How to choose a good massager for home use
Prior to building our own massagers we'de been prescribing a supplementary home massage for patients for several years, using a variety of products, plus used a variety of professional machines in clinic. This gave me the opportunity to see what is effective and what patients find easy to use. Before we started to build our own we sourced and evaluated a large number of samples from manufacturers. I can say this because it has been confirmed by a published scientific study, most seemed to have almost no consideration of function and ease of use. They were disgarded. Still, we ended up with some good ideas which we put into our own, and have since learned from an ongoing process of refinement and feedback from both practitioners and patients. Please allow me share with you what I've learned.
Percussion massage is the benchmark
Some massagers work using a kneeding process, emulating a manual masseur. For comfort and penetration though percussion massagers are superior. These are the ones that have hammers that send vibrations into the muscles. For a long time the benchmark for performance has probably been the professional stand mounted German G5 machines.
One person machine v two person machine
Professional machines tend to be what are known as “two person machines". That simply means they are designed for practitioners to hold on patients, not patients to hold on themselves. One such machine we've used weighs 3.2kg. With that I just sat the machine on the patient and the weight of the machine is all the downward pressure I needed. However, if one tries to massage the back of their shoulders with one it would be extremely difficult. A lighter machine with a completely different handle would be needed. This is what one needs for home use.
There are two main criteria for the shape of a self usage massager.
- It should be easy to hold and feel "balanced".
- It should be designed to allow you to reach most parts of your body easily without you having to adopt some difficult or fatiguing position.
The picture (right or below depending on screen size) shows two massagers - the top one has some good shape characteristics which would make it well balanced and easy to use to reach parts such as behind your shoulders.
The lower massager shows some design features that cause a massager to feel bulky and unbalanced, plus make it more difficult and fatiguing to use in places such as behind your shoulders.
If you massaged behind your shoulders using the top machine you would be gripping the handle about level with the your ear. If you used the bottom machine to massage the same place your gripping hand would be about the back of your head.
To illustrate the difference try holding a closed fist for one one minute just in front of your ear. This is the position one would use massaging with an ergonomically designed massager. Next hold your clenched fist at the back of the top of your head for one minute. This is the position one would be using a poorly designed massager. Which is easiest? Which causes the most fatigue?
The G5 stand mounted machine has power to spare. This is because it has a motor that would be at home in a commercial washing machine mounted in a large stand connected by a heavy flexible drive shaft. On the other hand many consumer massagers only have small motors making them basically a little buzz box that that only massages the surface. Most muscular problems are deep, so hand held percussion massagers need plenty of power to penetrate. You'd think that comparing power would be simple: look on the box and see how many Watts the motor has. Unfortunately as the following examples show it's not that simple.
We had one manufacturer claim his machine had a 35W motor. When we checked the motor's model number on the manufacturer's web site we found it was only 25W.
I do not properly understand this myself, but our own Deep Tissue Massager has a motor rated at 18w. When we built our General Purpose Massager they customised the motor by putting in better bearings and bushes, then tweaked it to develop a lot more power. It now develops about 32w, but it is still rated at 18w. It is clearly much more powerful than the Deep Tissue Massager, but rated the same. As I said, I don’t understand, but it clearly shows that the rated power can be very misleading.
A different way to measure power
Perhaps one of my patient's inadvertently came up with the best way to measure the power once when he commented about our new General Purpose Massager as compared with the older Deep Tissue Massager. He said "I can tell that one has a lot more power. The one you used to use made my nose tingle when it was put on my neck. This one makes my nose tingle when it is put it on my shoulder".
Some massagers may have decent motors but their hammer/drive mechanism is so flimsy that a lot of the power that should be penetrating the muscles is dissipated before it even gets there. (If you want to see what I mean go down to the shops and pick up some of the consumer massagers and push firmly on the hammers, and see how much give you find.) A variation of this occurred in a “professional” massager I used to own. Due to a very poor design after a while the main bearing in it’s drive mechanism becomes loose and starts to wear quickly. As it becomes more sloppy the machine starts to rattle and lose penetration.
Weight is always a bit of a compromise. A self use massager needs to be strongly built in order for it to be durable (last a long time) and penetrate well, however too much weight makes it more difficult to use and hold for longer periods of time. Your machine should feel solid and strong, but not too heavy to be easy to use.
Apparently the average home handyman only uses his power tools every now and then, so a lot of consumer electrical tools are designed to last for about 12 hours of actual running time. Unfortunately a lot of massagers are built the same way. This works for ineffective massagers that get given and mothers day presents, used a couple of times, then put in a cupboard, but not for something that is effective and used consistently. Ours are built extremely strongly, as evidenced by the large number that have been used commercially for years.
Everyone who sells legitimate massagers in Australia has had to jump through a lot of hoops to get electrical safety accreditation. Part of this process includes having an independent laboratory test the machine and prepare a 50 page report, and have it audited by a certifying body. It’s a pain in the butt, but I’m glad its like that because the last thing you want is some inferior electrical parts or wiring in a vibrating machine you hold against your body. This should not be a concern when buying a reputable brand, however when we were looking at samples originally some of the stuff found on line and in smaller shops were very dodgy. We also had factories in China send samples where the internal wiring connections were definitely sub-standard and would have eventually broken off. Nowadays, it is very easy for someone to import some sub standard stuff and sell it on Ebay or at markets. Buy from a reputable source and look for a proper electrical compliance label.
Price is only a guide.
The previously mentioned G5s are very expensive, and very good.
I've seen massagers sold for about $40 in the shops that are very "cheap and nasty".
I know of a massager that retails in Australia for about $400, yet the factory sells them for $14.50.
I've also had a "professional" massager (a well known brand) that costs about $600, but was so poorly built that if you put any pressure on it the thing would start to rattle and need to be sent by courier (at my expense) to the distributor for repairs. I've pulled it apart, and if my factory couldn't build them for $20 I'd be very surprised.
I’ve seen some utter garbage factories produce for under $10 sold at field days and expos for hundreds of dollars
In Australia we have a despicable company that preys on the elderly and others less able to shop and compare selling very basic items for sometimes thousands of dollars.
The real cost of good quality
When we build our first machine it was an existing massager, but we asked the factory to replace the basic consumer grade components (motor, bearings, powerboard, switch and cable with top quality commercial grade parts? How much extra did it cost us? It was about $2 per machine. The $600 price tag on a “professional massager” or the $1500 price tag on the machines sold by those disgusting parasites who prey on the vulnerable do not reflect at all the cost of supplying them. The extra is mostly marketing expenses, multiple distribution layers, and sometimes excessive profiteering.
The DrGraeme method
We were initially supplying a few colleagues. We elected to pay the extra $2 for the good parts. We were much happier to be using a better product. They would give less problems. Most importantly colleagues would appreciate their value and benefit, therefore recommend them patients. The extra $2 saved us a lot of hassles dealing with faulty machines, and because they were largely sold by colleague recommendation it saved us from having to do advertising or have a network of distributors taking their cut. It was a very wise investment, and the philosophy we have used since. Also, by doing this we were able to keep our prices very fair and affordable which meant we sell more massagers. The higher volumes mean more economy and higher quality, which is again win-win.
The next step
Congratulations on getting this far. If you check out most of the massagers you find for home use in the shops and on line using these criteria you will find what a team of UK researchers found, that is that most are not serious pieces of equipment at all, and if you use them you will not get much benefit. . If you check our DrGraeme Deep Tissue Massager and General Purpose Massager you'll see that we've built them so users will actually benefit. We'd highly recommend you checked out our usage guide which gives summaries of the research based benefits you may receive. To get one of our massagers you may check out our list of clinics to see if there is one near you, or order one from us directly.