Whether you understand the science behind it or not, you probably know the reason most people get massages— they feel good. Whether it is a mild stimulation of a sore shoulder, or deep tissue work on your trapezius after a workout, massaging sore muscles makes them feel better. 

Most of us would agree, if we could have our ideal, there would be someone to massage your sore spots every night— preferably a trained massage therapist. Since you probably don’t have a massage therapist on standby (congratulations if you do), you probably have to settle for doing it yourself. Even if you have the time and budget for regular professional massages, there are still times when it is needed to take care of business on your own. 

If you have ever tried to massage your own shoulders, you have probably figured out that doing it yourself unassisted is only very slightly beneficial. If you really want your massages to be beneficial and not just mildly frustrating, you would probably benefit from purchasing a handheld muscle massager.

Not all Personal Massagers are the Same

Now that it is established that a handheld massager can be beneficial to pretty much everybody, it is helpful to understand exactly what qualifies as a handheld massager. There are quite a few pieces of equipment, and most have a specific set of pros and cons. 

At the low end of the cost and functionality scale, you find manual massage tools. You have probably seen the most common versions of these on the shelf at your local big-box retailer. Often they will be a simple piece of molded plastic that fits your palm, with knobs or curves for working specific muscles. Some slightly more complicated models may have rollers or moving ball bearings for working larger muscles.

These manual massagers have some very specific benefits. They are lightweight, usually only a few ounces. Most of them are very portable, fitting comfortably in a handbag, a glove box, a gym bag, or even your pocket. This makes them great tools to keep on hand for neck cramp at your desk or a leg spasm while working out. They are also the quietest personal massager option. The solid molded massagers are able to do their job completely silently, definitely a help if you need to work out a shoulder kink at your desk at work.

A major drawback of these manual massagers is right there in the description. By being manual, they are limited by the operator- deep tissue is difficult without considerable force, and any kind of pulse massage is obviously impossible. They are also typically not very effective on hard to reach areas since even the ones that can reach behind your back don’t really provide enough leverage to get any kind of deep tissue work done. Being user-powered also means that your post-workout recovery massage is being performed with your fatigued hands and cramping arms— probably a little counterproductive to that recovery you are working for. You definitely want something more efficient for a full-body post-workout massage.

Another option for personal handheld massagers includes the long list of traditional old fashioned plug-in massagers. These can provide percussion, which is hugely helpful in working hard to reach areas. Many of them have heating functions and multiple massage heads, which makes them extremely versatile in which areas they are able to assist with. 

The biggest drawback to this type of personal massager is that they typically use a huge amount of power, and thus are corded. Having a cord means they aren’t really practical for throwing in your gym bag for a post-workout recovery massage or to have in your purse for a kinked back at work. While the massage itself may be superior to anything you can give yourself with a manual massager, You trade in the quiet and mobility that you had with that simpler device.

Thankfully, in recent years, the massage gun has become popular. This device is, in many ways, the best of both worlds. Massage guns use percussive massage to work deeply and quickly into sore muscles. They stimulate nervous system response by rapid percussion, reducing pain in overworked muscles, and they improve blood flow and oxygen to tired muscles after a workout. 

While those benefits are similar to some of the more traditional percussion massager functions that have been around for years, there are some specific benefits that are unique to massage guns. Quality massage guns oscillate at a higher rate than many old fashioned handhelds. The Theragun Pro, for example, has multiple speeds, with a top speed of 2400 oscillations per minute. This high vibration rate allows the massager to reduce pain, in addition to the obvious result of relaxing knots and tired muscles.

While the higher-powered percussive massagers require two hands to operate, a massage gun is small enough to comfortably be used on yourself with one hand. This allows them to be truly handheld and means that you are able to get out any sore spots without needing a second set of hands. 

A quality massage gun will typically include multiple interchangeable heads. This allows you to work a wide variety of muscle needs. Larger ball tips allow you to massage large muscles in your back, buttocks, and legs, taking care of larger sore muscles quickly, and moving on to smaller problem areas when you would have already cramped and stopped with a manual massager. Swap out the ball tip for a cone to pinpoint smaller muscles in the arm, hands, and feet. 

Another major benefit of massage guns is that they are cordless. This gives the portability of a manual while massaging as well as (or better than) a bulky electric massager. Many of them are not much larger than a manual massager. The Theragun Mini, for example, is not much bigger than the palm of your hand, but still has the changeable head and 150-minute battery life of its bigger cousins. The Theragun Pro actually comes with a spare battery, so you can swap it out for a continuous 300 minutes of massage. 

The benefits of a massage gun over a manual or an electric massager are fairly obvious- by combining the functionality of a large electric massager with the portability of a manual, your options for use are greatly increased. It can travel wherever you go, while still being strong enough to be your primary model at home as well. 

There are only two real drawbacks to a massage gun when compared with the other options. The first drawback is cost. Massage guns tend to be on the expensive side when compared to the other portable options. A lower quality model will set you back about $100, but a high-quality model can be $250 or more. The important thing to remember is that a well-made massage gun will last for years, and compared to the cost of going to the massage therapist even once a week, pays for itself in a few months.

The other drawback to massage guns is that they can be quite loud. Early massage guns were basically repurposed jigsaws, and many models can still sound like you are on a construction site. This is another reason to invest in a quality massage gun. A better manufacturer like Theragun will be substantially quieter than an entry model, even on one of their mid-range models like the Theragun Prime. 

What Can a Portable Massager Actually Do?

By being truly portable, but still powerful, a massage gun is a practical solution for use after a workout. It can help you with muscle recovery and can be used to stimulate blood flow into a muscle group to help those muscles repair, or it can be used to work lactic acid out of muscles and reduce pain from improper oxygenation while exercising. You can also use it to trigger blood flow into those muscles before a workout, helping you to warm up and prepare those muscles to work.

Portability also makes a massage gun a great option for your desk at work. After hunkering over a desk for several hours, you can relax tired muscles and improve blood flow throughout your body, making you feel better and making you more productive. 

Portable handheld massagers are also fantastic for lymphatic massage, improving the flow of lymphatic fluid throughout the body, and aiding overall health and well being. Ideally, these massages should be done throughout the day, so having a truly portable option makes the process much more efficient and practical. 

In summary, most people would benefit from a portable handheld massager. They provide the benefits of a corded massager, with the convenience of a manual massager. A massage gun makes workouts more effective and helps you feel better if you lead a more sedentary desk job-based lifestyle. Regardless of how you live your life, a portable handheld muscle massager will help you feel better.