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The Best Neck & Shoulder Massager

Updated


After more than 40 hours of initial testing on eight products and over 6 months of long-term testing, extensive discussions with our 10-person focus group and conversations with nationally recognized research doctors, we determined that the RESTECK – Shiatsu Neck and Back Massager is the best neck massager on the market. Its premium build quality, simple operation and effective pain relief make it a strong winner. If you want a hands-free massager, the Gideon – Shiatsu Massage Pillow is small, portable and especially suitable for the car, bed or office.

Our Top Choices

Best Overall


RESTECK

Neck Massager

Most Portable


Gideon

Massage Pillow

After more than 40 hours of initial testing on eight products and over 6 months of long-term testing, extensive discussions with our 10-person focus group and conversations with nationally recognized research doctors, we determined that the RESTECK – Shiatsu Neck and Back Massager is the best neck massager on the market. Its premium build quality, simple operation and effective pain relief make it a strong winner. If you want a hands-free massager, the Gideon – Shiatsu Massage Pillow is small, portable and especially suitable for the car, bed or office.

Table of contents

(Editor’s note: In 2019 we learned that our previous top pick, the Brookstone – Shiatsu Neck & Back Massager, had been discontinued. Since the style of the Brookstone massager was so favored by our first focus group, we retested only shiatsu-style massagers for this update.)

How we selected finalists to test

While researching neck massagers, we discovered that there isn’t a defining industry leader or even a group of brand names that are strongly associated with the category. On top of that, there are literally hundreds of options available on Amazon and other stores. For someone with lots of muscle aches and pains, the selection can be overwhelming.

In order to narrow the list down, the first thing we did was eliminate any massagers that didn’t have at least a four-star rating on Amazon. We also looked for massagers that were positively reviewed by at least a few websites, including Consumer Reports and others.

Another decision we had to make was whether to limit the finalists to electric massagers or include one of the many “manual” massagers available as well. After speaking to several doctors, including Dr. Rapaport of Emory University, we decided to stick with electric massagers only.

There were a few reasons that led us to this decision. Ultimately, it was the fact that high-quality electric massagers will produce the therapeutic and medical benefits of a neck massage more consistently. Manual massagers, on the other hand, require the user to have strength, flexibility and at least some knowledge of technique.

Plus, having an electric massager is just more relaxing in general.

Compare the best neck & shoulder massagers

  1. RESTECK – Shiatsu Neck Massager
  2. Brookstone Shiatsu Neck & Shoulder Massager with Heat (discontinued)
  3. Gideon – Shiatsu Massage Pillow
  4. Naipo – Shiatsu Back and Neck Massager
  5. LiBa Shiatsu Massager
  6. Nekteck – Neck and Back Massager
  7. PurePulse Electronic Pulse Massager
  8. Zyllion Shiatsu Pillow Massager

How we tested

Any time we test a product that has one primary purpose, the most important metric is, of course, how well it performs that task. While that was also true for neck massagers, measuring “pain relief” can be difficult to quantify. One person’s rating of a muscle ache or pain could be completely different than the next person’s.

In order to make our data more qualitative and to control for the variety of ways that people rank muscle aches and pains, we gathered a group of 10 different people, with a range of ages and other demographics, as an ad-hoc focus group.

Along with the focus group we looked at the functionality of each massager, how easy they were to set up and transport, as well as the materials used and overall build quality of each massager.

2019 Update

For this 2019 update, we followed the same procedure as when we first published this article. A focus group of four testers (two males and two females encompassing all age demographics) provided us with their thoughts on the additional products. They gave each model a numerical rating on the same metrics used in our original focus group. We compared these with the scores of our original models to determine our top choice.

Using a focus group to gain insight

We took an in-depth look into each of our five finalists. However, determining a “best” neck massager can be subjective, since everyone’s opinion on what constitutes a “good” neck massage can differ.

We used the feedback from our focus group participants alongside our own analysis and testing of the products to determine the best option available.

One of the primary benefits of using a neck massager is the fact that, unlike a professional massage therapist, it can be used any time. Daily or weekly use of a neck massager is key to maximizing the health benefits of neck massage in general, so our focus group questions were oriented around metrics that would indicate (and encourage) regular use of the product.

We wanted to know how much better (or worse) their muscles felt before and after using each massager and whether their overall pain level was reduced in a significant way.

These are the results of our focus group:

focus group results chart

Aesthetics and style

While the appearance of each neck massager is certainly not the most important measurement used when picking a product, it still makes a difference in the purchasing process.

If the product owner thinks the item looks tacky, more often than not it’ll end up in the closet or a drawer somewhere and will probably be used less often. If, on the other hand, a massager is well-designed, it’ll be more likely to stay in the bedroom or living room, where it will probably be used more often to reduce muscle aches and pains.

Several of the finalists we tested had virtually the same look and style, but the Necktek won over our focus group with its faux leather finish. It rated highest with a score of 7.7. Our top pick, the RESTECK, slightly edged out our top portable pick, the Gideon, with respective scores of 7.5 and 7.

User friendliness

When we selected our five neck & shoulder massager finalists, we made a point of selecting products that were simple and straightforward to operate to help relieve some pain without causing operation pains.

The only exception, the PurePulse, is still fairly simple to operate once you’ve read the instructions. However, it is certainly more complicated to operate than the other finalists. This was ultimately reflected in the score the PurePulse received amongst our focus group participants.

In this category, our top portable pick, the Gideon, slightly beat out the RESTECK with scores of nine and 8.8. The Naipo was another highly rated model, with a score of 8.8.

Design

We asked each of our focus group participants to rate the overall design of each massager. Unlike the “aesthetics and style” question, design is more closely linked to general usability, as well as the ergonomics and layout of the neck massager itself. In this category, the RESTECK was far ahead of the pack with a score of 8.5. The PurePulse, on the other hand, only achieved a score of 3.8.

Pain relief

Pain relief is, of course, the most important measurement when rating neck massagers. For the purposes of our focus group, we asked our participants to group anything that could be considered “pain relief” — including relaxation, muscle ache reduction, decreases in muscle tension, improved blood circulation, sense of well-being and reduction in any pain they had before using the massager — into this category.

All of our finalists fared reasonably well in this category, but the RESTECK (our top pick) was hands-down the standout.

Would you use it again?

This question is somewhat redundant to the rest of the questions we asked, but we really wanted to drive home the point that a neck massager is only beneficial if it is actually used. Once again, the RESTECK led with a score of 8.5. In comparison, the PurePulse only earned a score of 5.6.

Important features to consider

Neck massagers can be used simply as a basic relaxation tool. If you aren’t looking for specific health benefits, you can choose any high-quality option and likely be satisfied with a pain and stress-relieving neck massage.

However, if you are interested specifically in the health benefits of neck massage or have other health issues that may limit which massagers you’re able to use effectively, it’s important to choose a product that is suitable for you.

One of the most important considerations when choosing a neck and shoulder massager is deciding how you want the pressure applied to the muscles themselves. Among our finalists, there were three different methods: arm strength, body weight and electrical power.

Several of our massagers—the RESTECK, Naipo, LiBa and Nekteck—use arm strength to generate pressure. While each of these massagers has rotating shiatsu-style nodes, the majority of the pressure is generated by pulling down on the massager using your arms.

For those who are able to properly utilize this design, it offers significant flexibility, both in the amount and the specific location that pressure is applied. However, individuals who don’t have the necessary arm strength or dexterity or who simply don’t want to have to pull while receiving a massage, should probably consider a different option.

The second method of generating pressure is body weight. Both the Gideon and the Zyllion use this method.

Another important consideration is portability. If product use will be limited to the home, then any of our finalists are viable options. If you plan on using the neck massager at work or in the car, portability becomes a more important factor.

If you work at a desk, you probably won’t be able to use a massager dependent on arm strength, since it requires your arms to be used to apply pressure on your neck. While you could certainly take a break from work to use the RESTECK, using the Gideon (which is our top portable massager) is easier and will allow you to continue working at the same time.

The significant health benefits of massage

There is a growing body of research on the many benefits of massages and the latest research indicates that there are substantial benefits directly associated with massages — neck massages in particular.

Of course, not everyone has the means or time, to visit a massage therapist one or more times each week. Fortunately, according to the doctors we spoke to, neck massagers (such as the ones we are reviewing here) provide many of the same benefits.

The reason for this is fairly straightforward: Within the neck, there is something known as the “neurovascular bundle.” Stimulating this bundle, for example with a shiatsu-style neck massager, leads to reduced stress levels, increased relaxation and decreases in inflammation, among other benefits.

Massage benefits for specific health conditions

We spoke with several medical experts. Most notable was our conversation with Dr. Mark Rapaport, a Chairman at the Emory University School of Medicine who has published more than 180 peer-reviewed studies for a variety of prominent publications. Our conversation with Dr. Rapaport was also instrumental in conducting our review of the best foot massagers as well.

In addition to providing health benefits to generally healthy individuals, neck massages also provide significant health benefits for a wide variety of health conditions.

Expert Consulted:

Dr. Mark Rapaport

Chairman - Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Emory University School of Medicine

Our conversation with Dr. Rapaport educated us to the fact that individuals with a generalized anxiety disorder were recorded to have dramatically lower cortisol and stress levels, with increases in oxytocin levels and a general sense of well-being, after receiving a neck massage.

Another excellent example of how neck massages can provide health benefits comes from the studies which indicate that massages lead to decreased stress levels in women who have recently undergone a C-section. The corresponding decrease in cortisol levels and increased levels of oxytocin are excellent both for the mother and her newborn child.

There is also a growing body of research indicating that massages can have a significant impact on inflammatory markers. This helps reduce the time needed to heal from injuries or surgery and could potentially have dramatic benefits for individuals suffering from autoimmune disorders such as arthritis, Crohn’s disease and even allergies. Dr. Thomas Best of Ohio State University is one of the leading researchers in this field.

While the specific benefits are still being researched, one thing is clear: Neck massages offer significant benefits both for healthy individuals and those suffering from a wide range of medical conditions.

Best overall: RESTECK – Shiatsu

The RESTECK – Shiatsu Neck and Back Massager is our top pick overall. In addition to feeling like the most “premium” product among the finalists, the versatility of the massager, alongside the simplicity of its operation, made the RESTECK an approachable and effective tool.

The overall consensus from our focus group was that our winning model gives the most natural-feeling massage and feels the most like human touch. The heating component on the RESTECK also warms more quickly and is more penetrating than the other models. The combination of the node placement and heating element resulted in the most effective and relaxing massage.

One of the things we liked most about this model was the ability to directly control where the massager was working and the precise intensity on our muscles. It can be placed anywhere along the neck, shoulder or back, and allowed for much more precise and fluid control than models with similar capabilities.

That added control means we could also target very specific muscles on our neck and back. This was ideal for focusing on tough knots that would otherwise be difficult — if not impossible — to reach.

Top Pick: RESTECK - Shiatsu Neck Massager

The RESTECK offered the most effective massage, thanks to node placements that mimic human touch and more penetrating heat.

While the Nekteck earned the highest ratings in aesthetics (7.7) for its sleek black leather-like material, the RESTECK was a close second at 7.5. It also comes with a carrying case in matching material, which gives it a more premium look as well as makes it more portable.

The controls of this model were very simple. There are four buttons on the left side:

  • one to turn the massager on and off
  • one to turn the heat on and off
  • one to choose the stimulation mode
  • one to reverse the direction of the shiatsu nodes

That being said, it’s worth noting that all of our finalists were essentially as easy to operate.

While the RESTECK was hands-down the best product we tested, we would have liked the cord itself to be a little longer. We found that using a surge strip or extension cord in conjunction with massager made things much easier.

Our focus group largely matched our own analysis and testing of the RESTECK. The most notable numbers in the focus group were the “user-friendly” and “pain relief” scores, which were 8.8 and 8.6 out of 10, respectively.

On the user-friendly metric, individuals in our focus group liked that there weren’t lots of buttons or settings and no one needed to read the instruction manual that came with the massager. The three icons are self-explanatory and universal as well.

For pain relief, which is, of course, the single most important metric, users in our focus group thought the kneading shiatsu-style massage did a particularly great job of loosening and relaxing the shoulder and neck muscles.

The RESTECK also did a solid job in the mid and lower back area, however, both our focus group and our own testing indicated that the massager performed best in the neck and shoulder area.

Key takeaways:

  • The RESTECK is the most effective massager we tested, with a massage that feels closest to human touch.
  • The build quality of the RESTECK exceeded the other massagers, particularly in comparison to similar models.
  • This model is not wireless, but it does come with a car adapter for road travel.
  • For those who are elderly or have a medical condition, the RESTECK massager requires moderate arm mobility and strength (as did similarly-styled models).

Most portable: Gideon – Massage Pillow

The Gideon neck massager is another strong choice and may even be better for those who have medical conditions or are otherwise unable to exert the arm strength and mobility that the Brookstone massager requires.

The Gideon is controlled with a simple switch located about halfway down the power cord. Controlling the Gideon is easy as well, with only three options to choose from.

One of the biggest downsides to our top pick, the RESTECK is that the included power cord is only about three feet long. The Gideon massager, on the other hand, has a much longer power cord (about seven feet long) and also comes with a car charging adapter.

Most Portable: Gideon - Massage Pillow

The Gideon has simple controls and can be easily used on the couch, in the car, and in an office chair.

This, along with the Gideon’s smaller size, makes the Gideon far more portable in practice. The Gideon is best for those who want to have a neck massager outside of the home — particularly in the car and office. The Gideon, with its “pillow” shape, is also well-suited for use while laying down.

Things we didn’t like about the Gideon

The Gideon neck massager is a strong product and is probably the best option for some people. However, there were a few things we didn’t like about the Gideon that prevented it from being our top pick overall.

First and foremost, the Gideon simply isn’t as effective at relieving pain. While the Gideon certainly works well, particularly in office chairs and while laying down, it wasn’t able to penetrate as deeply or precisely as the RESTECK.

We also found that while that Gideon certainly does work for the neck, it stands out the most on lower parts of the back. In other words, the Gideon is better suited for those who want to use it in their car, bed or office chair.

Findings from the focus group

gideon use on back

The Gideon’s focus group scores were strong but not outstanding across the board, with all scores but one somewhere in the seven to eight — the one exception being user-friendliness. This is particularly noteworthy for those who are less technologically-savvy and also makes the Gideon a great gift for a grandfather or grandmother who prefers simple electronics.

Key takeaways:

  • The Gideon massager works in both the home, car and office.
  • The Gideon is less precise but easier to use for those with reduced arm strength and mobility.
  • The Gideon has the highest user-friendliness score among our finalists, with a score of nine out of 10.

Other finalists we tested

The other neck massagers we tested all had their strengths and weaknesses. While any of them are viable options, we determined that both the RESTECK and the Gideon offer a better value overall.

Naipo

The Naipo ranked the second highest in pain relief by our focus group, which is most likely the main consideration when choosing a massager. Its four-button operation is laid out nearly identical to our top pick, the RESTECK; the only difference is the order of the buttons. It also marks the heat button with red, which makes it very clear to turn the heat on and off.

While this model closely resembles our top choice, it doesn’t sit as well on the shoulders as the RESTECK due to the placement of the nodes. This means you have to spend a few minutes adjusting the massager after turning it on to get the right position.

The Naipo earned good marks in all the categories, but when it came down to the question of using it again, it only received a 7.3. Once you get the Naipo into a comfortable position, it delivers an effective massage, but it left our users feeling lukewarm about purchasing one themselves.

LiBa

Those looking for a budget option may appreciate the value offered by the LiBa neck massager. The LiBa looks similar in many ways to the Brookstone. However, the LiBa costs anywhere from one-third to one-half the cost of the Brookstone.

When the pressure was applied using the arm straps, the massage rollers would often get stuck. This was definitely not meant to do while sitting at a chair or couch. When sitting and using the massager on your back, the rollers sometimes moved the actual leather casing, causing the rollers to get stuck and twist the leather. You would have to manually move realign the rollers back to the mesh portion that they belonged in.

The shiatsu nodes in the LiBa also aren’t as effective as they are on the RESTECK. As a result, putting significant amounts of pressure on the LiBa causes the nodes to slow down significantly, particularly when compared to the RESTECK.

While the LiBa is worth considering at that price point, it’s important to remember that there are significant differences between the two. Most important is the diminished build quality we found when testing the LiBa massager. By the end of our testing period, the LiBa was already starting to look somewhat worn, and we doubted it would last more than a year or two with regular use.

After about eight months of testing this item, a wire came loose and hung within the right roller portion. The rollers broke the wire, which caused the red lights to go out. Shortly afterwards, the Liba stopped working altogether.

Nekteck

The Nekteck massager is built similarly to the RESTECK, but its shiatsu nodes are larger. The end result of the larger nodes was a less effective massage and even discomfort for some of the users.

Our focus group did find the sleek black faux leather to the most stylish, earning it the highest rating (7.7) in terms of aesthetics. The design rated much lower (5.7) due to the ineffectiveness of the larger shiatsu rollers. Like the Naipo, it feels bulky when placed on the shoulder in comparison to the RESTECK.

PurePulse

pure pulse

The PurePulse was the most unique product we tested and most people probably won’t be comfortable using a product like this in the home.

Unlike the other neck massagers we tested, the PurePulse massager uses electrical pulses to stimulate the muscles, which in turn essentially “resets” the muscle, allowing them to relax. The PurePulse is FDA-approved and in fact, many massage therapists and chiropractors frequently use them on their patients.

The Pure Pulse is fairly inexpensive when compared to the other massagers on our list and is also the most portable — the four AA batteries the massager uses lasted several hours during our testing.

There are three major downsides that prevented the PurePulse from being one of our recommended products.

First, the adhesive pads will need to be replaced from time to time and most people will want to have their own pads for sanitary reasons. Second, our focus group indicated that this was the least user-friendly massager, with multiple settings available. Finally, the massage itself is also somewhat disconcerting for some people, since electrical pulses cause muscles to tense and loosen without conscious control from the person using the massager.

Nevertheless, the PurePulse does work well and is utilized by healthcare professionals all over the world. It’s worth giving a try if you’re willing to experiment.

Zyllion

zyllion

The Zyllion was similar in many ways to the Gideon massager. However, both in our own testing as well as the feedback from our focus groups, we found that the Zyllion didn’t perform as well as the Gideon across the board.

If you’re trying to decide between the Zyllion and the Gideon, we think you’re better off with the Gideon (it’s usually a few dollars cheaper on Amazon as well).

Brookstone – Shiatsu neck massager (discontinued)

The Brookstone originally topped our list thanks to its high build quality, ease of use and effectiveness at relieving pain. Another thing we particularly liked about the Brookstone was the visual and physical aesthetics. In addition to looking and feeling like a high-quality product, the material itself was sturdy and stable, while also having just enough “give” to make the product flexible and easy to use.

The one issue we had with the Brookstone was a lack of portability. In addition to requiring a wall outlet to operate, we would have liked the cord itself to be a little longer. We found that using a surge strip or extension cord in conjunction with massager made things much easier.

If portability is a major concern for you, Brookstone does offer a wireless version of their massager, which can usually be purchased for about $30 more on Amazon.

The bottom line

The benefits of a neck massager are numerous and the RESTECK – Shiatsu Shoulder & Neck Massager offers the best combination of pain relief, blood circulation, relaxed muscles, ease of use and value from the five finalists we tested. If you want a high-quality product that will complement visits to a massage therapist, the RESTECK is a strong choice.

If you’re looking for a more portable massager that is easier for those with limited arm strength and mobility to use, the Gideon – Shiatsu Massage Pillow is a strong option as well. Ultimately, the key is to find a product that you’ll actually use so that you can maximize the numerous health benefits associated with regular massages.

Top Pick: RESTECK - Shiatsu Neck Massager

The RESTECK is the all-around best option for those who want to maximize pain relief and the health benefits of a neck massage.

Bryan Vu, Editor

Bryan is our cooking and kitchen expert, with more than 15 years of experience of cooking and testing kitchen products. When outside of the kitchen, he enjoys woodworking, photography, videography and figuring out how to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle. He thoroughly enjoys discovering the best, whether it’s ingredients or equipment, and finding products that can stand the rigors of daily use.

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