Muscle soreness after a workout in the home gym, hours sitting at a desk, and just plain old stress can all leave us feeling stiff and sore. While there may not be room in the schedule (or in the budget) for a trip to the masseuse to ease those tired and aching muscles, there are other ways to feel better. A handheld massager can provide much-needed muscle relief from the comfort of one’s own home.
Handheld massagers have long handles that allow for massaging the neck and back. At the end of the handle are one or two vibrating or oscillating nodules that can soothe sore muscles, relieve tension, remove toxins from the body, and reduce stress. Corded handheld massagers use a standard electric cord for power; cordless ones are powered by lithium batteries. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from gun-shaped models that target specific muscle groups with high-percussion massage to shiatsu massagers, which provide a more relaxing experience.
In this guide, we’ll discuss the features one should consider when shopping for the best handheld massager, and review some of the best models on the market.
- BEST OVERALL: RENPHO Rechargeable Hand Held Deep Tissue Massager
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Wahl Deep Tissue Percussion Massager Handheld Therapy
- UPGRADE PICK: Theragun Elite Percussive Deep Tissue Massage Gun
- BEST MID-RANGE: CHIROGUN Massage Gun Deep Tissue Massager
- BEST DUAL-HEAD: HoMedics Percussion Action Massager with Heat
- BEST SHIATSU: Zyllion Shiatsu Back and Neck Massager
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Handheld Massager
Some handheld massagers are better suited for massaging certain parts of the body than others. A massager designed to soothe a sore muscle, for example, may not be up to the task of comforting low back pain. Ahead, learn about the different types of massagers (and the body zones to which they’re best suited), and features to look for while shopping.
Types of Massagers
- Massage guns: This gun-shaped massager uses what is known as percussive or vibration therapy to soothe sore muscles. A massage gun has a large, ergonomic handle attached to a short barrel with a rounded head, giving it its gun-like shape. When engaged, the head produces a series of rapid impacts that simulate the pressure a massage therapist’s hands would make. These bursts increase blood flow to muscle tissue, relieving muscle soreness and removing knots. A massage gun is ideal for post-workout therapy.
- Single-Head: Single-head massagers usually consist of a large, bulbous head and a long handle. The head vibrates, allowing it to penetrate deep into muscle tissue for massaging relief. The long handle makes this type of massager ideal for working the back and other hard-to-reach areas of the body.
- Dual-head: A dual-head massager is similar to a single-head massager in that it also has a long handle and a vibrating head; however, instead of having a single massage point, a dual-head features two vibrating nodes. This wider head allows the massager to work large muscle groups.
- Shiatsu: Standard back massagers require the user to hold the device in a targeted area of the body while they work their magic. Shiatsu massagers are different in that they rest on a surface, such as a seat or the back of a sofa, and the user rests against the massager as penetrating vibrations relieve sore muscles. Because shiatsu massagers are typically pillow-shaped and have a large surface area (15 inches wide and 9 inches long is about standard) with four massaging nodes, they are great for providing general relief for the neck, upper back, or lower back.
- Manual: Manual massagers come in various shapes in sizes, and most feature one or more hard, ball-shaped ends. When the user applies pressure, the balls knead into muscles to promote blood flow and relieve knots. Unlike handheld motorized massagers, a manual massager does not have a power source—all of the massaging efforts must be undertaken manually by the user or a partner. A manual massager is an excellent option for relieving muscle stiffness in the legs and arms. While this type of massager effectively reduces back and neck pain, it requires a partner to administer the massage in these areas.
- Neck and upper back: Neck and upper back pain caused by overworked muscles from weight lifting, long sessions on the treadmill, or sitting hunched over a computer all day requires a massager that can provide localized relief without enlisting the help of a partner. Recommended for this kind of pain are massagers with long handles that can work out specific sore muscles, or shiatsu-style massagers that provide generalized relief to the entire neck and upper back area.
- Lower back: Lower back pain is usually characterized by an ache covering a broad section of the back. A shiatsu massager, which can cover a large area, is ideal for soothing this type of pain. Shiatsu massagers also work without the need to hold the massager in place with a free hand, allowing the user to relax during the massage.
- Arm and legs: Arms and legs have smaller muscle groups than the back. Aches and pains in limbs are often localized to specific points, such as knots. Massagers that can apply targeted relief, such as single-head, dual-head, and gun massagers, work best on arms and legs. Single- and dual-head massagers’ long handles allow the user to reach muscle groups in the extremities without straining their back. With their percussion action, gun massagers are well suited for working out knots in leg muscles.
- Whole-body pain: Smaller massagers can’t really treat a body that hurts from head to toe. A good remedy for whole-body pain is a massager with a larger surface area, such as a shiatsu massager, which can relieve multiple muscle groups at a time.
Corded vs. Cordless
Corded and cordless massagers both have their advantages and disadvantages. Cordless models give the user the freedom to use the massager anywhere without the hindrance of a cord, but battery life limits their use. Most cordless massagers will run for 2 to 4 hours at most before requiring a recharge, which typically takes about two hours.
With 120 volts of power, a corded massager can produce more intense massaging action nearly indefinitely; however, the cord can get in the way when massaging hard-to-reach areas. Most corded massagers have a power cord between 7 and 14 feet long to allow for a broad range of movement.
Both corded and cordless massagers use a small electric motor to generate the vibrating action for massage. Most massager motors have adjustable speeds, allowing for both an aggressive, percussive-style massage and one with gentle pressure. Some motors operate single heads while others power more than one massaging node. A motor in a shiatsu massager, for example, may operate four individual nodes. Massagers that feature brushless motors tend to be quieter and more efficient than those with standard brushed motors.
The shape of the massager has a lot to do with how easy it is to use. Single- and double-head massagers have long, curved handles that allow the user to reach muscle groups in the back and lower extremities without straining other muscles. Other ergonomic features worth looking out for include rubberized grips that help users grasp the massager firmly, and conveniently placed buttons that allow for easy adjustment of the massager’s intensity levels.
With most handheld massagers, the user can select the intensity level that suits how aggressive or deep a massage they want. Most cordless and corded massagers have intensity levels, ranging from a rapid pulse setting that works hard knots out of larger muscle groups to a gentle pulse setting for treating smaller, more delicate muscle groups, such as those in the neck and face. A dial or set of buttons integrated into the handle allow the user to toggle between these intensity levels with ease.
Massagers typically include a few, and sometimes many, attachments that offer relief to specific parts of the body. Ball-shaped massage attachments work the thigh, neck, or triceps muscles well; attachments with multiple balls can apply deep-tissue pressure to multiple large areas of the body (such as the upper and lower back) at once. Specialty attachments with bristles allow for massage of the scalp, while soft disc massagers can soothe bony areas, such as the spine and shoulders. Some handheld massagers even come with small attachments for delicate facial massage.
While most shiatsu massagers are too bulky to travel with, gun and single- or double-head massagers are small enough to fit into a suitcase. Gun massagers and single- and double-head massagers typically weigh between 2 and 3 pounds, and are between 7 inches and 16 inches long. Those with longer handles are portable but can be a little bulky when you’re traveling light, while short massagers may not offer the same functionality but fit more compactly in a suitcase. When it comes to portability, cordless massagers have an advantage over their corded fellows. Cordless models do not need a power source to function, allowing the operator to use them practically anywhere. They do, however, need to be recharged after several hours of use. Corded massagers are useful for hotel room stays, but perhaps less so if they’ll be used in a gymnasium or after yoga on the beach. Many massagers include a carrying case that contains the massager and its attachments, which makes traveling with them even more convenient.
Our Top Picks
Factors such as motor, portability, variety of attachments—and of course, quality and price—were all taken into account in rating these top handheld massagers on the market. Any of the products below will deliver a relaxing massage.
A long-lasting battery, five attachments, and an easy-to-use design make this handheld massager from RENPHO one of the best models on the market. It is powered by a lithium-ion battery that will last for 140 minutes on a single charge, ample time for several full massage treatments. Its single round head gives a terrific deep-tissue massage, and its powerful motor delivers up to 3,600 pulses per minute.
Easy-to-use controls, including a plus-and-minus button on the handle, make it easy for the user to adjust the massager’s intensity. At more than 15 inches long, this massager is long enough to reach aching back muscles without straining. Five attachments allow for massaging different muscle groups, including a round head and pointed head for target areas, a broad head for larger areas, a three-point head for less intense massage, and a curved head for massaging arms and legs.
Wahl’s percussion massager offers many of the same features that higher-priced massagers do, at a fraction of the cost. While this model may lack the convenience of a cordless massager, it delivers a powerful massage. At its highest setting, the appliance’s single head makes an impressive 3,350 pulses per minute, and a soothing 2,000 pulses per minute at its lowest. Four versatile attachments accompany the massager, including a flat disc for wide coverage of an area, a four-finger flex attachment that simulates the feel of fingers, a deep-tissue massage ball, and a small head for targeted massage.
A 9-foot power cable provides ample length for more freedom of movement, while an easy-to-use dial makes adjusting the intensity a cinch. At 16 inches long, this massager is plenty long enough for massaging hard-to-reach spots such as the back and lower legs.
With its multiple attachments, brushless motor technology, and ability to track treatments on a smartphone via Bluetooth, TheraGun is a state-of-the-art handheld massager. Its compatible Therabody app allows users to create a customizable treatment with varying speed ranges via smart device. The massager’s OLED screen makes it easy to monitor the gun’s force and speed while in use.
TheraGun is a percussive massager with a powerful motor that delivers between 1,750 and 2,400 pulses per minute. While that may not seem like many pulses compared with other massagers, what sets the Theragun Elite apart from its competitors is that its head extends 16mm with each pulse—significantly more than the 10mm of most massagers—enabling it to deliver a deeper massage.
Five attachments allow for different massage types, including a wide disc-shaped knob for larger areas and pointed tips for more localized treatment. With TheraGun’s rubberized, triangular-shaped handle, it’s easy to maintain a good grip, and hold the massager at various angles to massage different body parts.
Shoppers will be hard-pressed to find a massage gun that offers more versatility than the CHIROGUN. It comes with 15 attachments, including broad shapes for soothing larger muscle groups to small, pointed heads for pinpointing specific muscles or sore spots.
Attachments are not all that make this massage gun one of the most versatile in its class. Users can make minute changes to their massage treatments by selecting among the unit’s 30 speeds, which can achieve a maximum of 3,200 pulses per minute, on the appliance’s digital control panel.
The CHIROGUN is powered by a 2550mAh battery and an efficient brushless motor, which gives it an impressive 6 hours of run time. A large handle with a rubberized grip minimizes vibrations during use, and its insulated housing makes this one of the quieter massagers on the market. This kit comes with two massage balls and a carrying case that keeps the gun and attachments organized for convenient storage or transport.
With a long handle and two pulsating heads that are 5.5 inches wide, this HoMedics massager is up to the task of massaging larger areas of the body, such as the upper and lower back. The dual heads deliver up to 3,100 pulses per minute via two nodes that move in and out like pistons to soothe sore muscles. It offers four settings, including a relaxing, low-intensity massage and a high-intensity setting for massaging sore muscles and working out painful knots.
It’s easy to access the massager’s speed controls and display, which are conveniently located on its handle. Another feature that sets this HoMedics unit apart is its optional heat function, which delivers soothing warmth to muscles and further enhances the massage experience. This massager measures more than 17 inches long and features an ergonomic handle, making it ideal for massaging the back. Its attachments include gentle, firm, or heated massage.
With its broad, pillow-like shape, this shiatsu massager is just the ticket for massaging the back, neck, head, or legs after a long day. While this design may not offer the targeted relief of some handheld massagers, it eliminates the need to hold the massager in place, which allows the user to relax during treatment. The Zyllion massager features four nodes that move in a kneading pattern rather than pulsating, providing gentle deep-tissue massage.
This massager’s broad surface area—it’s 13 inches long and 9.5 inches wide—make it a good choice for massaging larger areas of the body, such as the entire upper or lower back. Rotating nodes that reverse direction every minute provide a thorough treatment. This shiatsu massager’s other advantages are that it has a heat setting for therapeutic treatment, and it comes with an electrical adapter that can be plugged into the car’s cigarette lighter so the massager can be used when on the road.
The Advantages of Owning the Best Handheld Massager
Handheld massagers offer various health benefits that make them a worthwhile investment. Ahead, learn about the health benefits of a handheld massager.
- Relief from sore muscles. Whether it’s muscle fatigue from working out or from sitting in an office chair for too long, a good handheld massager is an excellent tool for relieving sore muscles, without the expense of professional massage-therapy appointments.
- Detox. One lesser-known benefit of massage is that it removes toxins from muscles. These toxins are often released from sore muscle tissue during a massage.
- Improve circulation. Massage stimulates blood flow to the areas being massaged, improving circulation in the body.
- Reduce stress. In addition to relieving sore muscles, massage also releases endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine. In short, it feels good, which naturally reduces stress.
- Convenience. The most significant advantage of owning a handheld massager is convenience, allowing one to experience the benefits of a massage in the comfort of their own home. And, since most handheld massagers are portable, they easily fit into a suitcase for soothing treatments on the road.
FAQs About Your New Handheld Massager
If you’re wondering how often you can safely use a massager or what adverse side effects can result from massage, read on for answers to these and other commonly asked questions about these devices.
Q. How long should you use an electric massager?
Use a massager in 5- to 10-minute sessions to prevent potential injury or soreness. Extended use can also cause the massager to overheat, damaging the unit.
Q. Can I use a massager every day?
Most parts of the body can be massaged for 5 to 10 minutes daily to achieve relief or reduce soreness without causing injury or muscle soreness.
Q. Can my handheld massager cause itching?
If there is no rash, which would indicate an allergic reaction to the material in the massager, then the itching sensation could be caused by several other factors. The stimulation that causes blood to flow to the massaged area can also stimulate nerves to fire, creating an itchy sensation. Massage can also release nitric oxide in the body, which can cause itching.
Q. Why do I feel sick after a deep-tissue massage?
Some people feel flu-like symptoms or headaches and fatigue a day or two after receiving a massage. They may feel this way because massage helps release toxins from muscle tissue, and these toxins then flow through the body’s system. This is why it’s important to drink plenty of water before and after a massage to flush these toxins out of the body.