Massage has been proven to be a major health boon. Whether you are a fitness guru or a desk-bound worker, the benefits of massage for day-to-day life have been extensively recorded and reviewed.

Massage, however, can be expensive. Paying a professional masseuse for regular treatment can add up very quickly. And, although that is the best way to go, sometimes visiting the masseuse isn’t economically feasible. For this, a market for home massage products has sprung up in recent years.

This poses a different question; what is the perfect all-in-one body massager to help you?

Why massage in the first place?

The benefits of massage have been proven through numerous scholarly studies. While the ideas as to why massage works so effectively are debated (with some theories being that massage breaks down the tissue to make blood flow more freely, while some theories suggest that massage activates certain nerves that serve as gates within the body that dull pain receptors within the body), the benefits are generally agreed upon across the board.

Beyond being a way to relax, massage can aid in pain relief throughout the body, serving as complementary treatment for headaches, sports injuries, joint pain, and fibromyalgia. Massage can also aid in unexpected ways, with digestive disorders and even insomnia being at least partially treatable through massage.

Naturally, you should be cautious about pursuing a massage regimen; check with your primary healthcare provider to be sure that a massage regimen is recommended or even healthy for you. This article assumes that you have been cleared for a massage regimen.

Should you be cleared for massage, and should you be interested in adding massage to your daily life, you will want to consider investing in some basic massage tools for home use.

Low Tech Options

Of course, one can always use their hands for the sake of massage, but without the proper training, one runs the risk of doing more harm than good. Still, basic hand massage can be beneficial if you have no other options; be sure to check with your health care provider for advice on some techniques you can safely use at home.

The most inexpensive tool that people use for massage (outside of one’s hands, of course) is the humble tennis ball. With the right amount of resistance to being crushed, a fuzzy exterior, and a round shape that can easily fit into many nooks and crannies in one’s body, a tennis ball works as an excellent low-cost massager.

Because of the prevalence of tennis balls, you are likely to find one at your home already. And, since they are inexpensive to purchase, you can easily replace them whenever they become too worn to use for massage.

One of the few problems with this method, however, is that a tennis ball is ultimately limited in the amount of space it can cover. Plus, since tennis balls are not designed specifically for massage, improper use of them can result in more harm than good, just like with one’s hands.

For a larger area, for example if one has hip issues or quad issues, a foam roller makes an excellent addition to one’s post-workout tool set.

Some state that foam rolling results in “self-myofascial release.” This isn’t necessarily true, as kinesthesiologists say that the amount of force required for myofascial release is much greater than what a human being can put on themselves (apparently, being run over by a speeding truck would result in true myofascial release, but this would obviously result in serious health deficits).

More likely, foam rolling activates nerves within the nervous system. The vagus nerve, which handles many autonomous functions of the body, is theorized to be heavily impacted by massage, which results in the numerous and varied health benefits that come from massage.

As far as foam rolling goes, benefits have been determined for performing foam rolling for roughly 60 seconds per muscle you are treating. While you may experience some pain, you will also likely see gain, as perceived flexibility and endurance in a workout increases after a foam rolling session, somewhat akin to dynamic stretching such as light jogging prior to a workout.

It will take some patience to see results from a foam roller, as you will need to contort yourself, and move yourself back and forth across the foam roller to get the full benefits.

Foam rollers are significantly more expensive than tennis balls, but are worth the money spent; a foam roller can cost from 10 dollars to a simple foam roller with no perks to 50 dollars for a higher end model that contains more grooves for deep tissue massage. Numerous kinds of foam rollers exist, from bulky foam rollers that are essentially a solid cylinder of foam to portable rollers that have a grip.

A negative aspect of the foam roller is that some rollers may lack the precision necessary to get into specific spots. Further, while portable options exist, many rollers tend to be bulky and difficult to bring to the gym, or to any circumstance where you need muscle relief on the go, away from home.

If you are willing to invest more than this in massage therapy, you will find numerous high tech options. However, it is difficult to determine which is worth your time.

High Tech Options

You may have seen a vibrating massage tool at some point. You may have even owned a vibrating massage tool.

Vibration therapy has several benefits that aid in post exercise recovery, limiting delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and decreasing recovery time. Studies show that vibration therapy can increase range of motion and explosive power when done during the cooldown period of a workout.

And, because the concept of vibrations for therapy has existed since the days of the ancient Greeks, and research in regards to the healing factors of vibration have been ongoing for centuries, vibration therapy seems to be a logical inclusion with a massage regimen.

An issue arises, however; vibration therapy machines, like with seeing a professional masseuse, can be prohibitively expensive. A full body vibration massage plate can cost upwards of a thousand dollars. Meanwhile, inexpensive options can lead to more harm than good, or can simply not provide legitimate benefits.

Somewhere in the middle of inexpensive, questionable products and verified, but expensive devices, lies the massage gun.

The Massage gun

In 2016, the first massage gun hit the market. Massage guns take the concept of vibration therapy and add a percussive element. This form of massage, dubbed “percussive therapy,” uses a pivoting massage head attached to a body that appears to be a power tool. The pivoting head can hit the body at roughly 16-40 hertz (meaning the tool hits a spot on the body at 16-40 times in a second), usually hitting from a distance of a few millimeters away from the body.

While the science behind percussive therapy is still being explored, the results are promising, with several users claiming better range of motion and more explosive power after some time using a massage gun.

Like a tennis ball, a massage gun can hit obscure nooks and crannies on the body. An advantage that a massage gun has over the tennis ball is its customizable nature; a massage gun will typically have multiple massage heads, as well as several speed and power options to ensure that the appropriate level of force is used and the area is massaged with a specialized tool.

And while the amount of space that a massage gun hits at one time may not be as large as the average foam roller, the amount of time needed to massage the whole body is significantly lower, as the massage head works with individual spots at a fast rate; experts suggest spending between 15 seconds and 2 minutes on each muscle group.

Most importantly, however, a massage gun is portable by design. Whereas some foam rollers and full body vibration devices are difficult to carry to the gym or outside of the home, a massage gun can be thrown into the gym bag and carried anywhere where you need a quick burst of massage.

While the price may be greater than that of a foam roller (with a quality massage gun costing at least $250, and higher-end models costing upwards of $500), this still comes out to be significantly less than even a high end vibration massage plate.

The best option

Ultimately, the choice is best left to your personal preference. A hybrid option may work best, however; a foam roller for the larger muscle groups, and a massage gun for getting smaller, harder-to-reach areas will cover your bases. Also, while seeing a masseuse every day may not be within your budget, a professional massage is ultimately the best way to ensure that you are getting all the benefits of massage, and should be worked into your schedule and budget on occasion.