We spent more than 60 hours foot-massaging, conducting focus groups, and speaking with doctors including the nationally-recognized Dr. Mark Rapaport to determine that the Brookstone – Shiatsu is the best foot massager on the market. It combines effective shiatsu-style massage techniques in a portable and easy-to-use package.
We also found the MedMassager to be highly effective for individuals who are most interested in improving circulation in their feet and legs.
Read on to learn more about how we determined which massagers were best overall, and which factors we included in our final decision.
Top Pick: Brookstone Shiatsu Foot Massager
This is our favorite product thanks to its portable and easy-to-use design, and its overall high ranking in our focus group.
Table of contents
- How we picked our test products
- The five best foot massagers
- How we tested
- Important features to consider
- The health benefits of massage
- The health benefits of foot massage
- The best foot massager overall
- The best massager for circulation
- The other products we tested
- The bottom line
How we picked our test products
When we first started researching the electric foot massagers market, we discovered that there were lots of products available, but relatively few that were highly-regarded. This meant that the first step was eliminating products that had significantly negative reviews on Amazon.
We also limited our focus to foot massagers that were mentioned positively on forums, professional reviews, and Reddit threads. Finally, we spoke with Dr. Rapaport — a nationally-recognized doctor with experience in psychology, behaviorial science, and the benefits of massage therapy — as well as other doctors who helped us determine which electric foot massagers (as well as which neck massagers) were best suited to have a positive impact on health.
We also strongly prioritized massagers with heating functionality — however we did make an exception for the MedMassager, both because of the significant number of positive reviews it had as well as the fact that it is designed to work differently than Shiatsu and heat-based foot massagers.
Once we narrowed the list, we looked for massagers that had the best combination of features and specs, and ordered the five products from that curated list to test in our office.
The five best foot massagers
- Brookstone – Shiatsu with Heat
- MedMassager – 11 Speed
- uComfy – Shiatsu with Heat
- 3Q – with Heat
- Homedics – Deep Kneading Shiatsu
How we tested
Once we had our list of five finalists, we assessed each of them individually based on a number of criteria, including ease of use, effectiveness, and features offered. We also took things like weight, portability, and power usage into account as well.
In general, we were looking for foot massagers that were easy to operate, comfortable on our feet, and had a substantially positive impact on how our feet felt after five to 10 minutes in the massager.
Secondary metrics we looked included the power usage of each foot massager while in use, the weight of each massager, whether the massagers had a handle for easier portability, and whether there was an automatic shutoff built in.
While these features did have an impact on our selection of finalists as well as our top picks, they were secondary to the actual operation and benefits of each electric foot massager.
Foot massage focus group
During testing, we realized that massaging preferences can be fairly subjective. Some people prefer intense ones that really get the knots out, while others prefer a more gentle and soothing massage; possibly with some heat to relax their muscles.
While we did our best to assess each machine as objectively as possible, ultimately we realized that having a larger sample size, which included a wider range of people, would help us find the best possible product.
We came up with five different metrics and asked 10 people to rate each of the electric foot massagers on a scale of one to 10 using those metrics. We also made sure each person had walked a lot that day, and felt like they could really use a foot massage.
For this category, we asked each member of the focus group to rate the appearance of the foot massager. If they were to own the massager in question, would they put it somewhere easily visible in a living room or bedroom, or hide it away when not in use?
For the user friendliness rating, we asked each member of the focus group to describe how easy it was for them to figure out how to use the massager. This included both turning the massagers on and off as well as adjusting the massager to their desired settings.
We distinguished “comfort” from the “pain relief” metric. For comfort, we asked our focus group to limit the rating to their comfort without the massagers turned on.
This is the key measurement, and was used to compare how each person felt before and after they used the foot massager.
Want to use it again?
We used this metric as a way to gauge the “overall” score each member of our focus gave to the massagers. We specifically asked them not to consider the cost when providing this rating.
The results of the survey made it clear that the Brookstone was the clear favorite when taking into account all categories, however the MedMassager also stood out for the significant pain relief it offered — even if the aesthetics were lower than the average.
Important features to consider
If you decide to purchase a foot massager, the first step is to determine what the primary purpose of the massager will be. If you’re getting one for a specific medical condition — such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or an inflammatory disease like arthritis — there are certain features you’ll want to make sure your choice includes.
If, on the other hand, you simply want a foot massager as a way to relax after a long day, you can be a bit more flexible about which massager you choose.
Once you know the primary purpose of what you’re looking for, the next step is to find the one that offers the features you want. Some of the features you should think about include:
- Does the massager heat up?
- Are there intensity settings?
- Is the massager easy to carry?
- How noisy is the massager?
You’ll also want to decide whether you want a foot massager that is designed to improve circulation in your foot, or more of an “all-purpose” option. If your top priority is improving circulation, the MedMassager is hands-down the best massager on the market. This one uses a design that oscillates a platform to massage instead of Shiatsu style rollers.
If you want more of an all-purpose massager, it’s worth looking into the specific features and settings of each machine. In general, a product that provides heating, variable levels of pressure, and a shiatsu-style massage will be effective for general wellness.
It’s also worth considering the weight and portability of the foot massager as well — particularly for the elderly or those with health conditions. Having a handle can make a massager significantly easier to move around, and of course the lighter a product is, the easier it is to move around when needed.
One interesting consideration that we didn’t realize until we started testing was the challenge of using MedMassager in an apartment, hotel, or anywhere else that your floor is someone else’s ceiling. That’s because the MedMassager works by creating fairly strong vibrations — which can potentially be felt, and heard, from the floor below.
The health benefits of massage
In order to learn more about the benefits of massage, we spoke with Dr. Mark Rapaport of the Emory University School of Medicine. Dr. Rapaport has an extensive history of studying how massage helps, and is the Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Emory University.
Dr. Rapaport also has more than 180 articles published in peer-reviewed publications and has received grants from nationally recognized organizations, including the National Institute of Mental Health.
We spoke with Dr. Rapaport on the phone, and got some great insight into the significant and wide-ranging impact of massages on the mental, physical, and psychological health.
According to Dr. Rapaport and the research studies he has published, massages have a number of substantial health benefits. These range from reductions in anxiety and irritability to a decrease in unhealthy levels of cortisol. Massage can also modulate immune function and increase levels of the “feel-good” hormone oxytocin.
Massage therapy is increasingly recognized as a powerful medical treatment, with benefits for everyone from cancer patients to reducing post-pregnancy discomfort. Even if you’re in great health, massage can significantly increase your quality of life.
According to Dr. Rapaport, massage in healthy individuals can decrease allergic responses and potentially harmful inflammation in the body, and can even improve temporary bouts of depression in otherwise healthy individuals.
For individuals who have particular medical needs, massage can have an even more profound impact. For example, women who have recently given birth via “Cesarean section” (otherwise known as a C-section), can experience significantly lowered levels of anxiety and pain.
Individuals with severe flus and other systemic infections benefit from massages due to an increase in lymphatic flow, which helps to flush out the disease more quickly. This is also the case for terminally-ill individuals who are receiving palliative care.
Perhaps most interesting impact massage has on individuals suffering from one of the many forms of cancer. According to the doctors we spoke to and several peer-reviewed studies, massage has a statistically significant impact on the vital signs of cancer patients.
According to Dr. Rapaport, a NIH study studying fatigue in cancer survivors also indicated a marked decrease in fatigue and other symptoms. Those studies are being followed up with a more detailed look into inflammatory markers, and how massage might improve those as well.
The bottom line is this: massage has been unequivocally proven to have substantial health benefits both for healthy individuals, as well as those with a wide range of medical conditions.
The health benefits of foot massage
One concern that people considering a foot massager bring up is whether a mechanical option can effectively do the job of an actual massage therapist.
While there are certainly benefits associated with having an actual person performing the massage, the doctors we spoke to said that many of those translate to mechanical foot massagers as well.
In fact, since the specific massages are complex, and the shiatsu/oscillation is so well programmed in certain mechanical massagers, in some cases individuals can be even better off with a mechanical option.
That being said, a highly-trained massage therapist will always be better than a mechanical massager. But when comparing the one-time cost of a foot massager to a massage therapist, it is certainly more cost-effective to have a mechanical foomassager — if nothing else than to supplement relatively infrequent massages from a licensed therapist.
The best foot massager: Brookstone
After looking at five of the most popular and well-regarded electric foot massagers on the market, including a 10-person focus group and several different tests, we determined that the Brookstone – Shiatsu with Heat is the best one currently available.
We liked this one right off the bat. In addition to looking the best, it was easy and straightforward to operate and provided the right amount of pressure and intensity on pressure points on our feet. This unit effectively combines Shiatsu-style massager rollers with air compression and heat to relax the muscles in your feet and remove tension that built up during the day.
The three programmable settings — Pulse, Energize, and Soothe — are reasonably accurate descriptions of the type of foot massage you get. We also appreciated the straightforward “high” and “low” settings (displayed as “H” and “L”, respectively).
For people who like a strong foot massage, the high setting should be more than sufficient. The low setting is still fairly intense, so individuals who are very sensitive to foot massage might still find the strength to be a little too strong.
This massager with Shiatsu style massager rollers is easy to use and the most effective product we tested.
Cleaning this product was simple as well. The foot linings have zippers holding them into the massager itself. Removing the linings was easy, as was throwing them into the washing machine (make sure to use a gentle wash cycle).
One seemingly-minor feature we really liked was the handle built into the massager itself. This was the only foot massager of the five we tested with a handle, and it made moving the massager around much easier.
Focus group results
While the this is one of the more expensive products we tested, it was the only one that consistently scored high across the board in our focus group. In fact, the average score of 9.1 was far ahead of the rest of the pack, with uComfy coming in second place with an average score of 7.3, and the overall average for the five massagers coming in at 7.02 (largely due to Brookstone’s score).
Put another way, the this machine is the only one we would categorize as a “classy” product.
When researching products, we found that some had needlessly complicated controls and functionality. While customizability and flexibility are valuable, overdoing it on something relatively simple like a electric foot massager adds more difficulty than benefit.
Operating this machine was fairly straightforward, with a clearly marked on/off, heat, high, and low buttons. Each of the three foot massage programs are also written onto their respective buttons, making it easy to set the massagers to the exact settings you want.
Everyone in our focus group had an easy time using this foot massager, which is why it had the second-best score among our finalists (behind only the MedMassager).
The lining is fairly comfortable. The massager as a whole received a score of 8.2 out of 10 for comfort. While that seems slightly low for a top pick, it was the best scoring massager overall, and was well-above the average of 6.96.
While the inside isn’t silky-smooth, it is definitely comfortable, particularly when compared to the other finalists we tested.
Pain relief is one area where this machine particularly shined, and was one of the primary factors in our naming it our winner. After all, the purpose of a foot massage is to make your feet feel better.
When we used the foot massager, the consensus was that the air compression and the Shiatsu-style kneading massage worked particularly well to improve blood flow and relax the muscles. After about 5 minutes using this machine, we felt pretty great.
Our impressions were backed up by the focus group as well. This massager earned a score of 9.2 out of 10 from our 10-person focus group, which was significantly ahead of the remaining nfofinalists.
Want to use it again?
With all four of the other metrics ranking so high, it came as no surprise that our everyone in our focus group was interested in trying it again in the future — leading to a score of nine out of 10.
Before conducting the focus group, we already had this foot massager marked as our likely top pick based on our own testing and assessment. However, with a total score of 44.4 out of 50 in our focus group, the Brookstone’s place as our top pick was solidified.
Things we didn’t like
Overall, we found this massager to be the best option available. While it was relaxing, there were a couple of issues we noticed while testing that are worth mentioning.
The most significant issue is that it takes a while for the heat to fully activate. During our testing, we noticed that it took about 30 seconds to start heating up, and another minute and a half (for a total of two minutes) before the heat was significant enough to have a positive impact.
For a foot massage that might only be five to 10 minutes, this is somewhat of an issue. Our solution was to let the massager heat up for about a minute before putting our feet in, which was an effective workaround.
While we would have preferred that the massager heat up more quickly, it is reasonable to expect heat to take some time to turn on, and none of the other massagers we tested were any better.
We also found the weight to potentially be slightly problematic. Coming in at 10 pounds, it was right in the middle of the pack. However, we could foresee the weight being an issue for the elderly or those in poor health, which would limit the portability of the massager in those situations.
Finally, those with big feet might not be comfortable with this machine. The massager itself is rated to fit individuals with shoe sizes up to 12.5, however one of the people in our focus group had a shoe size of 12 and he said he felt a little too “snug”.
This massager is an excellent choice, and is easily the best foot massager we tested thanks to its effective foot massage technique, attention to style and aesthetics, and comfort and usability.
- The Brookstone foot massager was our top pick thanks to its effective foot massage technique.
- The massager is easy to use, with clearly marked buttons.
- The heat and weight are the most significant downsides.
The best massager for circulation
The MedMassager is very popular online and is frequently recommended by doctors as a way to improve circulation in the feet.
Unlike the other massagers we tested, this device uses oscillations to stimulate the skin and muscles to improve circulation instead of Shiatsu-style kneading massage with rollers. This results in a distinctly different foot massage experience.
This device has 12 settings, one through 11 and an “off”, which makes operation fairly straightforward. Operating the massager is as simple as twisting the knob to the desired intensity and putting your feet on the rubber pad. This machine has many intensity levels but it only has one oscillating motion, and no heat function.
According to the company that makes the MedMassager, the massager’s lowest setting operates at 1,000 RPM and the highest operates at 4,000 RPM. This means there is significant variance between each of the settings, making it easy for anyone to choose one that is right for them.
When first using this, we found that the oscillations were a little intense and took some getting used to. However, once we got past the initial surprise, there was no question this massager was relaxing the muscles not only in our feet, but in our lower legs as well.
One feature that is often overlooked is the “Arch Bar” located across the top of the massager. According to the doctors we spoke to, this bar is used to directly stimulate the tendon in the arch of the foot — known as the plantar tendon.
For individuals that have periodic or frequent foot and leg cramps, the stimulation of this tendon can provide significant relief. Even if you don’t have cramps or another medical condition (such as in our case) using the bar felt great.
One other minor detail that we appreciated was the fact the company has their website and phone number printed on the top of the massager.
Using oscillation instead of rollers, it's the best product for improving circulation in the feet and legs.
While they won’t be earning any style points for that one — especially when compared to the Brookstone — it is useful to have that information available for those who have questions or problems with their massager. For the elderly or sick, this can be a particularly significant convenience.
Finally, this device has excellent build quality, which means it will last for many years. In fact, the it comes with a one-year warranty, with an option to purchase a three-year warranty for $29.99, or a lifetime warranty for $39.99.
Even if you choose not to purchase the extended warranty, the fact that such a robust one-year warranty is included speaks volumes about the quality of the MedMassager.
While this machine isn’t as relaxing or “therapeutic” as our top pick, the Brookstone foot massager, we felt quite relaxed once we were done with our 10 minute session.
Things we didn’t like
While there are plenty of positive things to say about the MedMassager, there are a few negatives that stood out to us during our testing and focus group.
The first, and perhaps most significant issue is primarily limited to individuals that live in apartments (or anywhere else that your floor is someone else’s ceiling).
Since the this deviceworks by oscillating at a very rapid rate, vibrations are also transferred to the floor. What was surprising was just how significant those vibrations could be, to the point that we could feel them even when standing 15 feet away.
If you live in an upstairs apartment, the oscillations could be prohibitively loud and irritating for your downstairs neighbors — particularly if the floors aren’t that thick. If you do decide to get one of these and you live in an apartment, make sure you ask your downstairs neighbor if they can hear when the massager is being used.
Another design feature we would have liked to see was a handle. Unlike the Brookstone electric foot massager, the MedMassager doesn’t have an easy way to carry it. That, in conjunction with its 11 pound weight, could pose a problem for some users.
Finally, the it’s a specialized product. That has several implications, such as a lack of a heat function and just a general inability to be an all-purpose foot massager. This device is great for those who are looking for exactly this type of product, but others might find it lacking in certain respects.
Focus group results for MedMassager
This one came in second place, with a final score of 38.5 out of 50. The areas where the it was weakest were in aesthetics and comfort, with a score of 6.8 and 6.1 respectively.
With its utilitarian appearance and somewhat-tacky large-font phone number printed on top, looks like it would be better suited for a doctor’s office instead of a living room. That’s because for most of the product’s history it was used in a doctor’s office.
The MedMassager has been used by doctors, physical therapists, and other medical professionals for years. It’s only relatively recently that this device has been marketed directly to consumers.
While this led to a somewhat weak “aesthetics” score, it’s worth noting this device’s appearance is also a reflection of the trust medical professionals have placed in it over the years.
Compared to the Brookstone, as well as the other foot massagers we tested, the MedMassager is not as comfortable. This is largely due to the fact that the other foot massagers we tested allow you to sit back with your feet flat, whereas this one is set up on an angle.
Again, this is a reflection of the MedMassager’s primary role as a medical device in the past, so it’s worth taking the 6.1 comfort score with a grain of salt. That being said, if you’re looking for a purely relaxing, “spa-like” foot massager, the MedMassager might not be the way to go.
One area where the this device particularly stood out in our focus group was it’s user friendliness score At 9.1 out of 10, this was the highest user friendly rating of all the massagers we tested — including out top pick, the Brookstone.
This rating matches our own assessment of the MedMassager. Operation is extremely straightforward, with a single knob turning anywhere from off to 11 for varying degrees of intensity.
Despite its simple operation, the MedMassager proved to be effective at pain relief; as reflected in its 8.2 out of 10 score. Once again, the MedMassager was second only to the Brookstone (9.2).
One frequent comment from our focus group was that the pain relief from the MedMassager was mostly noticed after the massager was over. This stands in contrast to the other massagers, which provided pain relief right from the beginning.
The MedMassager is an excellent — if somewhat specialized — foot massager. If you’re looking for a foot massager that improves circulation, this one should be at the top of your list.
- The MedMassager is the best for improving circulation
- The massager doesn’t have certain important features, such as a carrying handle, a heat function, or kneading massage capabilities.
- This device is the most specialized of the massagers we tested, which means it is ideal for those who need its specific features, but won’t be right for everyone.
The other products we tested
The remaining three foot massagers we tested all had one thing in common: they were decent, but not outstanding, products. There wasn’t anything glaringly wrong with them, but they didn’t excel neither.
The uComfy did an all-around decent job. Its appearance is fine, but feels somewhat dated, and the foot massage itself was close in quality to the Brookstone. However, the controls on this device didn’t work great, and there wasn’t much variation between the settings.
In our focus group, the user friendliness score was 6.8, which was towards the bottom of the list. It performed in the mid-seven range for the rest of the metrics, and was the closest of the remaining three to be considered an “honorable mention”.
Homedics Deep Kneading
We were disappointed by the Homedics massager because there were several very positive reviews. It is the simplest and most straightforward device we tested featuring Shiatsu style kneading massager rollers. However, we found the quality of the massage to be underwhelming.
The underwhelming foot massage was also supported by our focus group, which gave the Homedics massager a comfort and pain relief rating of 5.1 and 5.5 respectively.
The 3Q was similar to the uComfy in the sense that the controls don’t offer much variation. Features are basically limited to turning kneading, air pressure, and heating on or off without any variation in intensity. There are also two programs to choose from, without any description about how they differ.
In the focus group, the 3Q received a score of 6.5 out of 10; the lowest of all our finalists. We think this score matches with our own experience as well.
The bottom line
The health impact of foot massagers are significant and scientifically proven. Whether you are an average healthy adult or you’re recovering from a pregnancy or even a chronic illness, foot massagers can improve your blood pressure and circulation, reduce unhealthy levels of cortisol from your body, and provide you with a general sense of well-being.
The other three products we tested did an acceptable job. However, if you’re going to spend $150 or more on a foot massager, we think its worth getting a product that will perform well for many years.
The Brookstone foot massager sells for about $70-80 more than either the uComfy or the 3Q massagers at the time of publishing this article. However, we think it is more than worth it, given the significant performance improvements the Brookstone offers over the uComfy, 3Q, and Homedics foot massagers.
If you want a more medically-focused product and aren’t as concerned about getting the “spa treatment”, the MedMassager is a proven product that has been used by doctors and physical therapists for years to improve circulation.
If you enjoy relaxing to massages from time to time, or have a medical condition which requires regular massages, foot massagers can be a valuable and cost-effective supplementary device.
Top Pick: Brookstone Shiatsu Massager
This massager comes with heated Shiatsu style rollers is the best choice for anyone looking to improve their general health and relax.