Unfortunately, most adults in life will suffer with some form of back pain, whether it’s occasional or occurs regularly. There’s no doubt that back pain can be extremely uncomfortable and sometimes can render you completely inactive.
I should know, I’ve been a backache sufferer on and off since the age of 18. Sometimes, my back pain is so uncomfortable, I have to visit a physiotherapist, other times a deep tissue massage helps to remove knots and alleviate pain. However, it’s often inconvenient to book in back therapy when you’re running in-between children, work and running a home. That means that the options to cure back pain are limited.
One of those options is home massage which can be very effective, when you know what types of massagers to use.
Back Self-Massage Tools
Of course, there are various tools you can use in the comfort of your own home that help with back massage. These are useful especially if you don’t feel confident massaging your back on your own because they are designed to aid self-massage. Many products have been created especially to give release using either deep-tissue massage, Shiatsu, myofascial massage or trigger point therapy. There are inexpensive manual products that you roll over areas of your back or that you use to apply pressure. These are useful tools for backache and muscular soreness and can be effective, used properly. For those who want a deeper massage and to know that they are applying the correct type of pressure, it’s a good idea to invest in an electrical back massager. Many of those available today come with different settings so you can select the right pressure for your pain and you can even set the massage time on the advanced models.
Here, I take a look at the best types of manual and electric back massagers.
MANUAL BACK MASSAGERS
Trigger Point Therapy: The Body Back Company Body Back Buddy
This rather strange looking contraption is in the shape of a large S and is designed as a trigger point self-massage tool. It is suitable for lower back, neck and shoulders and retails at approximately $30 (depending on the retailer). Widely used for years, it is made out of high density polyethylene and you can even use it in the shower. Easy to grip and strong, you apply pressure to your back and swivel the tool in your hands to manipulate it to massage trigger points. The open shape allows you to reach all your muscles and it can even be used on your hips, legs, chest and feet. You control the pressure and you guide the tool to hit the spot where you’re experiencing discomfort. It’s also shaped to reach difficult spots on the body with ease. The tool has knobs which are what you use to accurately penetrate painful areas and as you are in control, you can determine whether you want a deep massage or a gentle massage.
Trigger Point GRID Foam Roller
At approximately $40 is the TriggerPoint Grid Foam Roller which is made almost entirely from foam and works by rolling over the back and shoulder to alleviate back pain. Used by physiotherapists and massage therapists it’s a good product for pain relief, muscle recovery and to allow freedom of movement. It also helps to increase blood and oxygen flow and encourage tissue healing.
Ball Pain Relief: Nayoya Massage Ball Roller
At $20 (depending on retailer) is the Nayoya Massage Ball Roller which is good for administering a stress-relieving and relaxing massage. Small enough to travel with, it delivers a light or deep tissue massage depending on the pressure you use. The rollers roll over knots and painful areas to alleviate discomfort and are especially good for arthritis sufferers. Massage using the pressure of your hand or roll them along the back of your shoulders, lower back and upper back to remove knots.
Palm massage tool: SoulGenie Health & Yoga
This palm-held massage tool retails at under the $11 mark (depending on retailer) and delivers a soothing, gentle massage. It is designed with knobs and legs that are specifically angled to target painful areas and difficult-to-reach spots. As you control the movement, you can apply as much or as little pressure as you want in order to get rid of discomfort.
ELECTRIC BACK MASSAGERS
Zyllion ZMA13BK Shiatsu Pillow Massager
This convenient electric back massager is easy to use and delivers an effective back massage in the comfort of your bed or while lying down on the sofa. It also heats up for extra benefit and is ideal for the back, neck and shoulder area. Retailing at just under the $40 mark (depending on retailer), it’s a good mid-price product. Particularly good for sore muscles, it perfectly contours the top of body but can also be used on the abdomen, calves and thigh areas (including lower back) and it’s safe to use. Simply program it to deliver the pressure you want. Additionally, the auto shut-off button makes sure that it doesn’t overheat. The massager comes with a one year manufacturer’s guarantee.
Naipo Shiatsu Pillow Massager
At just under $34 (depending on retailer) is the Naipo Shiatsu Pillow Massager which is designed to soothe pain the neck, back, shoulders and legs. It can even be used all over the body and delivers a good stress-busting, relaxing massage. Small enough to take to the office, take on vacation or use at home, it’s a good little electric massager. The massager has four deep-kneading nodes that work similarly to a trained shiatsu masseuse and with the added bonus of heat; it really goes a long way to calm sore muscles. With auto shut-off, the machine won’t overheat and the temperature won’t go too high so as not to burn the skin. The Naipo comes with a 2 year manufacturer’s guarantee.
LiBa Shiatsu Neck Back Massager Pillow
This shiatsu massager is suitable for use in the car as well as at home and has the ability to heat up while administering pressure. Slightly cheaper than the other electronic massagers mentioned here, it retails at just under $25 (depending on where you purchase it from). Completely portable, it is an ergonomic U shape that is designed to fit the contours of your neck, back, abdomen, calves and thighs. The heat function is especially to soothe muscle ache and you can turn it on or off at your convenience. With an automatic timer, it changes direction to maintain pressure on different points so everywhere gets equal treatment. This comes with a three year warranty and a 90 day no-quibble satisfaction guarantee.
NECK AND BACK MASSAGERS
Naipo Shiatsu Back and Neck Massager
This back massager retails at just under $50 and is portable so you can easily transport it to the office or take it abroad, you can even use it in the car. Designed to massage the neck, back, shoulder, legs and feet, it offers a deep heat kneading pressure consisting of 8 different nodes and three different speeds. The heat is excellent for improving blood flow and the warmth also eases muscular and ligament pain. With auto shut-off in 20 minutes, it’s perfectly safe and it comes with a 30 day free returns policy.
Naturalico Shiatsu Massager
At around $46 (depending on where you purchase) is the Naturalico Shiatsu Pillow Massager which works on the back, neck, shoulders and feet. Designed to alleviate stiffness, reduce back pain and relieve sore muscles it targets pressure points with kneading pressure and heat to reduce tension. Great for recovery post-injury and for inducing a more relaxing, restful sleep it’s the ideal portable massager at a reasonable price.
Belmint Shiatsu Neck and Shoulder Massager
This pillow-style shiatsu massager by Belmint offers an optional heat switch for sore muscles and stiffness. It’s ideal for use at home or in the office and is suitable for fibromyalgia sufferers. Retailing at $35.99, it’s a good value electronic massager that delivers a massage similar to that of a trained masseuse. As well as reducing discomfort in the back, this device also aids with headache and migraine relief. The machine has four advanced deep kneading nodes that work together to alleviate pain and it’s lightweight too. The product comes with a 100% satisfaction guarantee.
HANDHELD PERCUSSION MASSAGERS
Percussion massagers use rotating heads to relieve back-pain.
Wahl Deep-Tissue Percussion Massager
At $31 (depending on retailer) is the Wahl Deep-Tissue Percussion Massager that is designed to reduce tired, aching muscles and reduce pain. It comes with a variable rotation speed so you can control the massage from light to intense and there are four different attachments to choose from; deep muscle, four-finger flex, “Accupoint” and raised bump. While it’s great for back-pain, it’s also suitable for use all over the body. The product is used with a power-cord.
HoMedics HHP-350 Percussion Action Massager
This product offers a percussion-style rotating massage that is suitable for use on the entire body. The dual heads work hard to alleviate pain in the muscles and get rid of difficult-to-reach knots. With heated nodes, it delivers soothing warmth to tired muscles and joints. The HoMedics product comes with an ergonomic handle that is comfortable to use, variable speed control so you can customise your experience and three different head attachments, firm, gentle and a heated head.
Thumper Sport Percussive Massager
At the top end of the market is the Thumper Sport Percussive Massager which retails at just under $130 (depending on where you purchase it from). The technology is designed so it pulses deep into the muscle tissue and with variable speed control; you get to customise your massage experience to your preference. The Thumper helps to boost blood circulation and improve lymphatic drainage. Able to reach all muscle groups and with interchangeable massage heads, this is a solid, reliable product.
VIBRATING SEAT CUSHION MASSAGERS
Zyllion ZMA14 Shiatsu Neck & Back Massager
This shiatsu back and neck massager also has the added bonus of heat to soothe aching muscles. At just under $160 (depending on retailer) it is rather expensive but it involves three different massage styles; rolling, spot and kneading. You can easily change the massage rollers to focus on the area you want and if you prefer to work your neck area, the ZMA14 is perfectly suitable. Use it on any chair – even your car, it delivers a superb massage experience and comes with a satisfaction guarantee.
Gideon Seat Cushion Vibrating Massager
This vibrating cushion massager by Gideon is suitable for the back, shoulder and thighs and comes with additional heat therapy to relieve muscular soreness. Retailing at around the $70 mark (depending on where you purchase it from) it’s an effective, portable product. With ten vibrating points, it penetrates deeply and the heat function delivers gentle warmth. You can also select precise massaging points or you can simultaneously massage all-over. Additionally, there are four massage modes and four intensity settings; pulsate, tapping, rolling and kneading for a truly customised experience.
FIVE S FS8812 Vibration Massage Seat Cushion
This large chair massaging cushion comes with a back and a seat area. It’s designed to give you an all-over neck, back and shoulder massage as well as the thigh area. With heated option, muscles feel soothed and revitalised. It’s good value at $50 (depending on retailer) however it is not for you if you want shiatsu massage as it only vibrates. It features ten vibrations and three massage speeds as well as four different massage programs. You can also use it in the car as it connects to a car adaptor. The FIVE comes with a three year warranty.
LOWER BACK MASSAGER
The Naipo Shiatsu Lower Back Massager
This product is excellent for delivering an effective lower back massage (although it can also target the upper back). Use it in the comfort of your home or easily port it to the car or office, the massager is easy to control and features 12 rotating massage balls to deliver a really deep, thorough tissue massage. The infrared heating function is good for boosting blood circulation and reducing muscle ache. With a 15 minute auto shut-off it’s also safe to use as there’s no chance of overheating. Retailing at just under $73 (depending on retailer), it’s an excellent massager.
What Back Massage Is Good For
Back massage is good for a number of different things:
- Done properly, it can alleviate back pain
- It reduces stress and tension, especially in the shoulder and neck area
- It can be extremely relaxing
- It aids restful sleep
- It encourages healthy lymphatic drainage
- Back massage improves circulation
This piece is designed to help you to make informed decisions on the best type of back massagers available but before I delve into the different products, it’s useful to understand a little more about back massage, the techniques, the therapies and the types of massager options.
Back Massage Manual Techniques
Firstly, there are various different techniques, for example, Swedish, Shiatsu and Pressure Point. Before you begin massage, it’s important to get the environment right so you receive the full benefit of you back massage. Make sure it’s warm without being too hot and that there’s no background noise to interfere with concentration and relaxation. You should also choose a firm surface such as the floor (using a mat), a massage table or your bed. Use quality massage oil or an essential oil which also helps to sooth and calm. Massage oil is also important for friction, the more you use, the less friction and pressure you can apply so bear that in mind when massaging the back. Do get some towels to lie on or to cover exposed areas of the body. Beware if you are pregnant, check with your doctor if home massage is suitable, it is better to visit a professional masseuse who deals with pregnancy massage.
For lower back pain, ankle, neck and shoulder discomfort, place cushions along the length of your chest and stomach and under shoulders and ankles.
Always warm hands up first so they aren’t too cold when you begin massaging and avoid massaging bony areas, broken skin or blisters.
Whole Hand Massage
- This uses rhythmic stroking and you use the whole surface of both your hands:
- Stroke with reasonable firmness in an upward motion from the base of the back toward the top
- Then circle round the back from the top to the lower area
- Massage for 10 minutes
Heel of Hand Massage
- Use the base of your hands and work in circles from the lower back upward
- Circle motion should be an outward circle
- Move hands upward and then return back to the centre of the back
- Keep moving upward and back to the centre
- Massage for 5 minutes
- This is for deep massage and start by reaching over to the other side of the back
- Begin at the lower back moving up toward the top
- Place one hand above the other and then push downward with the flat of all of your fingers
- Move the fingers away from the centre and then push towards the spine
- Massage for 5 minutes
- Using your thumbs and resting the palm of your hand on the back move from lower to upper back applying pressure (along the muscles either side of the spine)
- Knead knots with your thumb as you move upwards
- Repeat this process three times, either side of the back
- Combine with finger massage
- Massage for 5 minutes
Middle Finger Massage
- This is to apply friction using your middle finger with firm movements along each side of the spine
- Start at the base and move upward. Apply friction at regular intervals as you move up the back
- Massage for 5 minutes
- Use your forearms and apply pressure from the base to the top with 6 strokes
- Massage two or three times
- This uses your thumb, you place the other thumb over the massaging thumb
- Place the thumbs over knots or sore areas and press firmly, gradually increasing the pressure but taking care not to give pain to the person being massaged
- Hold the pressure for up to 10 seconds
- This can be uncomfortable but is a good way of loosening knots and alleviating discomfort
- Finish your massage with stroking movements using finger massage
- Then, apply a little heel of hand massage
- Finish off with full hand massage
- Let the person being massaged relax for a few minutes before encouraging them to get up
Do note that back massage is effective for some back problems but not all. Don’t massage if a person is younger than 20 or older than 55 and who has just started experiencing back pain. If back pain is continually worsening or the pain is in the upper part of the spine, it’s best to see a specialist. Cancer patients or those who have had cancer should not attempt home massage and neither should people feeling unwell, using drugs, experiencing rapid weight loss or who are HIV positive. Additionally, those with spine deformities or with debilitating pain should avoid home massage and seek help from a specialist physiotherapist.
Self-Back Massage Techniques
Of course, sometimes there isn’t anyone available to give you a back massage but luckily there are some self-back massage therapies. Try these self-back massage techniques:
Neck and Shoulders
- Drop your shoulders
- Tuck your chin into your chest (this stretches the neck out)
- Place three fingertips on the back of your neck and press relatively hard, hold this pose for a few seconds and then release, repeat as necessary
- Roll shoulders forward three times and back three times, repeat as necessary
- Alternatively, twist three scarves into a thick braid and stretch them behind your neck, one end in each hand
- Rub the braid up and down your neck and upper shoulders
- Repeat as necessary
Deep-Tissue Lower Back
- Take a tennis ball and lay on it (alternatively stand against a wall with the tennis ball at the base of your spine)
- Move your body up and down and side to side, letting the tennis ball massage your lower back/pelvis area
- Target uncomfortable areas on your back but avoid the spine
- Apply enough pressure to squash the ball a little but without administering any pain so as not to aggravate your back
Deep-Tissue Upper Back
- Taking the same tennis ball, either stand against a wall or lay on the floor
- Place the ball along the upper area of your back and roll it gently upwards and downwards as well as across and back again
- Avoid the spine area
Shiatsu for Lower Back Pain
- Try laying down and bending your knees with your hands by your side and your soles on the floor (knees bent)
Close eyes and breathe deeply for a few minutes
- Bring your right knee upward and hold it with both hands lifting toward the chest as you breathe outwards
- Bring it back down slowly
- Repeat with other leg
- Repeat exercise 10 times