Sciatica has plagued me for years. I’ve gone to physical therapy to rid myself of it, and while that worked, it’s vital that I spend time every day stretching, massaging, and ultimately paying attention to my body. I’m really bad at it. Percussive massagers promise to help make it easier to keep my body limber and pain-free. Now that I’ve used several, I can tell you that they do help—but not as much as promised.
Here is a look at five percussive massagers I have tested recently.
What Is a Percussive Massager?
A percussive massager is a handheld device that uses a rapid forward and backward movement to apply force to your muscles. The idea is to help stimulate soft tissues and blood flow, and to essentially help your muscles recover after a workout or injury.
Percussive massagers come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and all the ones I tested come with replaceable heads. This is an important feature; the replaceable heads allow you to tailor how hard the percussions feel and how deeply they penetrate your muscles. Some are much softer than others, so if you’re just looking for a pleasant massaging feel rather than a deep tissue treatment, you can do that.
I tested five different percussive massagers, and they break down into two broad categories: large units meant for home use, and portable units meant for travel or other space-saving situations. All five units feature swappable attachments, multiple speeds, and rechargeable batteries.
The large units all feature Bluetooth connectivity so you can use them in conjunction with their respective apps. The Addaday BioZoom Jr. and the Theragun Mini do not feature Bluetooth.
The apps largely serve to educate the consumer on how to properly use the units. They also offer structured sessions tailored to specific goals or even parts of the body.
All of the units in the test feature rechargeable batteries. Some use USB-style cables, while others have custom ports and charging cables to go with them. Charging stations are available for some units and are generally sold separately.
The handle shape of a percussive massager has a big impact on how useful it is for certain parts of the body. The L-shaped unit is most common; Theragun’s Elite percussive massager features a triangular-shaped handle that helps you leverage it behind your back. Compact units often sacrifice leverage for portability.
How to Choose the Best Massager for You
There are four primary considerations you should note when choosing the percussive massager for you. First is of course price; large units run anywhere from $150 to $400. Based on my testing, you can certainly get a decent unit for less money, but the more expensive units tend to have more bells and whistles—and more importantly, stronger percussive force.
Size matters, too. If you’ll be traveling with the unit, you’ll want to err on the smaller side, even though functionality will be more limited, and the units probably won’t integrate with an app.
Which leads me to the third consideration: Do you even want or need the app integration? If you’re just looking to get a massage your own way, you won’t need the app to structure a session for you. But if you like tracking your sessions and having guided walk-throughs, be sure the unit you buy has an app to go with it.
Finally and most importantly, make sure that the unit you choose has enough percussive force to get adequately deep into your tissues. If you’re mostly using this for injuries or pain, you’ll want something that offers more force. General relaxation and massage can be achieved with any of these units, even the ones with the least amount of force.
Theragun Elite with Bluetooth
Theragun’s Elite is the most powerful massager in this group, but that’s not the only thing that sets it apart from the rest: The triangular shape also allows you to get at muscles you simply can’t get to with the other units. The Elite comes with five interchangeable heads, and one of them is a harder density than the others, so it’s easy to go very deep into troublesome areas. A small screen shows battery life as well as a pressure gauge so you know how much force to apply.
The Elite is the most expensive percussive massager in this group, so you’re certainly paying for the privilege to use it. It’s also easily the loudest of the bunch. While it’s not as noisy as the older version of the Theragun, it still can’t compete with the likes of the HyperVolt, so if noise is a major concern and you want a full-size unit, you’ll do better with the HyperVolt.
For a triathlete on-the-go or someone who can imagine traveling to races with a percussive massager, this is a great choice. It’s quite powerful for its size—not quite as powerful as the larger Theragun Elite, but certainly more powerful than some of its full-size competitors. The triangular shape makes it easy to apply pressure, especially when you’re using the unit on your legs, though shoulder and back work is a slightly tough reach.
Since it is a bit smaller and stripped down, there is no app integration or any screen to display pressure sensitivity. This unit is about simplicity. There’s just one button to contend with; other than that, you simply apply pressure and massage away. It’s also quieter than the Theragun Elite, so if you prefer to capitalize on the strength Theragun offers without the noise of the larger unit, this is a great choice.
RELATED: Reviewed: Therabody’s Theragun Mini
Addaday BioZoom Edge with Bluetooth
Addaday’s BioZoom Edge comes with three ways to control the unit and a decent array of swappable heads that let you tailor your massage quickly and easily. The easiest and most intuitive method is to use the blue buttons underneath your index finger. The second is via the top digital display, which is a little superfluous. The third is by using the dedicated app.
The BioZoom Edge is Bluetooth-enabled to work with the Addaday app, which offers structured sessions based on your specific needs, a session log, and other features. The unit is very quiet, but also comes up slightly short on power, particularly at the lower settings. The low price is another big advantage, but some cosmetic issues (like peeling decals) are a part of that deal, and the app is about the same as other brands. This is your unit if you want to get a full-size massager at a low price, but be aware that it may not offer as deep of a massage as its competition.
This unit is the quietest full-size one in the group but is also powerful enough to get into your deep tissues (though perhaps not quite as powerful as the Theragun Elite). The HyperVolt includes five different interchangeable heads to customize the depth and intensity of the massage—the round head is probably the most useful. Unlike the other units, the HyperVolt’s lithiumion battery is removable. HyperIce says you’ll get about three hours out of a charge, and the light around the end of the unit indicates how much charge you have left.
While the L-shaped unit isn’t always easy to position or leverage properly, especially when you’re trying to massage shoulders and lower back muscles, it’s great for its combination of low noise, good power, and ease of use.
RELATED: Reviewed: Hyperice HyperVolt Bluetooth