A Complete Buying Guide on Handheld Massagers
Finding the best handheld massager might not be as straightforward as you may think.
As you can see from our extensive handheld massager reviews, there are different types of handheld massagers available. Big or small, they come in their own variations which can be quite distinctive one way or the other. Choosing the best one can therefore be quite ... overwhelming, to say the least.
In this article, we are going to help you with just that.
Features to Look For When Buying A Handheld Massager
1. Speed and Intensity
Amongst many things, speed and intensity are the two most important aspects to look at when it comes to handheld massagers.
This is because they determine the strength of massage you'll be getting, as well as how much leeway you get with regards to control.
Basically - the higher the intensity is, the stronger a massage you'll get (that's the RPM). The more speed levels there are, the more options you get.
You will want to find something that offers a high RPM if you want your percussions to really dig into the muscles and tissues. For instance, a 3,200 RPM means the massager is able to knock 3,200 percussions into your muscles per minute.
A good range of speed levels will be ideal. This way, there is a bigger variation for you to play around with for the different needs of different people i.e. lower speed level for less intensity (and vice versa).
Most come with at least 3 settings, however, they can go as high up as 20 levels (if you know where to look).
The next aspect to consider is 'portability'.
To a certain extent, this is the reason a handheld massager is often preferred over other massage devices - they are just so much more mobile comparatively.
However, just because they are called handheld massagers doesn't mean they are all the same in this aspect. Amongst which 'cordless' is one biggest deciding factor.
Cordless / Non-cordless
If you haven't noticed already, almost all massage guns are cordless. Regardless of what brand, what size - they are all cord-free.
On the other hand, it is a mix for the elongated type of handheld massagers. They used to all come with a cord, however, you'd see more and more cordless versions lately.
For example, our top 2 choices in the elongated handheld percussion massager category are both cordless:
[To see more options, this comparison chart here will let you easily distinguish which ones are cordless at a glance.]
Undeniably, cordless makes for the best portable massager. They are:
Most importantly, you won't need to always make sure there is a power outlet nearby. You can literally bring it out and use it anywhere you like.
If you decide to go with a non-cordless handheld massager, it is better that you choose one with an extra long cord. This gives you better portability.
You do have to make sure that you always remember to recharge your cordless device though, else it will die on you midway through a massage session and nobody likes that.
Which brings us to our next sub-point.
It goes without saying that a long battery life is what the majority prefers.
By long, we mean one that can last you days of use after one full charge.
Nobody likes having to recharge their percussion massager every other day, be it for personal or professional use.
In fact, a recent survey that we did shows that battery life is among the top 3 most important things for a personal trainer.
This is because they often use it on injured athletes - they do not want something that malfunction or die easily on them during operation.
You may say that this is an aspect more relevant to massage guns, unless you are looking at a cordless elongated handheld massager.
But yes, remember to check on the battery life before you proceed with one.
Of course, weight has got to do with portability. The lighter it is, the more portable a handheld massager will be.
In this regard, it is pretty standard across massage guns - most weigh around an average of 2.5 lbs.
So yes, these are the 3 important elements to take into account when you are considering the portability aspect in your quest for the best electric massager.
The third feature that people put a lot of emphasis on is noise level.
To many, it can even be their No.1 priority out of everything.
“Personally, noise to me is number one,” says Madeliene. “I want to be able to use the massage guns in public, and having it sound like a power tool would make it unusable. I need to be able to talk to my athletes over the noise of the gun without yelling at them.”
One thing in common that you will find in all massage guns is that they all adapt a brushless high-torque motor.
What this entails is a quiet technology that gives minimal working noise ranging from 35dB to 55dB mostly.
This is equivalent to that of a sound decimal found in a library. For better perspectives, our daily conversations is about 60db, while rainfall is around 50dB.
If you choose from our handheld massager reviews here, noise shouldn't be much of a problem because we have already qualified them for you by eliminating all the noisy ones away.
4. Massage Heads
Last but not least, look at the massage head options offered by a particular handheld massager - does it have the configuration that you want?
Massage Head Configurations
You see, most handheld massagers come in a variety of interchangeable massage heads.
This is for you to switch around so that you can get different techniques/ sensation, and for you to target different body parts.
Different models offer different configurations, with some providing a little more options than the other.
Most percussion massagers should suffice in this regard, with most giving enough variations to cater to different body parts/requirements.
Unless you have a certain particular preference that is out of the usual, for example, oil massage - then you may have to specifically look for massage heads that allow you to do so.
Which is why we think the following table may be of help to you, to understand each does what in their own respect:
The above is not conclusive, as mentioned, different handheld massagers offer different configurations. Nevertheless, they should cover the majority of what's available in the market nowadays.
As a general rule though, you can understand them as such:
For large muscle groups
For deep tissues
For back bulk muscle groups
For targeted small areas
For softer joints parts
Arms, back, hips, thigh, calves etc.
Meridians, joints, palms, soles, plantars, trigger points etc.
All muscle groups relaxation & body shaping
Neck, spine, Achilles tendon
Cervical vertebra, shoulder blades, knees, ankles
Please refer to your user manual to ensure you understand perfectly what each does so that you can maximise the benefits/efficiency of your percussion massager.
Single vs. Dual Head
For elongated type of handheld massagers though, there is one more element to consider besides massage head configurations - single vs double head.
So in place of one single node knocking percussive massages at one particular spot, you get two operating at two different spots at the same time.
You may think of it this way: double-head massager imitates a real masseuse's pair of hands-tapping massage perfectly, or that of a loved one or partner's.
Incidentally, the massage area is double that of a single massage head's. No doubt this gives greater relief faster, and brings you more comfortable and a deeper tissue massage experience.
However, you do have to sacrifice weight as they are (unavoidably) bulkier than their single-headed counterparts. Nevertheless, the efficiency it brings is too-hard-to-resist for some, which is why dual-headed handheld massagers continue to have their huge demand despite being slightly heavier.
Having said that, single-headed handheld massager still takes up the majority of the market so the choices are aplenty.
For dual-headed ones, we do have the following two best recommendations - both under $50, both Amazon's Choice in their own rights:
It goes without saying that each massage head that a dual-headed percussion massager offers come in pairs, as opposed to one for each configuration for the single-headed ones.
[Single-Head Massager Massage Heads]
[Dual-Head Massager Massage Heads]
So yes, going through the massage heads offered by a particular model may be the one last step you'd want to check when it comes to choosing the best percussion massager.
Last but not least, you should consider if you want any heat element in your handheld massager or not.
Now, compare to other massage devices, heat is not that common a feature found in handheld massagers.
In fact, there is NO percussion massage gun in the market to date that is equipped with it.
If heat is an indispensable element in your massage therapy, you will have to go with the elongated handheld massager type.
For that, we have a 3 options for you:
Note that the Homedics is a dual-headed option compared to the other two, which are single-headed. You may want to choose according to your preference.
There are certainly other details that differentiate between the models, for example, fancier models that come with LED/LCD display and/or touch screen functions.
But if we are to say what are the most important and distinguishable elements to take note of when it comes to choosing the best handheld massager, it has to be the above 5 features.
Massage Gun vs. Handheld Massager
Having read the above, you may now have one query: which of the two types - massage gun vs. handheld massager - is the better one?
Or rather, which one should you go for if you are to choose between the two? This, is probably the most popular question that we often get.
The answer very much depends on your priorities and requirements.
Nevertheless, here are 4 criteria that may be of help in your decision-making. Base your answers to them, and you should be able to know which type is the best for you.
1. Usage and Targeted Area
First and foremost, which exact body part is your main concern?
While both massage gun and handheld massager can be applied on most parts of the body, the way you apply it can be quite different.
Let's take the back for example.
Both massagers will work equal wonders in terms of pain and tension relief but if we are to say which one is easier to use, it will have to be the elongated handheld massager type.
You see, the long-handle design just makes it so much more easier to manoeuvre independently.
You don't need to ask anyone for help - the massager lets you get to even the hardest-to-reach areas i.e. mid and lower back yourself.
Compared that to a massage gun, you most definitely would need to get a helping hand to help you reach these areas. Unless you are very flexible, the massage gun can be quite limiting in some ways if there is no one around to help you out.
This is why the conventional elongated type of handheld massager is often regarded as the best back massager by many individuals. Or to be more specific, the best lower back massager for personal home use.
On the other hand, if you are say, a personal trainer, a massage gun will then be the best handheld massager for you.
This is because it will mostly be you applying it on your students/customers so the smaller design and ergonomic grip are definitely more convenient and manoeuvrable for you.
So yes, when it comes to choosing the best handheld massager, one primary factor to consider is how you will be using it, and where your primary target area is.
Next aspect to consider - how important is portability to you?
Again, this very much depends on the context of how you will be using the massager.
For a personal trainer, cordless will be an indispensable requirement.
In which case, the massage gun may be the only way to go.
This is because you would want to go from one student to another without having a cord getting in the way while you go around the gym.
Also, a massage gun is smaller / more compact in size so it is easier to handle comparatively. With almost all models come equipped with some sort of travel case, it therefore makes for the best portable massager.
If, on the other hand you favour the elongated type of handheld massagers, you may want to pay more attention on their cord length when choosing between models.
They can go as short as 71 inches, then there are the extra long ones at 108 inches.
Depending on your lifestyle i.e. where you’ll be using it, either short or long cords will have their own demand/market although generally, you’d want to look for one with a longer cord to give you maximum portability.
And as mentioned above, there are cordless options available as well so that’s something to keep in mind when you’re browsing between different models.
You may want to take heat into account as well in your consideration.
However, you will only have the elongated type of handheld massagers to choose from.
This is because as mentioned above, there is no heat element incorporated in any massage gun to date, at least not in the ones that we can find.
Even then, your choices are pretty limited (see above) but if this is an indispensable element in your massage therapy, then the aforementioned three models will be a good selection to consider.
Don't forget to ask yourself how much you are willing to spend on a handheld massager.
The difference between the two can be pretty substantial, with massage guns being more expensive in general.
What could be the cheapest massage gun can very well already be at the higher end of the price spectrum for an elongated handheld massager.
We're talking about an average of $150 - $195 for massage guns while it is mostly a case of under $100 for the elongated type. You can even get something with less than $30 for the latter, and that's not in an inferior quality altogether.
So yes, we'd say that price plays a rather significant part in the decision-making process when it comes to the question of massage gun vs. handheld massager. Especially if you have a certain budget set, or limit to adhere to.
Massage Gun vs. Handheld Massager Comparison Chart
- Applicable on all body parts
- Single and dual head options
- Best back massager (for personal use)
- Comes with travel case
- Mostly non-cordless
- Generally bulkier
Single headed only
Single & Double headed
Benefits of Handheld Massagers
We have touched on the reasons as to why handheld massagers got so popular nowadays here.
Amongst which, versatility is no doubt one huge selling point because you can literally use it anywhere on the body.
Sore on the neck? - Use the hexagonal/four-finger flex massage head and massage away.
Pain in the lower back? - Switch to the shiatsu / acu-point or generally just the round disk head - any will do, the choices are endless.
We won't go into too much details here as that will be rather repetitive, rather, we will expand a bit more on the overall health benefits it brings to our body.
First of all - exertion soreness.
This can happen when you start exercising or if you change your training regime.
We’ll give you an example – strength training. When you take up this form of exercise, your goal is to lift your absolute limit.
What this can do to your body is that muscle hypertrophy – tiny tears in the muscle that scar and build muscle mass - happens, and this process can be a slow and painful one.
Such scenario is not limited to strength training only – it can develop when you pick up some form of strenuous exercise, such as surfing or skiing.
A muscle massager helps you deal with such soreness by awakening the muscles throughout your body.
Amongst many things, it triggers rapid myofascial release and enhance your body’s ability to regenerate cells and repair itself. This way, you will need less downtime in between heavy days.
An Alternative to Foam Rollers
For those who find foam rollers uncomfortable or too manual of a process, handheld massagers no doubt offer a more streamlined, automatic solution.
As you would know, a percussion massager is a handheld device or tool that applies pulses of concentrated pressure deep into your muscle tissue.
Traditionally, masseurs used a series of light strikes from the hands or wrists to the given muscle group to get this effect.
With a handheld massager, you can get the same type of massage that provides rapid bursts of pressure into the body’s muscle tissue mechanically.
This does everything from decreasing stress, pain and tissue tension to enhancing recovery, blood circulation and range of motion.
You can use it pre-workout to warm up the muscles and post-workout to decrease tightness and soreness.
Alternatively, it helps avoid the unnecessary muscle pains caused by stress accompanied by sitting at the desk all day long.
Back Pain Chronicles
It is not just the muscles that handheld massagers are effective against though. They are a true saviour to back pain of all sorts.
By stimulating local blood circulation, they allow more oxygen and nutrients to reach the spine area.
What this does is that it increases their ability to fix themselves besides increasing their elasticity and flexibility, both of which effects will make you feel better overall.
This is why handheld massagers are often regarded as one of the best back massager device ever. For other back massager options, click here to find out more.
Better Sleep, Better Skin
It is a widely known fact that handheld massagers have a relaxing effect on the overall body. Not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well due to a significantly lower stress level.
What entails then is an improvement in your sleep quality and when you sleep better, your complexion sees the benefit as well.
Also, with the constant blood circulation stimulation under the skin, your skin will look better as well so you can look more radiant and healthier overall.
Be it the percussion massage gun or elongated handheld massager, there is no denying that handheld massagers are one of the best electric massager ever invented.
You get to receive the same percussive benefits as that obtained from professional masseuses BUT at the comfort of your own home, without the need to pay routinely for luxury spa services.
Even more effectively, if we may say so. Handheld massagers are able to hyper-target a specific problem area which sometimes, not even a pair of human hands can achieve.
By creating this targeted approach to active recovery, they harness the inherent capacity of our bodies' built-in repair and recovery mechanisms.
Dare we say, everyone should have at least one handheld massager at their home. You will not regret it, if any, you'd regret not getting it any sooner. Trust us.