Did you know that there are about 600 muscles in the human body? One or two of them are bound to get achy, strained, and tense from time to time, which is where massagers come in handy. They’re the ultimate way to not only soothe aching muscles but also de-stress, not to mention focus on your self-care. Massagers come in so many different forms, however, it can be difficult to choose the right one that properly meets your needs. Should you get a back massage pad, or will a percussion massager make more sense? Is a Shiatsu massager for you or not? What’s the difference between a percussive and a handheld massager? These are the types of questions that might come up.

Before deciding, it’s important to understand what a massager is and how it works.

Table of contents

  1. What is a massager and why use one?
  2. The different types of massagers
  3. Massage chairs
  4. Body, back support, and massager alternatives

What is a massager and why use one?

A massager is designed to rub, knead, press, and manipulate joints, tendons, ligaments, and muscles to help relieve your body of tension and pain. Typically, they target a particular area of the body, though there are massagers that can be used on multiple muscles and parts of the body, either one at a time or all at once. Some provide light strokes while others offer deep pressure. Many have various settings so you can adjust the strength, speed, and intensity as desired.

Massagers work by causing physiological changes in the body that can reduce pain and create a relaxed feeling. Your heart, breathing, and production of your stress hormones slow down, and the muscles start to relax. They can also help increase blood circulation through the manipulation of soft tissue. There’s even evidence that massagers can help improve your mood. There’s a reason, after all, that people like to treat themselves to a massage at the spa when they need to de-stress, feel a sense of calm, and enjoy some positive reflection.

Thankfully, massagers of all kinds can provide a similar experience at home. But which one you should use really depends on how you plan to use it and why.

The different types of massagers

Shiatsu massagers

A woman using a Renpho Shiatsu neck massager.

Shiatsu massagers are based on the traditional Japanese massage therapy technique that works on the body’s flow of energy known as Ki or Qi (pronounced “chee”) using acupressure. They come in a variety of forms, designed to help with everything from lower back, neck, feet, or joint pain to stress, anxiety, and more. Many of the categories of massagers noted below include products with Shiatsu massaging. This ranges from handheld massagers to massage chairs, or even foot massagers. A product that offers Shiatsu massaging will indicate as such in its description.

Percussion massager/massage gun

Percussion or percussive massagers, also called massage guns, are typically (though not always) gun-shaped devices (hence the name) that use quick and soft vibrations and rapid taps to help shock your muscle fibers. This can help alleviate tension and increase the flow of blood to aid in the recovery of sore, tense, and pulled muscles. Theragun is one of the most well-known brands in this space with its devices that offer concentrated, deep tissue massages targeted to specific muscle areas. The Theragun, and other percussion massagers from brands like Homedics, EZ-X, KiCA, and Hyperice, usually come with a variety of attachments for use on specific parts of the body, from the neck and shoulders right down to the legs and feet.

Why/when would you use it?

Percussion massagers are typically used in the fitness space by those looking for recovery after a workout, or to help loosen up muscles before one. If you are working out at home, or do other physical activities like playing sports, running, cycling, or even walking or yoga, a percussion massager might come in handy. It’s important, however, to follow the instructions and use them only as needed, for a few minutes at a time in each spot.

What to look for with a percussion massager

Look for a percussion massage that is lightweight and compact, especially if you plan to take it with you to the gym or while traveling. See how loud it is as well: even if you’re using it at home, you don’t want to wake everyone up with the loud noise if you exercise in the early morning hours or late at night. And you want to be able to use it comfortably in a gym change room or at the office without the noise distracting others. Check the intensity and speed options to make sure even the lightest setting isn’t too intense for you, especially if this is your first time using one. Battery life is also key, particularly for percussion massagers that will be taken with you on trips or daily commutes. Some premium models even include Bluetooth to connect with a mobile app and offer customized therapy suggestions based on your activities and fitness regimen.

Finally, see what attachments it comes with and what others might be available to ensure these target the key areas you’ll be working on or that tend to get sore.

Handheld massager

Similar to a percussion massager, a handheld massager is a handheld device, but they come in a variety of forms beyond a gun or drill shape. The idea is the same, however: to target tense muscles, focusing on a specific part of the body and using deep pressure. They, too, can offer different speeds, intensities, and attachments for use on various body parts, like shoulders, legs, back, and neck. There are various types, but some handheld massagers can fall under the category of Shiatsu massagers.

Handheld massagers come in many forms, from devices that resemble electric shavers you can literally hold in your hand and move around the body as needed, to ones that are shaped like balls, sticks, and rollers. There are also eye massagers that fit around the head and over the eyes to help relieve eye strain, dark circles, dry eyes, eye bags, or even help improve sleep. Then, you can find neck and back massagers that wrap around the shoulders as large bands, and even TENs units that include small electrical nodes that stick to the surface of your skin and are controlled by a remote (some may even be covered under your health insurance plan so you can look into that with the insurance company if you’re getting one to treat a condition like sciatica). Some handheld massagers also add heat to the equation for further relief.

Why/when would you use it?

Handheld massagers are great for everyday use to treat typical body aches and pains. Shiatsu-style hand massagers, in particular, are good for people who suffer from chronic conditions like headaches, PMS, digestive issues, fatigue, insomnia, fibromyalgia, stress, anxiety, and muscle pain. If the pain is generally focused in one specific area, a handheld massager can be an affordable and simple way to help whenever it pops up. Because most handheld massagers are lightweight and portable, they are easy to take with you, and pack away when you aren’t using them. For relief after a long day on the job doing physical labour or sitting all day, doing gardening, chores, or simply dealing with a chronic condition, handheld massagers can be useful. Of course, make sure to always consult with your doctor if the pain is severe or recurring for medical advice as needed.

What to look for in a handheld massager

Consider the part of the body that you want relief for before choosing a handheld massager. For the neck and shoulders, a band might be perfect as you can place it as needed and use it hands-free. The same goes for an eye massager, particularly for those who suffer from bad migraines and headaches. For an area like the legs or neck, a small handheld massager might do the trick. But a handheld massager might not be the ideal option for lower or even upper back pain. In this case, you might want to consider a massage cushion, pillow, body or back support, or chair instead.

Foot spa and massagers

A woman sitting at her desk with a foot massager.

As the name implies, foot spas and massagers are specifically designed to provide relief for aching feet. They are the best option for this part of the body as they are designed to sit on the floor while you place your feet on or in them to help soothe and ease the pain. They can be Shiatsu style, manual, air compression, or even include water jets or electric massage rollers. Some offer vibrations, some add the features like heat and even Shiatsu massaging techniques. There are also “foot” massagers that wrap around your entire calves as well to provide calf and even thigh massaging, too.

Why/when would you use it?

Naturally, foot spas and massagers are ideal for those who suffer from foot pain, either from being on their feet all day or conditions like flat feet. If you tend to look to loved ones for foot rubs at night, or the thought of soaking your feet in warm water with massaging jets or rolling them along rollers at the end of the day sounds like heaven, a foot massager is for you. It’s no surprise that foot massagers are popular gifts for people of all ages.

What to look for in a foot massager

Look for size and operation to ensure it will fit within your daily routine. If you have little kids running around, a foot massager that uses water might not be ideal due to the risk of spills. If you want to keep it tucked away under the couch, measure the height to make sure it will slide nicely underneath. Check the speed and intensity as well, along with whether it needs to be plugged in, uses batteries, or is manual via rollers and movement of your feet.

Massage cushions and pillows

Massage cushions and pillows are designed to either sit on or against in a chair, whether it’s a couch, hard-back chair, like in a home office, or even in the car. They sometimes secure to the seat using some type of elastic strap and include rotating massage nodes that move around to help soothe aching muscles in the back, neck, hips, or even buttocks. Like other categories, massage cushions and pillows can use Shiatsu-style massaging techniques. Pillows are naturally smaller with larger nodes to provide a deep tissue massage. Whatever the type, they are typically made of breathable material, like mesh or polyurethane foam, and are battery operated, have a power cord, or 12V adapter for use in the car.

Some massage cushions have integrated back rests while others are designed to be compact and thus fully portable, ideal to bring with you on trips, on an airplane, or even take back and forth from the home to the office.

Ezee Life Rest back massager

Why/when would you use it?

Massage cushions and pillows provide support to the back, helping to remove pesky knots and target those important acupressure points, particularly when it comes to Shiatsu-style massage cushions and pillows. These are ideal if you tend to sit for long periods of time, whether it’s at a desk in an office or driving in a car or truck. You might also want to consider a massage cushion or pillow if you have poor posture, want to reduce spinal pressure or suffer from conditions like sciatica. They tend to be relatively affordable, and given the compact design, they are perfect for travel.

What to look for in a massage cushion or pillow

While the straps on massage cushions are usually elastic, make sure it will fit snugly around the chair you’ll likely be using it in, whether it’s a desk chair in your home office or the car seat. Speaking of which, if you plan to use it in the car, it will require a 12V adapter or need to be battery operated. Heat might be a nice added feature if you are using it in the car during the cold winter months in Canada and don’t already have heated seats. Look for various modes so you can adjust intensity, speed, and motion to your liking.
Some have auto shut-off features, which are useful in case you forget to turn it off. It’s important to have adjustable lumbar support as well, so you can target the areas you need relief in the most, from the lower back to the neck and shoulders.

Massage chairs

Costway full body massage chair

Chances are, if you know someone who has a massage chair in the living room, den, or basement, you envy seeing them sitting back in a state of intense relaxation. Massage chairs are the most expensive option of the bunch since they are pieces of furniture. But unlike a regular chair, they offer vibrations and roller mechanisms to simulate a massage. This is typically accomplished through airbags or water and can include motion like kneading, tapping, compression, and Shiatsu techniques. But they are good options if you tend to come home after a hard day’s work and want to get relief from sore muscles and joints while watching the evening news, tuning into the game, or sitting back with a good book.

Massage chairs come in all types of colours, materials, and styles. They also have features like an integrated heating element, reclining function, or even built-in speakers. There’s a variety of types and price points.

Why/when would you use it?

Massage chairs are perfect for those with busy lives who don’t have time to make spa visits and want to enjoy both muscle relief and relaxation and restoration. It’s perfect for the person who loves to put their feet up at the end of a long day or a lazy Sunday morning and watch TV, read a book, listen to music, or play around on a tablet or smartphone. They can provide a full body massage, with some that even include slots for your legs to provide a massage of the calves, ankles, and even feet as well. But the focus for most is on the back, shoulders, neck, spine, and lumbar.

What to look for in a massage chair

Like with any piece of furniture, comfort is the most important factor. Make sure the chair is comfortable to sit in while also offering sufficient support. Check the selectable speeds, modes, and intensities to ensure they meet your needs. Some have built-in controls, others come with a handy remote. If you want to massage your legs as well, look for one that has leg massaging, too. Reclining is also a good option since you can literally put your feet up, even if there aren’t massagers on the footrest. Elevating your feet can help better distribute body weight and take pressure off the spine. If you have mobility issues, you might want one that can lift you up almost entirely to a standing position and you will appreciate features like integrated voice controls. Finally, if you live where it tends to be very cold in the winter, consider one that offers heating as well so it becomes a complete resting oasis.

Body, back support, and massager alternatives

Beyond traditional massagers, you might simply need something to help prevent sore muscles in the first place or ensure that an injury doesn’t get worse. In this case, there are body and back supports, like belts, lumbar pillows, neck pads, and sets that include multiple supports to help prevent injury from occurring and take strain off your muscles when doing strenuous activities, whether that’s exercising, lifting heavy items, or daily chores.

There are also products like knee, wrist, and shoulder braces that are designed to help restrict your range of motion in the injured area, improve posture, or reduce fatigue, or even simple gear like insoles for your shoes. For fitness enthusiasts, foam rollers are a good investment to help soothe aching joints by simply rolling your body over them. These can also help you heal faster.

Why/when would you use it?

Some people use things like knee braces while exercising to prevent the muscles from being overextended or twisting the wrong way. Those who work with their hands often might want a wrist strap to help prevent fatigue or aid with conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome. Sometimes, braces and supports are used to help treat chronic pain as well. As with any of these such products, however, consult with a doctor first, especially if the pain is severe and unexplained.

What to look for in a body, back support, or massager alternative

Consider support that accommodates the body part you are working the hardest or that is at the highest risk of injury. If you move furniture for a living, for example, a back support belt might be worth investing in. If you sit in an office behind a computer all day, a back brace might help lengthen your spine and improve posture. Someone who types a lot for work might appreciate a wrist strap and for those who play sports or do a lot of strenuous exercises, a knee brace might be good, especially if you have injured the joints in the past or they tend to be weak. Any of these supports can be used alongside a massager, it should be noted, to both help prevent injury and speed up the healing process.

Massagers come in all types of forms, from ones you can hold in your hand and press to a specific part of your body to ones that drape over your neck and fit behind your back. Some are designed specifically for fitness while others are great for everyday relief of stress and aching muscles.

Take the next step

Whatever your massaging needs are, there are plenty of massagers to choose from online at Best Buy. Review the details above and narrow it down to a few options in the category that fits and go from there. You’ll be well on your way to feeling fresh, renewed, and ready to take on the world in no time.

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