Holding up our heads is a tough job for our necks. Add in the strain it goes through with exercise or the weird angles we sleep in, and it’s no wonder we suffer from neck and shoulder pain. Thankfully, there are a number of at-home solutions to alleviate the common stress our necks endure. Neck massagers come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Physical therapist and Men’s Health advisor Daniel Giordano recommends percussive therapy massagers and guns, and massagers that wrap around your neck.
“This is all temporary relief to increase blood flow circulation, increase your range of motion, and allow more relaxation in the area,” Giordano says. In other words, you can’t just rely on massagers to keep your neck comfortable; if you want to avoid neck pain, you’ll want to manage its causes, too. (Check your work setup, take breaks, see a professional if it’s getting in the way of your life.)
To avoid injury while using a massager, Giordano says to stick to the muscles in the back of your neck (especially avoid massaging right on the jugular vein on the side of the neck). And avoid massaging directly over bones, especially your vertebrae. Massaging the area around the vertebrae is fine, but stay away from anything that’s not muscle.
Immediately stop using a neck massager if you feel dizzy or lightheaded. Also seek out a medical professional if the neck pain you have isn’t dissipating. If you have shooting pains, numbness or pain that moves around the body (for instance, if it moves to the hands and arms), you should not use a neck massager. Massagers are only for temporary relief, and shouldn’t increase your discomfort in any way or substitute for a doctor’s visit.
With the different types of massagers and massage guns out there, it’s important to know how to use them. For massage guns, Giordano suggests using a lighter, gentler gun, or at least start on lower settings before increasing. You may also need someone else to hold the tool and use it on certain parts of your back. He says there’s no need to get aggressive, no matter how frustrating the pain. “Let the gun do the work. Do not dig. Float the gun on the surface and let it do the work,” Giordano says.
Massage pillows are only meant to be used as directed (yes, you actually need to read the instructions)—don’t use them toward the front of the neck. And for those hard-to-reach places like the mid-back, Giordano says a massage ball can also be helpful.
Which tool is best for your pain? Here are 6 neck massagers and guns we recommend.
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Theragun Prime – 4th Generation Percussive Therapy Deep Tissue Muscle Treatment Massage Gun
Men’s Health advisor Daniel Giordano recommends a Theragun because of its signature handle, which makes it easier to direct the device toward the pain. Plus, the quality material used for the product is top-notch. Giordano says it’s better than massagers that come with plastic heads. “It’s a polyurethane foam, which is an anti-microbial foam that has a softer head,” he says.
The company advises users to keep the massager away from water, and use it only as instructed. If the device malfunctions, don’t try to fix it yourself.
Breo iNeck3 Pro Electric Neck Massager, Shiatsu Massage Pillow with Heat, Deep Tissue Kneading & APP
Shiatsu massage pillows can bring relief to the back of your neck without any need to manually direct the massager. The balls inside do all the work. Use the pillows only as intended—don’t try to use them on the front of your neck.
Deep Tissue Percussion Muscle Massager Handheld Massage Gun for Athletes
This massage gun can last for up to five hours on low speed, and users say the product is low on noise. The product also features 6 speeds and 10 massage heads.
Mebak 3 Deep Tissue Percussion Muscle Massage Gun
Mebak’s percussive therapy gun is quiet and lightweight at around only two pounds. Plus, there’s an automatic 10 minute shut off to avoid injury. The gun comes in five intensity speeds. The company does not recommend this product for people who have diabetes or have spinal or back injuries.
Shiatsu Neck and Back Massager with Soothing Heat, Nekteck Electric Deep Tissue 3D Kneading Massage Pillow
InvoSpa uses infrared to increase blood flow to your stiff neck muscles in addition to vibrating. And the handle design ensures you’re not putting too much pressure on your neck.
While using the product, InvoSpa says to place a cloth or fabric between your skin and the product.
Hyperice – Hypersphere Mini Vibrating Massage Ball
This massage ball is perfect for localized pain in hard-to-reach places like the mid- and upper back. You can use the product against a wall or while lying on the floor. If you live solo, this is a great tool; it can be hard to use a gun-type massager on your own back.
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