As a sufferer of lower back pain I can tell you that self-massage (manual massage) equipment has changed my life. Regular exercise, stretching, warm baths and even supplements can all help when dealing with muscle aches and pains, but sometimes a good old-fashioned massage accomplishes what everything else can’t. The most cost-effective method are self-massage tools that allow you to give yourself regular massages whenever you need and for as long as you need.
We will be discussing the best massage tools and equipment, excluding the popular foam roller. If you’re specifically interested in those we suggest reading our guide reviewing the best foam rollers you can buy. We highly, highly recommend foam rollers as an effective mechanism for self-myofascial release and for dealing with back pain and other muscle soreness. However, here we will be analyzing the best alternatives to foam rollers that are more portable and offer a different type of exercises and physiotherapy options. Among these are massage balls, roller sticks, foot and back massagers, therapy canes and electric massagers.
Best massage balls
Massage balls come in a range of sizes and firmness levels to help dig into smaller muscles and joints. They are easily manipulated and are effective at targeting specific muscle knots and pain within the calves, hamstrings, piriformis, triceps, feet and hands. They are very simple to use, just place the massage ball between your body and a hard surface and roll yourself against it. We recommend starting with the Due North Foot Rubz massage ball or the TriggerPoint MB1. The first one has nibs that help to stimulate the muscles and fascia when rolled against, while the second has a layered construction to provide strong tissue compression. If you walk a lot or are on your feet all day, the Foot Rubz feels incredibly relieving when you roll your foot along it against the ground. You can feel the muscles in your foot decompress and relax as you roll the ball. Both these massage balls are small enough to fit in the palm of your hand while not being too firm (you can purchase firmer massages balls if needed) and will provide fast but temporary relief from aches and pain.
Truthfully, you really don’t need to spend much. A cheap, quick alternative is a hard Lacrosse ball. This is what most physiotherapists initially recommend as they are cheap and easy to see if you can get used to using a massage ball. You can buy Lacrosse ball sets that comes in a variety of sizes, firmness levels and with or without spikes for a reasonable price (cheaper than most other overpriced massage balls). There is also a handy eBook with instructions and guides to help you maximize the benefits of using a massage ball.
Best massage rollers
Massage sticks or rollers or whatever you want to call these, are great for manually massaging muscles or specific smaller areas. You generally hold these in your hand and manually move them back and forth to compress the muscles and joints. These are useful for situations where you cannot lay down and use a foam roller but still want to give your muscles a massage. Massage rollers can be used standing up or sitting and are great for office or gym use due to their smaller size and portability.
Our favorite massage roller is the simply named Muscle Roller Stick. It does exactly as described. It provides continuous levels of pressure by using rolling wheels along an 18.3 inch firm but flexible bar. The positive effects are very similar to a foam roller in the sense it helps to stimulate your muscles, work out knots and help improve blood flow. But the design allows you to control the pressure better and for areas you can reach with your hands (not so much your back, unless you have someone help you). This roller is also very lightweight and durable and can put out a serious rolling pressure on muscles without the roller’s shape warping. Be careful because little to moderate pressure goes a long way. Its rubber handles offer a comfortable, ergonomic grip that aids in smooth rolling but allows you to exert pressure. The size is also ideal for packing in your gym bag when you might want to massages your muscles before working out. We highly recommend this massage roller whether you need to stretch muscles out or want to massage muscle pain away. To be fair, you can also check out the Elite Muscle Roller Stick which has an identical design.
A different massage roller design we highly recommend is the 22 inch Tiger Tail rolling muscle massager. The design of this roller is softer and more suitable for beginners and those who may not get much exercise or have pain tolerance. This is essentially a single rolling foam piece with non-grips handles. It is much softer compared to other much firmer plastic massage rollers. It comes in 11, 18 or 22 inches giving you a range of lengths for different types of massage rolling. For back massages (someone will need to help you) go with the 22 inches. The smaller lengths will be for any other smaller muscles.
The firmest massage roller we recommend is the 21 inch TriggerPoint GRID STK. This roller has a more varied stiffer 3-dimensional surface area allowing deeper massages. Its great for both large and small muscles and portable enough for throw in your gym bag. The grips are a high quality rubber that allows you to exert a good amount of pressure. This really helps loosen and stretch your muscles out and is great for really digging into specific sore spots. We recommend this massage roller is you need deep massages to break down myofascial tissue and is not for beginners who can’t handle the pain of these kinds of massages. The design has more angles and digs deeper compared to other massages rollers that exert pressure but don’t actually dig deep into your muscles. Admittedly, you can still use this massage roller lightly and not for a deep-tissue massage, but there are other massage rollers that are more suitable for softer rolling. While it is more expensive, the quality also ensures it will last you a very long time.
Best cane massager
The most popular cane massager on the market is the Thera Cane. While it may be odd looking, it is extremely handy for to applying a good amount of pressure to hard to reach trigger points to soothe aches and pains. The unique patented design has 6 hard ‘treatment balls’ in various places for self-massage. Its lightweight and the hook design allows you to reach anywhere on your body. The kind of handles it has also makes it easy to hold onto and provide a good amount of pressure into your muscles. Its designed to help regularly massage tense areas but it won’t be good if you need strong pressure or deep tissue massages. Its particularly great for the muscles between your shoulder blades, lower back and even the bottom of your foot. This is the original cane massager and not one of the many fakes you can buy online, and comes with a lifetime guarantee.
Another useful cane massager is the Body Back Buddy. Made from high density polyethlene it is lightweight with 11 hard therapy balls in various sizes and shapes. It differentiates itself with a notable S curve that provides more angles and better leverage for self-massages. You are able to reach every muscle group as this cane massager is larger than others and has better reach. However, if you’re a smaller individual this might be too large and cumbersome for you and we would recommend the smaller Thera Cane instead.
Best foot massager
Theraflow is well known for their excellent foot massaging products. The massage it gives can best be described as comfortable and thoroughly therapeutic. It is designed to soothe feet and heel pain and is particularly good for plantar fasciitis, neuropathy and other conditions. By massaging your feet and promoting blood flow, your achy feet feel much better and refreshed. This is great for those who have to stand all day which can lead to some serious foot pain. This item also has a lifetime guarantee provided by the manufacturer. The solid construction is also made from polished Theaceae wood that feels nicer than other plastic massagers. If you are looking for one that is a bit more portable, then check out the similar but smaller Theraflow Foot Massager. It has a similar therapeutic effect but it has grooves instead of nubs sticking out. The updated design is smaller, lighter and more portable and you can still use both feet with it as long as you have a flat surface. You can still hit all those trigger points in your feet while relieving tired feet. Both are excellent, it simply depends on which size you prefer and where you will most often be using it.
The Belmint Shiatsu Foot Massager is an electric foot massager with two independent massage chambers and foot warmers. Deep-kneading vibrations deliver a shiatsu massage on both the sides and bottoms of your feet for a very relaxing and therapeutic feeling. A control panel in the center allows you to choose from five different massage strengths depending on how deep you want the massage. You can also enable the heat here, which is a nice warmth and not too hot. Just enough to get your blood flow moving and gives a nice synergistic relaxing effect with the massage. The cloth cover inside is also removable so it can be washed without worrying about it getting dirty over time. It is important to note that this foot massager does not massage the arch or heel of your feet, only the front bottom portion and sides. It also does not massage your calves or ankles.