How to Choose the Best Handheld Massager
Disclaimer: I personally use and sell Dr Graeme Professional vibration massagers out of my clinic.
As a chiropractor, I get asked a lot about handheld massage devices, as there’s so many around now that patients struggle to know which one they should be interested in or if they should bother at all. Knowing how to choose the best handheld massager is hard. They’ve taken off in recent years after an increasing number of small companies and entrepreneurs realised how good they look in slow-mo and how successfully marketed online they could be. But what’s the difference? Is a $50 massager the same as an $800?
At their core, all the main devices are vibration massagers that use a percussion motion (the massage head moving in and out repetitively). Vibration massage is quite well studied for treating pain, tightness, aiding muscle recovery, and more, but the research doesn’t specify much on a few of the differences between machines:
The speed at which the massage head is able to make that in-out revolution is an obvious factor for determining massage effectiveness. A higher speed means the force transmitted into the muscle is going to be greater, penetrate deeper, and create more relaxation and blood flow.
this is the distance that the head of the massager travels in and out (like a sewing machine needle pumping up and down). This one is a bit more complicated, but generally vibration massagers perform best with a reasonable amplitude (e.g. 5mm+) as this will help them transmit forces deeper into tissues. However, you have to consider a couple of things with amplitude:
- Some high amplitude massagers (generally guns) actually waste amplitude. Once the amplitude is bigger than the depth that you can push the head into the muscle, the head will be actually coming off the skin for part of the pump motion. These high amplitude massagers look particularly good in slow motion videos when you can see easily see the head move in and out, and so are some of the more popular ones marketed online in recent years. This may or may not be a factor depending on the individual and size of the muscle that you’re working on.
- Depth of penetration is mainly achieved by the pressure you put behind the massage head. As long as the massager motor is strong enough to not stifle under pressure, you make more difference to penetration with the pressure you apply than the amplitude does.
This is effectively a combination of speed and amplitude. A fast massager is great but if it has very little amplitude or can’t maintain amplitude under pressure, power goes down. The same goes for a massager with high amplitude that can’t reach or maintain a high speed it’s not going to be effective. Massagers will have a power rating, but this is often misleading due to a number of other factors (like flimsy heads/drive mechanisms, poor speed, motor type differences) determining how much force actually ends up in your tissues, so the best way to gauge it is to try the massager yourself.
Depending on where you want to use it on your body may change the shape you might want, but common sense is the driving factor behind how you choose a massager shape. The two most common shapes are the gun and the large head long handle designs. Shape preference is largely up to individual comfort, however the guns can be difficult to use on your own back, upper traps, neck, and back of the shoulders, which is where the long handle and heavier head comes in handy on the alternative design.
Again, my recommendation when choosing your handheld massager would always be to try before you buy (or buy with a free refund option). As a side note, pricing can vary dramatically, and this is often not justified for what you’re buying in the massager world. Personally I think anything upwards of $200-300 is very unlikely to be worth the extra cost, and that there are plenty of great options for less.
WHY VIBRATION MASSAGE AT ALL?
Without going into depth on the research, vibration massage has been shown to have a number of beneficial effects achievable repeatedly in the comfort of your own home:
- Muscle relaxation
- Increases in blood flow which continues for over 15 minutes post-massage
- Pain reduction by blocking nerve pain signals
- Speed up muscle recovery and reduce post-exercise soreness
- Temporarily increase the strength and coordination of muscles
- Help prevent muscle atrophy (loss of size and strength)
- Locally increase production of growth hormone
- Increase the formation of new blood vessels around injuries
If you’d like to try a Dr Graeme Professional Massager in clinic, just contact me on 0410 841 193, firstname.lastname@example.org, or just as during your next appointment.