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The Best Back Massager


We consulted with a massage therapist and then tested nine back massagers over a three-week period. We chose the NURSAL – Massage Seat Cushion as the best back massager overall. It has three massage styles, adjustable levels of intensity and massaging-nodule positions and a comforting heat function. The best portable back massager is the Mynt – Shiatsu Massage Pillow, a unique cordless massage pillow that’s made of memory foam, so it’s also the most comfortable to use on bony areas, such as the shoulder blades and spine. We’ve selected the cordless Pado – PureWave – CM-07 as the best handheld back massager because it’s ergonomically designed for reaching the entire length of the back.

Our Top Choices

Best Overall


NURSAL

Massage Seat Cushion

See Price at Amazon

Most Portable


Mynt

Shiatsu Massage Pillow

See Price at Amazon

Best Handheld


Pado

PureWave

See Price at Amazon

We consulted with a massage therapist and then tested nine back massagers over a three-week period. We chose the NURSAL – Massage Seat Cushion as the best back massager overall. It has three massage styles, adjustable levels of intensity and massaging-nodule positions and a comforting heat function. The best portable back massager is the Mynt – Shiatsu Massage Pillow, a unique cordless massage pillow that’s made of memory foam, so it’s also the most comfortable to use on bony areas, such as the shoulder blades and spine. We’ve selected the cordless Pado – PureWave – CM-07 as the best handheld back massager because it’s ergonomically designed for reaching the entire length of the back.

Table of contents

How we selected back massagers to test

We’ve previously reviewed leg massagers, handheld massagers and neck and shoulder massagers, so we were well-versed in the at-home massagers currently available. Our professional consultant for these reviews is Vincent Bennett, a holistic-health practitioner and massage therapist, who specializes in massage for sports injuries, shiatsu, deep-tissue massage and neuromuscular therapy.

When a client comes to Vincent for help in relieving body pain, he provides them with at-home therapy suggestions, such as exercise or application of heat or cold. “Nothing beats human touch,” says Vincent, “but a back massager can be beneficial for reducing stress, tension and anxiety, as well as improving posture through soft-tissue release and generating more flexibility.” He also warns that some of these devices can be unnecessarily difficult or cumbersome to use, and they often wind up in the closet, collecting dust.

We took Vincent’s advice under consideration, especially since we found out when testing leg massagers for our previous review that they can be aggravating to put on. We researched user-friendly back massagers and learned that the highest-rated massagers are broken down into three categories: chair cushions, massage pillows and handheld percussive massagers. We chose products in each category to test by reading through hundreds of user reviews on Amazon and Reddit.com as well as recommendations by physical therapists and massage therapists.

Many of the products in each category are similar — if not identical — in appearance, functionality and price. Most people who purchased massage seat cushions did so because this type of back massager is a fraction of the cost of the massage chairs you see in airports and malls. We selected three that were roughly the same price, but each had a unique feature (like gel-covered massage nodules) that was mentioned in online reviews.

We used the same criteria for choosing massage pillows. Since we had already reviewed handheld massagers, we chose three cordless models that we had previously tested to see how they compared with massagers that were specifically designed for back massage.

Compare the best back massagers

ProductPriceTypeBest ForEffectiveness
NURSAL$$$$Seat cushionNeck, upper back, lower back, thighs★★★★★
Mynt$$Massage pillow, cordlessNeck, lower back, thighs★★★★★
PureWave - CM-07$$$$Handheld, cordlessEntire body★★★★★
Snailax$$$$Seat cushionNeck, upper back, lower back, thighs★★★
Comfier$$$Seat cushionLower back, thighs★★
Zyllion$$Massage pillowNeck, upper back, thighs★★★
MaxKare$Massage pillowNeck, thighs★★
Renpho - EM2016C$Handheld, cordlessEntire body★★★★
Mighty Bliss - BD1372$$$$Handheld, cordlessEntire body★★★★

Massage seat cushions

Massage pillows

Handheld massagers

How we tested

These three categories required different testing, although we were looking for the same results: Did the massager relieve back pain?

Massage seat cushions

The seat cushions were the most complex because they each had multiple functions. All three massagers had two sections, a seat and back. The seat section vibrated at two or three intensities, which were supposed to massage the butt and upper thighs. We tried each intensity level on its own and in conjunction with the back section.

The back section of each massager was composed of a rigid, upright back with four round nodules covered by fabric. The nodules rotated and moved vertically up and down depending on the selected program.

All three seat massagers had a shiatsu massage — the nodules revolved and pressed down the spine — that we adjusted to increase or decrease intensity and paused to massage one isolated area. Only the NURSAL, however, had a true shiatsu massage, in which the nodules didn’t revolve and moved vertically very slowly down the spine.

The NURSAL and Snailax had a kneading massage, during which the nodules revolved clockwise then counterclockwise and moved vertically up and down the spine. The kneading massage was the strongest, and the revolving motion targeted back muscles on either side of the spine. We found the kneading massage uncomfortable and even painful along mid-spine and tailbone where there is less muscle.

The NURSAL and Snailax also had a separate neck section, which has its own four revolving nodules. We tested this section separately and in conjunction with both the back section and seat section. Both massagers had a control for isolating the neck nodules on one particular part of the neck. We found this feature helpful because the back section reached to below our testers’ shoulders, and they could control the neck nodules to massage the lower muscles of their necks that connect with their shoulders.

Manufacturers for all three massagers claim that the massager can be laid flat on the floor. We tried this out, and both testers found the nodules were too painful in this position, particularly along the spine.

Massage pillows

Massage pillows are designed for massaging isolated muscles on any part of the body. The three we tested were approximately the same curved lozenge shape and size: 12 inches long and 7 or 8 inches wide. The pillows have four nodules that revolve clockwise for 30 seconds then counterclockwise for 30 seconds. This motion simulates a kneading action and is effective for massaging knotted muscles in isolation.

We tested the massage pillows on various muscle groups but primarily on the back and neck. The pillows were sturdy enough to be leaned against, but too much body weight did affect the pillows’ motors, slowing them down almost to a complete halt.

All three pillows had electrical adapters with 4-foot power cords, which at times unplugged when our testers switched position. The Mynt pillow, however, had a chargeable battery, and with no power cord, it was the most portable and convenient.

Each pillow came with a car adapter, and our testers tried them out in their cars. The pillows could be used comfortably in the passenger seat. In the driver’s seat, the pillows could be used propped against the headrest for a neck massage but not for the lower back, because their bulk pushed the testers too close to the steering wheel.

Handheld massagers

Like the massage pillows, the handheld massagers are meant for working isolated muscles. Our testers focused on neck and back muscles. All three massagers were lightweight — no more than 2 pounds — and had the same design: an elongated wand with a bulb-shaped head that encases the motor. The head bears the bulk of the weight so it can be dangled down the length of the back.

Once the cordless massagers were charged in one to two hours, our testers worked through each attachment, beginning with neck muscles and then gradually moving down the back. They massaged at the lowest intensity for five minutes and increased intensity. If the attachment was uncomfortable or painful, however, they stopped and switched attachments.

Overall, our testers found that the handheld massagers were the most versatile but only for massaging isolated muscles for a short period of time.

Best overall: NURSAL – Seat Cushion

The NURSAL is a full-back massage seat cushion with three massage styles, adjustable neck and seat massage and stylish detailing. It has four revolving nodules for the back and neck sections that can be programmed to revolve in either a clockwise or counter-clockwise direction, remain stationary or move up and down vertically.

The other seat massagers we tested had two massage styles — shiatsu or kneading — but the NURSAL has a third “wave” massage in which the nodules revolve in alternating circles, creating a wavy sensation. The kneading massage is quite strong, kneading deep into muscles; the wave is more gentle and relaxing.

The NURSAL’s shiatsu massage differs from other massagers: The nodules don’t revolve but slowly move up and down. Our testers found this massage style most closely simulated the pressing action of a massage therapist’s hands. The shiatsu massage is particularly effective for relieving lower back pain, and when the “spot” function is selected, you can freeze the nodules in place to focus on a knotted muscle.

Best Overall: NURSAL - Massage Seat Cushion

With three different massage styles, adjustable levels of intensity and a comforting heating function, the NURSAL is a well-priced option for helping relieve back and neck pain.

The neck section only performs a kneading massage, but you can choose to massage your entire neck or adjust it with a button up or down to pinpoint one section of your neck. All of the nodules are heated, which our testers loved, but it can also be deactivated if you prefer a cool massage.

The NURSAL also has a heated vibrating cushion with three intensity levels, the highest being the most soothing to lower thigh muscles. The seat back measures 30 inches tall — the tallest of the three seat massagers we tested. Both testers were over 6 feet tall, and although the massager didn’t reach their shoulders, the neck section could be adjusted downward to reach lower neck muscles that connect to the shoulder.

With its black and gray leatherette detailing, the NURSAL is designed to look like a car seat, and a car adapter is included. However, even with our tester’s car seat extended far back, the NURSAL pushed him close to the steering wheel, making it impossible to drive safely.

The NURSAL is sturdy, and even when our testers used it on the floor, the motor didn’t stall from their body weight. This is a well-made product, and if you don’t want to invest in a massage chair, this competitively priced back massager is the next best thing for helping you relieve back and neck pain.

Key takeaways:

  • The NURSAL massage seat cushion has three strong massage styles that can be programmed to work up and down the entire back and neck.
  • Its shiatsu massage mode most closely simulates a massage therapist’s hands pressing slowly down the spine.
  • Although a car adapter is included, the NURSAL is better suited to an upright position at home or the office.

Most portable: Mynt – Massage Pillow

The Mynt – Shiatsu Massage Pillow is the most comfortable and — because it’s cordless — most convenient back massager on the market today. In 2018, the Mynt won the iF World Design Excellence Award for its streamlined design, innovative materials and smart battery technology.

The Mynt is the same lozenge shape of other massage pillows, and it has four revolving nodules that heat up. But that’s where the similarities end. Unlike other massagers, the nodules are flattened, so they don’t poke painfully into your back.

The Mynt’s casing isn’t made of hard plastic: It’s made of memory foam, which makes the pillow pliable and comfortable on bony areas like the spine. Its fabric cover is made of a polyester/Spandex blend, as is the honeycombed stretchy material on the pillow’s face. When the pillow is on, the nodules ripple sensuously beneath this material, which is soothing against bare skin.

Most Portable: Mynt - Shiatsu Massage Pillow

This is the only cordless massage pillow on the market, and it can be used anywhere to relieve back pain or any other sore muscle group.

The most obvious difference is that the Mynt is cordless. It charges in an hour and holds its charge for two hours. Once charged, you can use the Mynt anywhere and massage any body part without being tied to a power cord or worry that it will disconnect when you shift position.

An additional feature is a pocket on the back of the massager for your hand, something no other massager has. The Spandex material clings to your hand, which allows you to hold the pillow against any muscle. The Mynt can also be used to massage tired feet; our testers found this to be especially relaxing and the most like an actual shiatsu massage.

The Mynt is only a few dollars more than the Zyllion, and it’s a far superior product for relieving back pain or any other muscle ache.

Key takeaways:

  • The Mynt is a cordless massage pillow, so it can be used anywhere for massaging back or any other muscle pain.
  • Its casing is made of memory foam, so it’s pliable, and its stretchy polyester/Spandex fabric blend is soft on bare skin.
  • The Mynt is reasonably priced for such a well-designed, well-made and sturdy massage pillow.

Best handheld: Pado – PureWave

The Pado – PureWave CM-07 is a cordless handheld massager, lightweight and ergonomically designed for reaching the entire length of the back. It has six attachments, one of which — the mushroom-shaped air-cushioned disc — is specifically for massaging bony areas, like the spine and shoulders.

The PureWave charges in one hour and stays charged for two hours or longer. It’s a sleek 16 inches long with a rubberized handle that’s half the length, so you can grip it by the end and dangle it down to your lower back muscles. It weighs only 1 ½ pounds, so it’s easy to hold over your shoulders or behind the back so you can reach your upper back muscles.

Most other handheld massagers we tested had a ball attachment for massaging areas with more bone than muscle; however, they were all uncomfortable to use since the percussive action bounces the ball off bone. The PureWave patented Air-Cushion disc is a soft rubber half-sphere that absorbs the intense vibration and glides over bony areas, like the shoulder blades, neck and even feet.

You can use the PureWave to massage any body part, but it has a unique facial massage function as well. By flicking the power switch, the PureWave’s dual-action motor switches from the percussive massage on one end of the device to a gentle vibration at the opposite end. A special attachment is designed for massaging the forehead and lines around the eyes and mouth.

Best Handheld: Pado - PureWave - CM-07

The PureWave is a cordless, lightweight massager that allows you to massage your entire back, neck and shoulders with ease.

We also loved the PureWave’s ergonomically designed stand for holding the massager and all of the attachments. The head balances in the top of the stand — seemingly defying gravity — and the handle is arched towards you, so it’s ready to be picked up at any time.

The PureWave is about the same price as the NURSAL – Massage Seat Cushion and more than twice the price of the Mynt – Massage Pillow, both of which can only be used for massaging your neck, back and lower thighs. The PureWave, however, is a massager you can use to give a deep massage to any part of your body. It’s much higher quality than other handheld massagers, and its flexibility and unique dual-function motor that no other massager has are worth the extra cost.

Key takeaways:

  • The PureWave CM-07 is lightweight and ergonomically designed to balance in your hand so you can easily massage hard-to-reach places on your back.
  • It has a special air-cushioned disc attachment for massaging bony areas like the spine and shoulder blades.
  • The PureWave is more expensive than other handheld massagers, but its effective attachments and excellent storage stand are worth the added cost.

Other back massagers we tested

Snailax

Snailax’s newest massage seat cushion gives an effective massage, but we detected little difference between its gel-covered nodules and those of the Nursal to justify the Snailax’s substantial price increase. Like the Nursal, the Snailax has heated shiatsu massage for the neck, heated shiatsu and rolling massage for the back and heated vibration massage for the seat.

The Snailax has more choices than the Nursal for adjusting the neck massage. But our testers had to either lean hard against the neck section or actually hold it down for the nodules to reach the entire length of their necks. The vibrating seat cushion is for massaging the butt and upper thighs, but it only vibrates on the edge of the cushion, not in the center, so our testers found it to be irritating rather than soothing.

Snailax advertises that the massager can be laid out flat on the floor. This proved to be very uncomfortable as the nodules — even gel-covered — stuck into our testers’ backs and poked painfully in their spines. We also noted that the motor began to grind from the weight of their bodies, so in reality, the Snailax can only be used in an upright chair. For such an expensive back massager, we also thought its fabric cover looked and felt cheap.

Comfier

Half the price of the Snailax, the Comfier back massager feels more solid and better made. Rather than a straight back, it has a scooped bucket seat, which allowed our testers to sit deep into the massager. Its sleek design, however, had both positive and negative test results.

On the positive side, the Comfier gave a really deep massage to the lower back muscles and lower spine. However, the massager’s curvature forced our testers to press their upper backs into the seat to feel the nodules. The Comfier’s heat function doesn’t extend the entire length of the chair, so our testers’ shoulders felt cold against the massager’s leatherette trim.

The Comfier does not have a neck-massage function, which is likely why it’s one of the least expensive back massagers on Amazon. It measures 24 inches tall, but the actual massage section is 21 inches, so the Comfier is better suited for a person with a short torso.

Zyllion

The Zyllion massage pillow is one of the most popular and highest-rated massage products on Amazon. Our testers have actually used the Zyllion for more than two years, and it had been a favorite product for relieving occasional muscle pain, until they tested the Mynt. The Zyllion is a sturdy and well-made massage pillow, slightly larger than other massage pillows, and its strong motor continuously revolves the pillow’s four nodules, even with full body weight pressing down on it.

The Zyllion’s hard plastic casing, however, makes the pillow uncomfortable and even painful on any bony areas, so you can’t use it to massage the spine or shoulder blades: The Zyllion can only be used on muscle. Like the other back massagers, it needs to be plugged in, and the short cord often breaks free from the connector to the pillow when you shift your position.

MaxKare

The MaxKare is a lower-cost massage pillow and is similar to the Zyllion. It has the same design, four massage nodules and heat function. Its heat is activated by pushing the power button several times, and even after letting it run for 15 minutes, it never got hotter than warm. The MaxKare has a foam back, but it’s encased, like the Zyllion, in hard plastic, so it’s uncomfortable to lean against for massaging the upper and mid-back and spine.

The MaxKare has a car adapter, and when driving, it’s good for massaging neck muscles. But when our testers shifted it lower in the car seat and leaned against it, the MaxKare’s motor couldn’t handle the weight and ground to a halt.

Renpho – EM-2016C

The Renpho – EM-2016C handheld massager is similar to the other massagers we tested, but it has a few features the others don’t have. It has a powerful single-head motor and two massaging modes: continuous and pulsating. When the pulsating function is engaged, the motor pulses in short bursts that increase in speed. This mode is especially effective when massaging a particular knotty muscle by simulating a shiatsu massage.

The Renpho weighs a little bit more than the PureWave, and its single-head motor is a little wider, but it’s still a slim and lightweight massager that’s well-balanced. Its short handle has a rubberized grip, and it’s easy to hold. But if you’re a tall person or have a long torso, the Renpho won’t reach the full length of your back.

That said, its three-pronged triangle attachment is great for massaging both muscle and bony areas, including down the spine. Like the PureWave, a storage stand is included, but it has only two slots for the five attachments. The Renpho isn’t as sophisticated as the more expensive PureWave, but it will help relieve sore muscles at a budget price.

Mighty Bliss – BD1372

The Mighty Bliss – BD1372 is a cordless handheld massager, which its manufacturer aggressively markets as better than our top pick, the PureWave. Mighty Bliss has an identical design: a sleek, curved wand that’s 16 inches in length. Even the six massage attachments are virtually the same, including the air-cushion disc.

It’s lightweight and balances well in the hand, and holding it from the shoulders, you can reach the base of your spine. The major difference we discerned between the two is that Mighty Bliss’s lower intensity tends to make the attachment bounce painfully on bony areas, so we had to keep the intensity level on the higher settings at all times.

The Mighty Bliss is only a few dollars cheaper than the PureWave, but it doesn’t have the facial-massage mode, nor does it come with a storage stand.

The bottom line

As we learned during our testing, different back massagers let you focus on massaging particular muscles with a variety of techniques and intensities. None, however, do as good a job as a massage therapist.

The best back massager overall is the NURSAL – Massage Seat Cushion. It has three different massage styles with adjustable intensity levels and a program for isolating its massage nodules onto a particular knotted muscle or sore area. Its shiatsu massage function came the closest to feeling like the pressure applied by a massage therapist. The NURSAL also has a heated vibrating cushion for delivering a more gentle and soothing massage to lower thighs. It’s a sturdy and well-made massager that’s a fraction of the cost of a massage chair.

One portable option is the cordless Mynt – Shiatsu Massage Pillow, which we found to be the most comfortable and convenient of the massage pillows we tested. Its design surpasses other massage pillows on the market: Its flattened nodules don’t poke painfully in bony areas, like the spine, and it’s made of memory foam and a polyester-Spandex blend, which make it pliable and comfortable.

The Pado – PureWave CM-07 is a cordless handheld massager that’s lightweight and ergonomically designed for reaching the entire length of the back. It’s more expensive than similar handheld massagers, but its six effective attachments and functional and stylish storage stand, which no other massager has, are worth the price.

Best Overall: NURSAL - Massage Seat Cushion

The NURSAL’s strong massage options allow you to massage your entire back and neck all at once or individual knotted and painful muscles.

Gene Gerrard, Writer

Gene has written about a wide variety of topics for too many years to count. He's been a professional chef, cooking-appliance demonstrator, playwright, director, editor of accountancy and bank-rating books, Houdini expert and dog lover (still is). When he's not writing for Your Best Digs, he's performing as a magician at the Magic Castle in Hollywood.

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