Now that we’re all at home most of the time, our fitness routine might be changing, from working out more to stave off boredom or working out less given the lack of available equipment. In either scenario, our muscles are affected. If you’re working out less, poor posture might be causing muscle aches, pains and stiffness. One way to combat this, aside from regular exercise and better posture, is massaging the parts of your body that are sore. If you’re working out more, recovery becomes increasingly important. Adding in rest days, as well as massaging your muscles, can help you bounce back quicker and with less soreness.
In this article
I’m a huge proponent of massaging the body as a form of recovery. I love the relief and relaxation I feel in my muscles after a massage — in any form. And after more than a decade writing about fitness and working as a certified personal trainer and yoga and Pilates instructor, I’ve come across many forms of massage. Put simply, a massage is virtually always beneficial for you. Massages improve circulation, improve overall blood flow and increase the flow of oxygen to tissues, which helps reduce muscle tension and improve recovery. From foam rolling to scheduling a massage at the spa (in a future when spas are open again), there are many ways to massage the body.
Right now, you’d likely find it very hard to find an open massage center. Regardless, what if you don’t have the time or the budget for a regular massage from a masseuse or are looking for something more innovative than a foam roller? An electric massager might be a solid option. Now, more than ever, electric massagers are servicing the stay-at-home crowds and bringing the massage experience to people's living rooms. But there are lots of electric massager options out there, so how do you know which to choose? While my experience had led me to my own favorite electric massagers, I consulted some fitness trainers and doctors to get their takes, too. Below are some of the best massagers out there and how you can best use them on different parts of the body.
What is an electric massager?
It’s commonplace to turn to massages for relief when your muscles are sore or otherwise tense, but that’s not a reality in many ways right now and is otherwise not a reality for many, whether due to prices or availability. While electric massagers aren’t exactly like someone’s hands — which you wouldn’t want right now, anyway — they do act like them. With the push of a button, you can turn on the device and use it on a specific area of the body. Whether your feet are sore from running, your neck is achy from sitting at work or your lower back feels sore from too many chores, an electric massager is an on-demand relief device, designed to loosen up and relax your muscles. Colette Nguyen, a master trainer at Crunch in New York City, uses electric massagers to increase blood circulation in some areas of the body. “Electric massagers help decrease muscular density,” she explains. “This may temporarily allow me to access more range of motion that may have previously been inaccessible.”
Most electric massagers are made up of a handheld device equipping a round tip. That round end, which is often sporting one of several possible attachments, vibrates or otherwise moves in a way to help you target muscles. Different electric massagers compete in the space by their possible attachments, the speed with which they operate and the motor that dictates how deep into the muscle the massager is able to target.
How to shop for an electric massager
As you navigate the many options of electric massagers online, there are some things you’ll want to keep in mind, according to the experts we consulted.
Mind the massager's battery
Since most of these are handheld devices, consider how long you can expect the massager to operate before needing a recharge.
What attachments does the massager include?
Electric massager attachments are commonplace — some offer more variety than others. A soft foam or rubber ball attachment is on the softer side while a flat head attachment is great for denser muscles like the quads and back. A bullet head mimics trigger point massage and a pronged fork attachment works well along your traps, achilles tendon, and calves.
Is your electric massager adjustable?
Speed and settings vary among electric massagers — one device that allows you to speed up or slow down makes for a versatile massage. From enabling yours to target sensitive or especially sore muscles to sharing the device with others, this flexibility will help you remain or get more flexible, too.
How much space does your massager need?
Being able to tuck the massager into a corner, under the couch or into your travel bag allows for greater accessibility — and probably more frequent use.
How does your electric massager deliver the massage?
Percussion, vibration, heat and rollers are all different ways in which a massager can help you — the more options a massager claims, the higher you can expect the price tag to be.
Best electric massagers to shop in 2020
Here are some of the best electric massagers out right now. We compiled them by the type of massage they offer to help guide you to the best electric massager for your needs.
Best total body electric massagers
The best electric massager for your entire body should be lightweight and versatile, able to attend to smaller and larger muscles, as well as fit into your body’s nooks and crannies
1. Theragun liv
One of the more affordable massagers of the Theragun line provides a comfortable ergonomic grip to ensure you’ll be comfortable while holding the massager. It’s lightweight and compact, and it’s perfect to reach those hard-to-get areas like the upper back, behind the shoulders and underneath the arms.
Nguyen says she loves the HyperVolt, which can help you increase your range of motion and target specific areas of the body, but without putting pressure on the body: Unlike foam rolling, where you’re in a plank position, for example, using a handheld massager like this allows you to sit, stand or lie down comfortably while massaging the body.
“The HyperVolt is great for my clients who may not be able to perform typical fascia release techniques (like foam rolling),” Nguyen said regarding anyone who might not be able to “tolerate bodyweight pressure” or is unable to handle weight on their hands or arms “for an extended duration of time.”
“While the percussion produced by the device mainly benefits the body on a muscular level, if you accidentally brush past or on top of a bony area, it will be uncomfortable at most (but not dangerous),” Nguyen added.
Carolina Barton, a certified personal trainer and health coach, recommends this massage ball for all of her clients and advises they use it before workouts, as well as after. “The Hypersphere is effective and extremely powerful with its three vibrating speed settings,” she explained, adding that it’s user-friendly.
“The circular shape also allows them to pinpoint trigger points,” Nguyen said and noted that, for her clients who are moms, “this product allows them to move and recover properly at home.”
Best neck and back electric massagers
The best electric massagers for your neck and back are more specialized and should be specifically designed for those muscle groups.
I am personally obsessed with Zyllion’s Shiatsu Massager. My parents keep one of these on the couch all the time. Its four knobs feel like a masseur's thumbs, in my opinion, rubbing in a circular motion along my muscles. I can place this on my lower back, middle back or neck and easily move it up and down, as needed.
Marina Yuabova, DNP, a family nurse practitioner and associate professor at CUNY, recommends this electric massager for her patients. She said it’s effective in regards to chronic issues such as back pain, reduced circulation and a sluggish lymphatic flow. “It’s not very noisy and does not take a lot of space,” she added.
Looking for the ultimate at-home spa experience for your back and neck? This RESTECK massager comes with heat, hand straps to easily adjust the massager and a head pillow. It’s currently out of stock — if you can’t wait for it to restock, consider this highly-rated alternative: Naipo Shiatsu Back and Neck Massager.
Best electric foot massagers
When you’re shopping for a foot massager, it comes down to smaller knobs on the massager that can get into the arch, in the heel, and on the toe pads.
Imagine you’re sitting on the couch with three sets of hands massaging your feet — that’s what this electric massager feels like. With six massage heads and adjustable intensity, you can park this somewhere in your living room next to the couch or even in your office (once you get back to it), underneath your desk.