instructions for use. In general, you’ll turn on the massager (if the model is electric) and select your preferred settings. Sit up straight and use the massager on trigger points (sensitive areas) in your back. In most cases, the brand will offer tutorials on its website.

According to Tanneberg, you can use a back massager every day for up to 30 minutes per session. If you experience back pain afterward, however, daily use might be too much. In this case, speak with a healthcare professional to determine the best frequency for you.

What are the benefits and drawbacks of a back massager?

“The benefits of using a back massager include loosening up tight muscles,” Tanneberg says. He explains that as muscles contract and begin to seize up, this makes our bodies function differently, leading to muscle injuries or overcompensation injuries over time.

A back massager can help relieve pain, tension, and stress. However, if you use the massager incorrectly or too often, this can result in injury. If you’re unsure how to use the device, consult with a doctor, physical therapist, or chiropractor.

How we picked:

Customization

A “good back massage” will feel different to everyone. We aimed to choose products with adjustable settings to customize your massage experience.

Free trial

We looked for massagers from brands that offer a free trial, so you’ll have time to test the product and make sure it’s right for you.

User feedback

Each massager on our list has been researched extensively. To learn how a wide range of customers feels about these products, we read hundreds of reviews. Any negative feedback helped inform our decision, too.

Easy to use

We picked back massagers that are intuitive and easy to operate, even if you’ve never tried a back massager before.

Our picks for the best back massagers of 2023:

Editor’s pick: Theragun Prime

Pros:

Great gripApp integration with customizable speedsComes with four attachments, travel bags, and a charger

Number of massage settings: 5

Manual or electric: Electric

Type: Handheld

Cordless: Yes

Heat: No

Zones of use: BackBodyNeck

This handheld massager has an ergonomic grip and four attachments (dampener, standard ball, thumb, and cone), so you can change your experience depending on what feels best for different parts of your body. If you feel unsure of how to use it, don’t worry; the company offers a free live digital course taught by master trainers.

LED indicators make it easy to change the speed as needed. The Therabody App has even more customization options and connects to the device via Bluetooth. What’s more, the internal battery will last for 120 minutes of continuous use.

While the device is a bit loud compared to lower-power options, the quality of the massage makes up for the buzz. Our testers agree that this massage gun is extremely powerful and effective, even on the lowest setting. Compared with the brand’s Theragun Mini, which is another favorite of our team members, the Theragun Prime is significantly easier to grip and has five speeds versus the Mini’s two. We’ve also found that it holds a charge for a long time, even with daily use.

Best for a budget: Homedics Back Massager

Pros:

Four speed settingsOptional heatCan be used on the back, body, neck, legs, and feet

Cons:

Some reviewers say it’s too bulky and loud

Number of massage settings: 4

Manual or electric: Electric

Type: Handheld

Cordless: No

Heat: Yes

Zones of use: BackBodyNeckLegs

A more affordable option, this handheld back massager is a surprisingly high-quality option. The brand is trusted in the massage industry, and we’ve included its devices in other round ups, such as the best massage cushions. With this device, you can make your massage as soft or as firm as you want, using dual pivoting heads and four speed settings. You’ll also receive two sets of interchangeable attachments.

There’s even an option to add heat for extra relaxation, which many higher end devices do not have. It’s incredibly lightweight (less than 2.5 pounds), making for an easily portable pick that you can toss in your bag or luggage.

With over 21,000 ratings on Amazon and a 4.4 rating overall, this massager is a fan favorite. Customers say it is easy to use and is an effective tool for pain relief. One writes, “This is a wonderful tool for stiff necks, aching shoulders, etc. and very easy to hold.” Another adds, “I have used it on my back, upper and lower, my neck, the muscle on the outside of my leg which was causing me to have knee pain AND I used it on my heel to relieve plantar fasciitis. I love this thing!”

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Best trigger point massager: Body Back Buddy Classic

Pros:

No batteries or charging requiredCustomize the amount of pressure on your pressure points

Cons:

Some say the edges are a bit rough

Number of massage settings: N/A

Manual or electric: Manual

Type: Trigger point

Cordless: Yes

Heat: No

Zones of use: Whole body

This manual back massager, which looks like a curved rod with knobs, is a great option to get into your pressure points and relieve pain. The 11 knobs are each a slightly different shape for different massage effects, including acorns recommended for deep tissue massage, round knobs for gliding over larger muscle groups, and nubs for the lower back.

According to the brand, this sturdy one-piece massager is 30% stronger than other therapy canes–and extensive reviews back up its effectiveness. The tool is designed to provide you with more leverage to apply pressure to various parts of the body. Made in Knoxville, Tennessee with sustainably-sourced materials, the product also comes with a lifetime guarantee.

“This is a sturdy cane that has all the knobs and curves to reach and massage those really hard-to-reach areas on the back and shoulder blade,” explains one user. “I had a terrible knot on my right shoulder blade from a rotator cuff tear that only the therapist could reach and relieve. This can easily reach the muscle and allowed me to perform the massage as often as needed on my off days from the therapist.”

Best handheld: Sonic Handheld Percussion Massage Gun

Pros:

Five speed optionsIncludes eight massage headsQuiet

Cons:

Some reviewers say it is not very durable

Number of massage settings: 5

Manual or electric: Electric

Type: Handheld

Cordless: No

Heat: No

Zones of use: Whole body

Athletes and office workers alike will enjoy this battery-powered handheld massage gun for the relief of sore and aching muscles. It’s easy to use, with just a few simple buttons and has a quiet motor so you can use it at the gym or in public without warranting side-eye.

With five levels of intensity and eight massage heads, this massager is for customizing your experience for different muscle groups and body parts. The device weighs in at 2.2 pounds and even comes with a sleek carrying case so you can take it with you to the office or the gym. The device has a 3-hour battery life and an ergonomic hand grip, with a screen that makes it easy to determine when you’re running low on power.

Another shopper-favorite, this massager has over 20,000 ratings on Amazon, with an average rating of 4.6 out of 5 stars. People say it is “excellent for decreasing muscle soreness after a hard workout” and “does a great job of loosening up tight muscles and decreasing soreness after runs or a heavy lifting day.” Others are surprised that they’re able to reach their entire back with this one handheld massager and comment on the appreciated variety of attachments.

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Best for sciatica: Zyllion Shiatsu Back and Neck Massager

Pros:

Deep tissue massage capabilitiesPortable

Cons:

Cannot adjust intensity

Number of massage settings: 3

Manual or electric: Electric

Type: Pillow

Cordless: No

Heat: Yes

Zones of use: NeckWhole bodyHipsLower back

This affordable pick is one of the best back massagers for sciatica, a common, painful condition that causes nerve pain that extends from the spine and down the back of the leg. The massager helps relieve sore and tight muscles, with three-dimensional massage nodes that mimic a shiatsu hand massage.

As a massage pillow, the device fits behind your neck or back and contours to your body. It also includes adjustable straps so you can secure it to a chair, and a car adapter for the commute or a road trip. Turn on the heating function if your muscles need some extra relief.

Over 45,000 Amazon customers have rated this massager, giving it a 4.4 out of 5-star rating overall. Reviews tend to focus on how well it holds up over time and the impressive strength of the massage itself.

Best for lower back: Comfier Heating Pad

Pros:

Strong heat capabilities30-minute massage cycles

Cons:

Not very strong/deep massage capabilities

Number of massage settings: 3

Manual or electric: Electric

Type: Wrap belt

Cordless: No

Heat: Yes

Zones of use: Lower back

A corded vibrating massager, this pad wraps around your waist, back, or thighs to provide in-the-moment pain relief. The pad has two levels of heat, four massage settings, and two vibration intensities. Plus, the wraparound strap is customizable and can extend up to 58 inches.

One Amazon reviewer writes, “I expected this to be more as a massager than a back vibrator. The vibration actually helps with the temporary relief of my lower back pain. I love the heating feature because it helps my muscles to relax. I almost fell asleep with this on.” This in mind, even if it feels good, be careful not to fall asleep on it and overdo too much of a good thing!

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Best for shoulders: RESTECK Massager

Pros:

Comes with transport bagAmazing deep tissue massage

Cons:

Short power cordCan cause rashes if used on bare skin

Number of massage settings: 4

Manual or electric: Electric

Type: Neck pillow

Cordless: No

Heat: Yes

Zones of use: BackNeckShoulders

Your shoulders deserve some love, too. Loosen up with this shiatsu-style massager, which helps ease neck stiffness, eliminate fatigue, soothe aching muscles, and promote proper blood circulation. It’s also incredibly easy to use. Simply wrap the device around your neck and choose whichever stimulation mode and level of heat feel right for you. Not sure how to use it? We always recommend consulting with a professional before attempting home use.

Bidirectional kneading nodes provide comfort and pain relief–and you don’t have to stop at your shoulders. This massager also works on the back and legs. Plus, it’s lightweight and easily portable.

Amazon reviewers give this item 4.5 out of 5 stars overall. One writes, “This was added to our collection of back pain relief tools last year. It’s still going strong with almost daily use by two people. Happy customers.”

Best portable: COMFIER Mini Massage Gun

Pros:

PortableVery quietMultiple color options

Cons:

Some reviewers say it’s not as strong as they would prefer

Number of massage settings: 4

Manual or electric: Electric

Type: Handheld

Cordless: Yes (rechargeable battery)

Heat: No

Zones of use: BackNeckLegsArms

At just 1.2 lbs, this pocket-sized pick makes it easy to access percussive therapy wherever you go. The handheld, deep-tissue massager is one of the best massage guns available today, with four different speed levels to relieve stiff and aching muscles. Simply change out the four heads to meet your massage needs.

This massage gun lasts for 4 to 5 hours when fully charged. It also utilizes the latest noise-reduction technology, making it easy to use in public. What’s more, the “mini” design is quite portable.

Customers rate this massage gun at an astounding 4.7 out of 5 stars. “I tried a bigger massager before purchasing this and my wrist and shoulder could not handle it because of its weight,” one writes. “This mini massager is very light to handle. It has a good speed for massaging your tense muscles and is very effective.” It’s worth noting that while this is a great portable option, some reviewers do wish it were a bit higher powered. That said, it may be more appropriate for a smaller frame.

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Best for neck: Shiatsu Back Shoulder and Neck Massager

Pros:

Adjustable pressureCan use on multiple body parts

Cons:

Larger than most customers expected

Number of massage settings: 3

Manual or electric: Electric

Type: Neck massager

Cordless: No

Heat: Yes

Zones of use: BackNeckLegsShoulders

If you’re looking for a neck massager, this is one of your best options. Eight kneading massage nodes provide deep pressure to ease neck stiffness and tightness, while infrared heating helps ease tension and stress.

Choose from three adjustable speeds to fine-tune your experience depending on how much pressure you’re seeking. The massager comes with a home power adapter and a car charger, with a cable that reviewers say is long enough to sit anywhere you want.

“It has loops to put your arms through so you can control the pressure. It honestly feels just like one of those massage chairs you pay to sit in. It works! Pay no attention to the nay-sayers!” one shopper says. While reviews are primarily positive, some do complain about how large the device is. If you want something portable, this isn’t it.

Best chair cushion: Snailax Shiatsu Massage Cushion

Pros:

Lightweight and easily portableWhite and black color options

Cons:

Not very powerful

Number of massage settings: 3

Manual or electric: Electric

Type: Chair cushion

Cordless: No

Heat: Yes

Zones of use: Lower backFull backUpper back

Sit more comfortably with this massage cushion, designed to fit on top of your chair and provide full-back vibration. The leather cushion has four kneading massage nodes and three massage zones, plus a detachable “intensity control” flap that lets you choose a massage that’s either softer or more intense.

Opt for heat therapy to help relax tense back muscles, or use the spot massage setting to concentrate on one area for pin-point relaxation. The back massager will work on a sofa, couch, recliner, office chair, or dining chair, with an adjustable strapping system to secure it in place.

“We bought this instead of a giant massage chair and it definitely does the job!” one reviewer raves. “Love the vibration and massage. This massage pad chair is lightweight and easy to move.”

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How to choose a back massager

Like most decisions, purchasing a back massager isn’t one-size-fits-all. Tanneberg recommends trying out a massager for two weeks. “If your body is responding negatively or overly sore, send it back and try a different brand or at least a different model.”

We suggest opting for a massager that has multiple massage settings, so you’re more likely to find a pressure that works for you. Consider the additional features you are looking for, such as optional heat, and narrow down your list with that in mind.

If you’re planning to bring your back massager with you, you’ll want to choose one of the more portable options. On the other hand, office workers may desire something that sits easily on their chairs. It all depends on your lifestyle and preferences!

FAQ:

Which is better, shiatsu or vibration?

Both shiatsu and vibration are effective in different situations. Shiatsu is a type of massage that focuses on pressure points, so it’s helpful for people experiencing pain in those specific areas. Generally, vibration is intended for more of an overall massage.

How often should you use a back massager?

According to Tanneberg, you can try using a back massager every day. But, for a lot of people, daily use can feel like too much. Give it a try and see how your body reacts. Per session, a back massager can be used for up to 30 minutes. Still not sure? Consult with a doctor or other healthcare professional to formulate the best plan of use for you.

Why does my back hurt after using a massager?

Tanneberg states that if your back hurts after using a massager, this could be a sign you’re using it incorrectly or too often. “It can get to the point where it feels like the back massager is pushing on bruises. That is an indication that your body needs some time to heal and recover before using again.” Next session, try using your massager with less intensity (if possible) or a shorter time frame and then re-evaluate how you feel.

The takeaway.

It might take some trial and error to find the best back massager for your needs, but these handy devices are an easy, proven way to ease pain and relieve stress–all without leaving your home. To really step up your recovery game, you may consider an inversion table or a mattress topper for back pain.

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