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10 Best Neck Massagers Review for Jan. 2020 To Get Rid Of That Pain In The Neck – with Buying Guide
The US National Institutes of Health claims that “massage therapy may be helpful for neck or shoulder pain, but the benefits may only last for a short time.”
Try telling that to the millions of people who rely on neck massagers not only to relieve or manage chronic pain, but to improve their range of motion, relieve stress and headaches, help them sleep better – and generally improve their quality of life.
For them, massage therapy is much more than just “helpful…for a short time.” It’s a godsend.
It’s true that one or two massages won’t permanently relieve most neck pain issues. Massages on any part of the body must usually be performed regularly for their benefits to be enjoyed over the long term.
But you already know that. After all, you’re not visiting this Groom+Style page in search of a one-time, in-person massage. You’re looking for the best device to provide you with regular, relaxing neck massages in the comfort of your home, office or car.
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Whether you need to treat severe and chronic neck pain, or simply want to be able to enjoy the luxury of a neck massage whenever your muscles feel tight – the G+S review team has you covered.
We’ve gone in-depth on the many types of neck massagers on the market, learning about the varied techniques they use and evaluating their performance. Here are our top ten choices, along with a buying guide to help you navigate the often-complicated details of neck massage devices.
Best Neck Massagers
1. Brookstone Shiatsu Neck & Back Massager
Here’s the gold standard of neck massagers, which until recently was only available at Brookstone stores. You can now find it on Amazon, and it’s worth finding. This is an exceptionally well-constructed unit which isn’t going to wear down or fall apart after a few uses. The give in the material makes it comfortable to wear, and the nodes are built into several different parts of the massager so it can be aligned accurately to hit your sweet spots. The padded arm straps are easy to maneuver and long enough to accommodate users of all heights, allowing you to easily reach painful areas or tight muscles.
There are eight deep-kneading nodes in the Brookstone massager, and the simple control panel is on the left arm strap within easy reach. There are three built-in massage programs, allowing you to choose between single direction, auto-reversing or timed interval massages; there’s also the ability to add heat to your massage for additional relaxation.
So the details are great – but what about the massage itself? In a word, terrific. The flexibility of the Brookstone lets you position it just right, it provides a deep relaxing and effective Shiatsu massage, and the optional heat function makes the experience even better. The review team was impressed. (If you prefer to be mobile and not stuck near an outlet, Brookstone also offers a cordless version of this massager.)
The Brookstone Shiatsu neck massager is the most expensive option in our rankings. We wouldn’t hesitate to spend the money.
Facts and figures for the Brookstone Shiatsu Neck & Back Massager:
2. Gideon Massage Pillow
By definition, a smaller massage pillow isn’t going to deliver a massage as complete and effective as a larger Shiatsu unit. The Gideon, however, does a remarkable job for such a small massager. If you position it properly and move it around to hit your problem spots as necessary, you’ll be delighted with the experience.
There are eight small balls inside this pillow, which measures 13 inches wide and 7 inches high and can be strapped to the back of a chair. Six balls are on top and rotate clockwise, while the two bottom balls rotate counterclockwise. After two minutes they reverse directions. There are no settings to change the intensity of the massage; you do that by pressing your neck more firmly against the pillow. You can also turn on gentle heat to add to the massage, if desired.
For the ultimate neck massage, you’re going to want something like the Brookstone Shiatsu model. But the Gideon’s massage is powerful in the limited area is covers, it’s definitely relaxing, and it helps much more with tight muscles than G+S first expected. It’s much cheaper than the Brookstone, too. The Gideon pillow can be plugged into a regular AC outlet, or into a car outlet with the included DC power cord.
Those who aren’t sure whether a neck massager would help them could do a lot worse than starting with the Gideon, and then upgrading to a larger and more expensive Shiatsu model once they feel the benefits of working their neck muscles regularly.
More info on the Gideon Massage Pillow:
3. Healthmate Forever YK15AB TENS Pulse Massager
TENS devices don’t work for everyone, but they’re extremely effective for many patients and Healthmate Forever is the world’s leading manufacturer of TENS machines for home use. You won’t find one of these devices designed only for neck massages, but the YK15AB has the flexibility to deliver tiny electronic pulses to most parts of the body for pain control and muscle relaxation. And the clearly-labeled buttons on the control panel (which looks like a home phone) allow you to choose, for example, “neck,” “shoulder” and “back,” so you just attach the eight self-adhesive gel pads to the area you want to massage and away you go.
There are twenty selectable levels of intensity, along with six therapeutic massage modes on the Healthmate Forever TENS unit: knead, acupuncture, tapping, cupping, scraping and random. This allows you to start slowly and get used to the rather-strange sensation of electrical muscle stimulation, and increase the power or change the massage style at your own speed.
It does feel odd at first when you’re expecting a massage and instead feel a tingling, but the goal isn’t to give muscles a hard workout. It’s to interrupt pain signals sent through the nervous system and stimulate contraction of the muscles so they naturally relax. The YK15AB does that as well as any home unit you’ll find, at a very reasonable price.
An added bonus is that this model is a combination TENS/EMS system, so you can also deliver higher-voltage stimulation, strengthen muscles after workouts or during rehabilitation. The Healthmate Forever runs on three AAA batteries.
TENS units have been used for decades in medical settings, and many patients have found them to be effective tools in managing their pain. Healthmate Forever makes it easy and affordable to the same thing do at home.
Details on the Healthmate Forever YK15AB TENS Pulse Massager:
4. Nektech Back, Neck and Shoulder Massager
In the Groom+Style buying guide that follows these reviews, we mention that many manufacturers label their neck massagers as “Shiatsu” models even though they technically don’t replicate the Shiatsu massage experience. The Nektech is one of those – but it delivers a terrific deep-tissue kneading massage that can more than make up for the misleading description.
Rather than using nodes made up of balls and rollers, as a Shiatsu machine would, the Nektech massages the neck with springy heads which contact and knead key acupressure points in the neck. The process releases the tension in neck muscles and eases pain, leaving you feel more flexible and relaxed. The default setting works muscles for ten minutes in either a clockwise or counterclockwise direction (you choose the direction, in addition to choosing one of three speeds), but you can also opt for a message that alternates directions every sixty seconds.
The Nektech has a gentle heating function if you choose to use it, and it comes with a car adapter so you can relieve the stress of sitting in traffic as well. Like the Brookstone, this massager has long arm straps which let you position the massager exactly where you want it to be; it can be used to massage other areas like the tummy, legs or back as well.
The Nektech’s massage isn’t quite as complete and satisfying as one you’ll get from a true Shiatsu machine like the Brookstone, but it’s a very good massage for a much lower price.
Digging deeper on the Nektech Back, Neck and Shoulder Massager:
5. Resteck Massager For Back And Neck
Here’s a less-expensive Shiatsu neck massager option. It’s designed much like the Brookstone which is the G+S #1 choice, but you’re not paying for the brand name or – quite frankly – the higher-quality materials. There are still eight massage nodes, long arm straps to facilitate proper positioning, and easy-to-find control buttons on the left arm strap. And, while the Resteck doesn’t deliver exactly the same massage experience as the Brookstone, it’s very, very close.
The nodes operate bi-directionally, alternating between clockwise and counterclockwise every minute, although you can override the set program to have them rotate in just one direction. You’re able to adjust the amount of pressure delivered by the nodes, you can add a heated massage if you like, and there’s a car adapter and a carrying case provided with the massager.
A very good Shiatsu massage at a much lower price makes the Resteck worth serious consideration, if you’re not quite ready to commit to a big-ticket neck massager.
Specs on the Resteck Massager For Back And Neck:
6. Zyllion ZMA-13-BK Back and Neck Massager
This model is close in design and performance to the Gideon pillow massager the review team described earlier in our rankings, and it’s priced nearly identically as well. We offer it as a second option for those who want a smaller but effective neck massager, because both the Gideon and Zyllion go in and out of stock on Amazon fairly regularly.
If we had to choose, we’d opt for the Gideon because the Zyllion has only four rotating balls inside (the Gideon has eight) which are programmed to change direction every sixty seconds. That results in a less-intense massage, which hits fewer spots on the neck without regular repositioning of the pillow. Even so, it’s a relaxing experience, and can ease muscle pain with just one or two sessions – and since the design of these small massagers requires regular repositioning of the pillow (or neck) several times during a session, G+S doesn’t see the fewer massage balls as a fatal flaw.
There’s a heating function you can use to increase the effect of the massage, and the Zyllion has straps which allow you to attach it to a chair or the seat in your car.
The ZMA-13-BK isn’t the best pillow massager out there, but it’s a good second choice for those who want a small, portable unit.
The lowdown on the Zyllion ZMA-13-BK Back and Neck Massager:
7. InvoSpa Shiatsu Back, Shoulder and Neck Massager
You’re not going to find a quality Shiatsu neck massager in the bargain bin; the complicated workings of these units don’t lend themselves to corner-cutting by the manufacturers. But this is the “budget” choice that the review team endorses, slightly cheaper than the Resteck (with an extra discount coupon often available on Amazon) and still a very good performer with an added heat massage function.
Four large nodes and four small nodes are responsible for the Shiatsu deep tissue massage delivered by the InvoSpa, and they reverse directions every minute to work muscles, relieve stress and ease pain. You can choose from three intensity levels, plus the heat massage option mentioned above. The arm straps on this unit aren’t as long as they are on the Brookstone or Resteck, so maneuvering the massager to hit the right spots is a bit more difficult. It shouldn’t be a problem, though, unless you have very long arms. A car adapter and carrying bag are included.
You’re not going to save a ton of money going with the InvoSpa instead of the Resteck – but you’ll receive essentially the same pain and stress relief benefits for a few bucks less.
More info on the InvoSpa Shiatsu Back, Shoulder and Neck Massager:
8. Five S FS8801 Deep Tissue Kneading Massager
At the risk of repeating ourselves, you won’t find a good-quality deep tissue massager similar to the Nektech model we’ve reviewed, at a startling-low price. But as we did with the InvoSpa and Resteck, we wanted to offer an option that’s comparable to the Nektech which lets you save a few extra bucks. The Five S kneading massager is that option.
It has the same eight kneading rollers as the Nektech, it can be switched so the rollers operate either clockwise or counterclockwise, and there are three speeds to choose from. The auto-programmed mode runs for 15 minutes instead of ten, the arm straps are longer, and the heat is a bit lower than it is with the Nektech. In all other respects, though, the Five S and Nektech are very similar deep tissue massagers – which provide very similar, satisfying massages.
You won’t be disappointed by the relaxing massage you receive from the Five S FS8801, but you’ll be pleased to save a few bucks if you choose it instead of the higher-rated alternative.
Detailed info on the Five S FS8801 Deep Tissue Kneading Massager:
9. PurePulse TENS Electronic Pulse Stimulator
Completing our selection of three “budget” selections is the PurePulse TENS machine. It’s a tad cheaper than the Healthmate and doesn’t offer as many customization options, but the electronic muscle stimulation it provides is noticeable, real, and effective for many patients.
You can choose from massage, knead and beat settings (the Healthmate offers six stimulation modes instead of three) and it’s programmed to provide different massage intensities for six areas instead of nine. More importantly, you’ll have to use either the shoulder or joint settings to work your neck muscles, but that works out just fine if you place the four gel pads (the Healthmate has eight) in the proper spots. The PurePulse also doesn’t have the alternative EMS function built into the Healthmate. The machine runs on four AAA batteries.
You should have the picture by now: with the PurePulse machine, you pay less and you get less. But what you get is still a TENS experience, which can stimulate your muscles and ease chronic pain.
Details on the PurePulse TENS Electronic Pulse Stimulator:
10. Vive Massage Roller Ball
Our final neck massager is very different than the other nine products on the Groom+Style rankings. It’s a pair of massage roller balls, each of which fits neatly into the palm of the hand to allow manual massage and manipulation of pressure points in the neck (and elsewhere on the body).
Self-massage isn’t for everyone, as it has more of a learning curve and requires more physical exertion. But these ergonomically-designed balls allow the manually-dexterous to tailor their massage to their exact needs, whether they want light pressure or a strong deep-tissue workout.
These are almost frictionless, so there’s no extraordinary physical exertion needed to feel the benefit of the Vive massage balls – and since they’re small and don’t require power, they can be taken and used anywhere. The balls are high-quality, hypoallergenic, and half the price of any other neck massager that the review team has recommended.
Do-it-yourself massage isn’t easy, but the Vive roller balls make the process a whole lot simpler than trying to manipulate your muscles with fingers, palms and a mirror.
Details on the Vive Massage Roller Ball:
Neck Massager Buying Guide
Some products are easy to understand, easy to choose – and easy to describe.
Neck massagers don’t fall into that category. In fact, they’re one of the most confusing products to explain in simple English. That’s because the terms that describe massage techniques and devices are often used differently by manufacturers and experts.
Don’t worry, though. The G+S review team is ready to start at the beginning and walk you through it all.
The Most Common Term You’ll See: Shiatsu
Shiatsu is a popular massage technique which dates back to 6th century Japan. It was developed according to ancient Asian philosophies, theories of Chinese medicine, and the belief that it’s crucial to balance the body’s “qi” (or circulating life force) – but that’s a discussion for another time.
What’s important to know is that Shiatsu literally means “finger pressure.” It relies on a therapist generating pressure with their fingers and palms, applied to specific pressure points on the patient’s body.
The Shiatsu technique is well-suited to neck massages, because it promotes relaxation while relieving muscle tightness which is often the cause of chronic neck and back pain. It is also effective for many patients suffering from headaches, sinus and bronchial problems and sleep issues.
You may already have noticed the first source of confusion. If Shiatsu requires the use of fingers and palms to apply pressure to precise spots, how can an electronic or mechanical device deliver a Shiatsu massage?
For most electronic neck massagers, it’s done through the use of internal rollers and balls. They’re combined into groups called “nodes,” which are programmed to move and rotate in different directions to mimic the work that would otherwise be done by a therapist’s hands.
The nodes in a massager work different muscles, at different angles, as they rotate. That allows them to hit most (if not all) of the important pressure points in the neck, and the best models are able to replicate an effective Shiatsu massage.
The second source of confusion can be blamed on marketing departments. Some companies understand that Shiatsu is a buzzword that attracts buyers, so they use the term to describe any neck massager which relies on moving parts, whether or not it actually delivers a massage similar to the time-honored technique.
Finally, there are manufacturers who brag about the number of nodes in their neck massagers, as if that’s the sole factor that determines effectiveness. That’s far from the truth. Saying that one Shiatsu unit is better than another because it has eight nodes instead of four, is like saying that an abandoned and poorly-maintained 10-room house is a better place to live than a newly-built luxury home in an upscale neighborhood. How well a massager works is more important than just how many nodes it has.
The review team clearly identifies Shiatsu neck massagers in our rankings, of course, but digs deeper into what makes them work and whether or not they’re a good choice.
Other Types of Neck Massages
Some popular types of massages aren’t ideal for the neck, or can’t be properly performed by massagers you can purchase online. Deep tissue massages, for example, require a therapist to work muscles so deeply that a machine can’t reproduce the technique. Percussion massagers are large and may deliver too much of a jolt for those in pain. And Thai massage involves stretching and twisting the body into positions which can only be done effectively in a massage studio.
However, there are other neck massage techniques which work for both pain relief and relaxation, and can be simulated by electronic or manual units.
Some neck massagers combine several techniques; it’s most common to see units which add heat to a Shiatsu, kneading or vibration massage.
Controlling a Neck Massager
The type of massage a unit provides is one important buying criterion. The amount of control you have over that massage is another.
There are three very different ways that neck massagers allow you to “customize” your experience.
Those aren’t the only types of controls you’ll find on a neck massager, of course. Various models allow you to choose the speed, direction and length of your massage (or the amount of heat delivered), and the Groom+Style team has noted the control and flexibility of each device in our in-depth reviews and rankings.
Other Neck Massager Buying Considerations
We’ve briefly discussed a few of these factors to take into consideration when buying a neck massager. Some need a little more elaboration, while several others should also be mentioned.
The number of nodes in a Shiatsu massager isn’t the be-all and end-all, but it’s important. Most will have either four or eight nodes; lesser choices will have just two and some expensive models will have as many as 12. The nodes don’t all have to be the same size; some of the best massagers will have an assortment of larger and smaller nodes (for instance, four large and four small), targeted at the most important areas of the neck. In short: go beyond the numbers to understand how well the massager actually works – the G+S team has done our best to help you with that in our reviews.
Power and portability go hand-in-hand when buying a neck massager. You can find both battery-powered and plug-in models; battery units need frequent recharging (every 2-3 hours) if you use them regularly and at high vibration/heat settings, but their portability may be a major advantage if you want to use them outdoors, at work or in the car. Plug-in units won’t require battery changes or recharges, but they do tether you to the power cord. A few massagers also will run on your car’s battery power.
Some small massagers are designed specifically for use areas like the neck. Other larger models are more versatile because they can be used on your back, torso and thighs. If all you’re interested in is a neck massage, smaller is better. If you plan on treating your entire body, though, a larger massager may be the best choice.
You’ll also want to check how much control you have over the massage functions (speed or strength adjustments, and the ability to reverse the direction of the massage, will add to your massage experience), and naturally, price and durability will factor in as well.
Frequently Asked Questions About Neck Massagers
Q: Is a neck massager as effective as seeing a massage therapist?
Q: But do these things really work?
Q: What do medical experts say?
Q: Which massage technique is best for the neck?
Q: Are TENS units a good choice?
Q: What about chair massage?
Q: Can pregnant women use a neck massager?
Another popular option used by people who suffer from neck pain is to upgrade their shower head to one that massages – our shower head review provides some appropriate models!