You see them everywhere during the holidays. Back when Sky Mall was a thing, they were on every other page of that catalog. During Christmas time, they pop up on the store shelves like weeds: self-massage tools and gadgets. They could be mistaken for marital aids, props for a bad sci-fi show, or a toddler’s toy gone wrong.
But are they really any good? And how do they stack up to a massage from a human being?
You might be surprised to learn that we actually advocate the use of some of these tools from time to time, either on our clients or on ourselves. We even sell some of them in the clinic.
Massage tools can be a good way to help maintain the results your massage therapist worked so hard to get, or just to keep yourself going until you come back in for your regular massage. But make no mistake (and this really should go without saying):
No tool is a replacement for a human touch.
Having said that, the best tools are the simplest.
A jack with nobs? (sounds dirty, but it’s not)
It looks weird, but it does the job (Stop giggling! We don’t mean it that way). Jacknobber is one of the more popular brands of this type of tool, but the variations and options abound. Tools of this type are a great way to relieve your fingers, or to apply pressure where the elbows would be ideal, but the leverage you need is impossible for that particular area. It’s the Swiss Army Knife of massage tools. It gives you a number of simple choices, allowing you to customize the pressure to your liking and to the degree you find desirable. It’s also relatively inexpensive, coming in at around $5 – $10.
The major downside of this tool is that it’s hard to use on your own back and neck. It’s better used in the hands of a friend, loved one, or better yet, a professional massage therapist. It’s also difficult to apply the pressure you may need, just because your mind literally won’t permit you to inflict that level of discomfort or pain on yourself.
We swear by this tool at The Good Life Massage, mostly because we use it ourselves, and proudly sell it in the clinic. It is made specifically for the arms, hands, and wrists–the parts that work the hardest for people like writers, musicians, nurses, or massage therapists.
It features an automatic spring-loaded compression, the intensity of which can be varied to your liking. Unlike the knob-style tools, the device applies the pressure for you. All you have to do is run your hands, wrists, and arms through the rollers. The convenience comes with a higher price, but it’s well worth it, especially if your livelihood depends on your arms and hands. This one’s available in the clinic for $44.95
Bear in mind: this one’s only good for hands and arms. It won’t do anything for your back, legs, or any other area of the body. But specialization has it’s advantages.
They look vaguely like something oldsters would use to get around on, but shorter. These cane-style tools give you the firm, rounded pressure points of the nob-style tools, but with better access to your own back. They typically have several knobs to work with, so they’re versatile in that way.
Again, it has a similar problem to the knob tools in the sense that you’re still applying the pressure yourself. The difference, though, is leverage. It’s a little easier to go deeper on your own muscles when you’re pulling instead of pushing, and it more easily reaches the places that most often have the most pain.
One possible complaint here is the form factor. Storage is a challenge. You can’t exactly just stick it in a drawer, but it does lie flat under a bed or in a closet. The price point is fair, ranging between $10 and $30.
We recommend these to clients all the time. It reaches where your arms can’t, and uses your body weight to supply the pressure. It’s particularly good for working out your back or legs. The one major disadvantage with this one is the learning curve. You have to get down on it and roll yourself on it in such a way that it works your problem areas. On the other hand, it really isn’t that difficult to figure out. Your massage therapist would be happy to coach you on the foam roller exercises best for your needs. The Internet also abounds with instructional videos and exercises to coach you through it.
We really can’t say enough good about this one. The human touch is best, but this is honestly the next best thing. We’re proud to offer foam rollers at the clinic for $15. The bulk of these make them tricky to display, so if you don’t see one when you come in, just ask.
Ever wish you could ice sore muscles without having to hold on to the ice? (Cue the infomercial-style black and white video of someone trying to ice themselves with a traditional ice pack, but acting like they’re in total agony because their fingers get cold. And then they drop it with hysterical levels of incompetence and buffoonery.)
Cryo Cups solve that problem. All you do is fill the cup with water, put it into the freezer, and let it turn into ice for a few hours. The removable sleeve holds the ice, which comes out in a perfect massage tool shape. The sleeve stays on firmly so you can apply as much pressure as you want without losing the ice or freezing your fingers off. We use these on clients in our ice treatments (free! All you have to do is ask.) and on ourselves. You can buy these at the clinic for just $10. Not only do you get the smooth, consistent pressure, you get the ice soothing inflammation.
So what can a pro do that these can’t?
Do not mistake any of these tools for a “do-it-yourself” solution for massage. A massage therapist does what no machine can do. With training and experience, massage therapists can exploit connections throughout the whole network of your muscles and connective tissues to give you lasting relief.
Fundamentally, a massage therapist can apply pressure at a level that might not be very comfortable in the moment, but which is necessary to provide the healing you need. You are literally incapable of inflicting this kind of discomfort on yourself in any productive way. Combine these abilities with compassion for our clients and intuition, and no machine or tool can measure up.
Tom Gunn is the blog editor and marketing director for The Good Life Massage. You can hire him for your marketing, writing, and social media needs by contacting him at firstname.lastname@example.org