Written By
Published Sep. 22, 2021

Whether toiling at a desk all day, tackling tough chores or adding a new twist to your workout routine, you may find yourself with some pretty sore muscles. While the existence of so-called trigger points, or “knots,” remains controversial, muscles get sore from overuse, underuse, and sometimes just minding your business. Applying pressure to soft tissues via massage helps improve blood flow to the area, which may allow you to recover more quickly. Massage may also release tension and even prompt the release of serotonin, the body’s “feel good”  neurotransmitter. 

Spa appointments with a massage therapist can be pricey and inconvenient, so folks who encounter muscle soreness and spasms may wish to invest in a personal massager to soothe pain. There are different types of massagers on the market—the one that’s best for you will likely depend on where you tend to experience muscle pain and the form it takes. From high-powered, high-tech massage guns to simple, hand-operated devices that stimulate circulation, read on to learn about some of the best massagers available to treat those pesky aches and pains. Aaaaahhh!

How We Picked These Products

Methodology

After researching how and why massage can help relieve muscle pain, we scoured the web for massagers that can help loosen knots and sooth sore spots. We based our recommendations on expert advice, user reviews, and personal experience. 

The Best Massagers: Reviews and Recommendations

Best Overall Massager: Hypervolt Bluetooth

Percussive and Powerful

With impressive power and versatility, plus a helpful app for guided massaging, the Hypervolt Bluetooth is a quality percussive massager.

Check Price

Why It Made the Cut: With impressive power and versatility, plus a helpful app for guided massaging, the Hypervolt Bluetooth is a quality percussive massager. 

Specs: 

  • Three speeds
  • Five interchangeable heads
  • 2.5 pounds 

Pros:

  • Bluetooth app for guided massages
  • Cordless, with up to three hours of use per charge 
  • Powerful percussion and vibration (up to 3,200 percussions per minute)
  • Color-coded pressure sensor to guide user 

Cons:

  • Somewhat loud 
  • May prove too heavy for lengthy massage sessions for some users 

Percussive massage guns work by delivering a rapid punching motion to help loosen muscles, and the Hypervolt Bluetooth by Hyperice has the speed you need: three, in fact, ranging from 2,400 to 3,200 percussions per minute. The device is well made and durable—important, since you’ll be putting it through thousands of repetitions with every use—and comes with various attachments designed to treat different areas. These qualities make it our pick as the best massager for most people.

This latest Hypervolt model boasts a Bluetooth-enabled app so users can employ guided massage techniques. The app, which has a 4.6-star rating on Apple, offers advice and instructions for using the massage gun in the warm-up and recovery process, and integrates with other health and fitness apps to provide tailored content. 

Five attachments are included to suit different needs: a flat-headed surface for large areas like quads and pecs, a pointed nub for tricky regions like hips and shoulders, a two-pronged fork to target long muscles such as forearms and calves, a two-inch ball for gentler percussion on super-sore areas, and a cushioned attachment for the most sensitive areas, like joints. The compact device is portable and, while all percussive massagers are pretty noisy, this model is quieter than most.

Best Massager for Shoulder Pain: Nekteck Shiatsu Neck and Back Massager with Soothing Heat

Site-Specific Soother

The Nekteck Shiatsu Neck and Back Massager uses heat and pressure to target common sore spots.

Check Price

Why It Made the Cut: A hands-free gamechanger, the Nekteck delivers both pressure and heat to those suffering from tight shoulders and neck pain.  

Specs: 

  • Three speeds
  • Eight rotating massage heads 
  • 3.4 pounds 

Pros:

  • Optional heated setting 
  • Arm loop design for easy, targeted pressure control
  • Included car adapter for use on the go 

Cons:

  • Must be plugged in during use
  • Can be awkward to use on other body parts 

It can be difficult to target a percussive massage gun on the neck and shoulders—but that’s exactly the area this Nekteck device was designed for.  Sling it around your shoulders like a scarf and let its eight massage heads go to work, relieving pain in the neck, shoulders, and upper back. Arm slots on either end let you easily control and target the massage by pulling the device downward or releasing the straps. 

With three speeds, two massage-head directions, and an optional heated setting, the Nekteck can provide a deep and intense massage while you simply sit and relax. The Nekteck needs to be plugged in, however, and while it can be wrapped around different body parts, it’s designed for a specific area so not as versatile as an all-purpose percussive massage gun. It’s also a bit cumbersome and heavy to toss in your gym bag.

Best Massager for Plantar Fasciitis: RENPHO Foot Massager Machine

Perfect for Feet

The RENPHO Foot Massager Machine targets plantar fasciitis and other foot pain issues.

Check Price

Why It Made the Cut: This foot-specific massager has ample features to help sufferers ease the frustrating pain of plantar fasciitis. 

Specs: 

  • Three kneading intensity settings 
  • Multiple rollers and massage balls
  • 10.7 pounds 

Pros:

  • Optional heating function to help relax muscles
  • Adjustable air pressure to squeeze feet for more effective massage
  • Washable foot liners 

Cons:

  • Does not fit feet larger than mens’ size 12
  • Must be plugged in 

Foot massages are a great way to relieve tension and encourage relaxation in general, but those plagued by plantar fasciitis—an irksome inflammation of the band of tissue that connects your heel bone to your toes—may benefit most from this RENPHO machine. While some sufferers roll their soles on manual foot massagers or tennis balls to increase blood flow and release tight muscles, the RENPHO Foot Massager Machine offers an effortless way to ease podiatric pain. 

More than 2,700 five-star Amazon reviews praise the RENPHO for bringing firm, toasty relief to sore feet. Slide feet into the device (which includes a removable, machine-washable cover) to enjoy soothing air compression all over while automated rollers and balls massage soles. Many reviewers report that daily use helped improve plantar fasciitis symptoms.

That said, the RENPHO must be plugged into a wall outlet and at 10-plus pounds, it’s not exactly travel-worthy, but for home use while reading, watching TV or working at your desk it can really treat your feet.

Best Scalp Massager: Heeta Shampoo Brush

Headstrong Soother!

The Heeta Shampoo Brush uses silicone bristles to stimulate and soothe the scalp.

Check Price

Why It Made the Cut: Scalp massage with this squishy brush can relieve tension, improve blood flow and may even encourage hair growth. 

Specs:

  • Manually operated
  • Dozens of soft silicone bristles 
  • 2.6 ounces

Pros:

  • Affordable
  • Waterproof; can be kept and used in the shower 
  • Ergonomic handle

Cons:

  • May be too gentle or too firm, depending on scalp sensitivity
  • Requires manual operation 

Beyond relaxation, regular scalp massages may help prevent hair thinning by improving blood flow around hair follicles. Though automated scalp massagers exist, we recommend simply using the manual Heeta Shampoo Brush while sudsing up in the shower. This waterproof brush will let you control the intensity of the massage to your liking while also banishing dead skin cells, to prevent dandruff and acne.  

The budget-friendly Heeta shampoo brush will fit most adult palms perfectly, and its grooves and ergonomic handle make it nearly effortless to hold. Thick, soft silicone bristles provide just enough resistance to effectively scrub and massage your scalp without tangling in wet hair. Massage in circular motions for two to three minutes while shampooing or when hair is dry. Because the brush is manual, you can play around with different levels of pressure and motion patterns to find your personal best massage technique. 

Best Portable Massager: Theragun Mini

Portable and Powerful

It might be small, but it gets the job done.

Check Price

Why It Made the Cut: As a puny, price-wise and powerful alternative to Theragun’s full-sized massage guns, the brand’s Mini is literally good to go. 

Specs: 

  • Three speeds
  • Single ball head
  • 1.4 pounds 

Pros:

  • More than two hours of battery life
  • Extremely lightweight and portable
  • Ergonomic design
  • Supports other Theragun attachment heads 

Cons:

  • Less power than many full-size devices
  • Only comes with standard ball attachment head

Percussive massage guns are popular and effective for soothing sore muscles right after a workout, but many powerful models are too clunky (not to mention expensive) to stow in your gym bag. Enter the Theragun Mini: an ultra-quiet, impressively intense massager that can practically fit in your pocket. 

With three speeds ranging from 1750 to 2400 percussions per minute, the Theragun Mini doesn’t pack quite as powerful a punch as the Hypervolt Bluetooth (our best overall pick), but that’s some pretty rapid motion and power for handling aches and pains on the go. Plus, though the Mini only comes with a standard ball attachment, heads from the larger model will work with it to target various muscle groups. 

Best Budget Massager: Thera Cane Massager

Handy, not Pricey

The inexpensive Thera Cane has six treatment balls to banish aches and pains manually.

Check Price

Why It Made the Cut: If a quality percussive massage gun is out of your price range, the Thera Cane is a well-designed manual alternative. 

Specs:

  • Manually operated
  • Six treatment balls
  • 1.2 pounds 

Pros:

  • Inexpensive
  • No mechanical parts
  • Versatile, with many tutorials and user guides available

Cons:

  • Effective manual operation may take practice
  • Knobs with rough edges may require buffing/sanding before use

Cheap, poor-quality massagers abound, including shoddy percussive guns made to resemble the Hypervolt and Theragun. Rather than waste any money on a mediocre mechanical gadget, we recommend a well-priced manual massager, such as a muscle roller stick, foam roller, massage ball, and even little finger massagers.  

Among manual models, it’s hard to beat the budget-friendly Thera Cane: simply a long, curved piece of plastic with various knobs and nubs for digging into stubborn knots. At 24 inches in length, it’s designed to reach hard-to-access areas of the body, and it comes with a self-massage instruction booklet to help you soothe those sore spots correctly. 

Things to Consider Before Buying a Massager

Usage 

Muscle pain can take various different forms, from slight tightness to serious spasms, and affect different areas of the body. Shoppers should look for the best device for their particular pain management. The most powerful percussive models are made to mimic truly intense deep tissue massages, and may be downright unpleasant to those unaccustomed to that kind of pressure. For most people, the Hypervolt Bluetooth will provide ample power, and its app gives helpful guidance on using the device on various parts of the body.

Versatility

Some people have a particular trouble zone when it comes to muscle soreness, while others may experience pain in different parts of the body, depending on the exertion that causes it.  A percussive massage gun or vibrating massager are versatile devices that can be used on a host of different areas of the body. They can help soothe sore muscles after a workout, relieve back tension after a long work day, and pound out the arches of the feet after hours of walking.  If there’s one particular sore spot that keeps giving you trouble, it might be worth splurging on a device designed to treat it, such as the foot and neck-and-shoulders models described in this article. 

FAQs

Q: What is a percussive massager?

A percussion or percussive massager, otherwise known as a massage gun, uses a fast, pounding motion to hammer into muscles. This jackhammer-like motion can help stimulate blood flow and soothe soreness.

Q: Does self-massage help speed muscle recovery?

While there is some debate on just how useful it is to target “knots” we all know it feels good to get pressure on sore, overused muscles. Self-massage tools can help you reach and apply pressure to awkward spots more effectively. The jury is also still out on whether rolling, percussing, and massaging muscles after a workout actually improves future performance, but it’s definitely a good way to ease discomfort in the moment.

Q: Are there body parts I shouldn’t massage?

Never use a forceful device on an actual injury—such as a sprain, a broken bone, a bruise or a pulled muscle—as the impact will likely worsen the condition. If you have a more chronic injury, talk to your medical professional about which massagers, if any, you can safely use on affected areas.

Final Thoughts

There are many massagers available to help ease muscles that are sore from use or stiff from underuse, but percussive guns are pretty much the gold standard. In that category, we recommend the Hypervolt Bluetooth as an overall winner—it’s got ample power, a variety of attachable heads, and a well-rated instructional app, all for a great price. If portability is important, go with the Theragun Mini, which crams plenty of power into a tiny package. 

MORE TO READ