Machine vs hand massage

Massage by hand is an excellent therapy which has been used and benefited people for probably thousands of years. However, recently various massage machines have become available. These are sometimes used by professional therapists to save the stress on their hands, but more importantly have allowed people to self apply massage. The question is are they effective and a real substitute for hand massage. The answer is yes they are, but only some, and only if used correctly.

In this article we'll discuss the two basic types of machine: the kneading type and the vibration type, with the advantages and disadvantages of each, and recommendations based upon your needs.

Massage cushion
"Kneading" massager

Kneading action massagers

Massagers such as massage cushions and massage chairs generally use a "kneading action" that mimics the conventional massage given by professional massage therapists.

How effective are they

Cushion and chair massagers that work like this would be moderately effective and allow practically unlimited self massage. This makes them great for something like relaxing after a hard day's work. However, they would not be as effective as a professional therapist, and their kneading contacts are not directed by a therapist with skills and knowledge. Therefore they would not be a serious consideration for therapeutic applications or for massaging deep problem spots.

General Purpose Massager
Vibration massage machine

Vibration massagers

Rather than using manual pressure to penetrate and massage vibration massagers use vibration waves, just like ultrasound or laser. This means:

  • it can pentrate deeper with less risk and can be a lot more effective
  • it does not need special skill to use.

Because of this a lot of professional therapists actually use vibration massagers themselves in practice, and they are ideal for self use. Let's look at why vibration massagers can be so effective.

  1. The ability to penetrate deeply without pressure
  2. Excellent scientifically proven effects
  3. No need for special skills and knowledge to be able to apply quality therapy
  4. It can be much faster
  5. Because it provides quality therapy without special skills or knowledge it allows practically unlimited therapy.

Ability to penetrate

Massage often needs to penetrate deeply to get to the spots that need it. Hand massage uses pressure do this, whereas vibration massage uses mechanical vibrations similarly to the way ultrasound uses sound waves. The advantages of vibrations are:

  • they can pentrate far more deeply,
  • without needing the physical pressure there is no need for pain, and
  • far less risk of damage or injury.

To illustrate how much more effective vibration penetrates we've got an example of two machines designed to penetrate the ground. One uses crushing forces but only penetrates a small way. The other uses a vibrating pad and can penetrate through kilometers of the earth's crust.

Vibrations sent into the earth and picked up several km away

How vibrations penetrate

This truck is used to do seismic surveys. Vibrations from the pad beneath pentrate deep into the earth's crust where it bounces off the layers of rock and are picked up by sensors several km away. Vibration massagers use this principle to penetrate deep into your muscles.

This machine is called a sheep’s foot roller. It uses crushing pressure to compact the ground underneath. It’s effect probably extends to about a meter in depth.

Using pressure to penetrate

This machine uses it's extreme weight and pressure, yet can only penetrate a minute fraction of that achieved by the vibration machine above. It also requires much more effort and has the potential to do much more damage. This is the same principle massage therapists use.

The scientifically proven effects of vibration massage
Summary of the scientifically proven effects of vibration massage

Scientifically proven effects

When the vibrations from a vibration massager penetrate they have the excellent scientifically proven effects listed in this diagram. For more information please see our summary video or our article The scientifically proven effects of vibration massage

No need for special skills- ideal for self massage

Whereas manual (by hand) massage requires special skill and training, vibration massage can easily be applied with out this. There are some basic protocols and precautions as discussed in our article How to use a hand held massager, but simply all you need to do is sit the head of the massager on the part you wish to to massage and let the vibrations penetrate. This of course makes it ideal for self use.

Vibration massage can be much faster

In a clinical trial of using massage to help post exercise recovery 5 minutes of vibration massage gave similar (actually slighly better) results than 15 minutes of conventional massage, making the vibration three times as fast. Of course this would depend on the equipment being used. We've actually build a hand held massager with four strong vibration pads that is incredibly fast.

Vibration massagers allow practically unlimited therapy

Because they can easily be used by people with no special skills this allows people to have practically unlimited numbers of application of therapy. This is a huge advantage because most issues need regular therapy over time, while single or infrequent applications usually have little long term affect. Here are some examples conditions that definately need regular applications over time.

Examples of conditions needing regular massage

Percussion vs vibration massage

Massage guns and percussion massagers are not vibration massagers

Massage gun and percussion massager marketers often claim these benefits for their machines. However, as discussed in Percussion massage vs vibration massage, as a marketing gimmick massage gun makers have modified their machines to drive their heads in like jackhammers rather than deliver therapeutic vibrations. The reality is that this makes them a lot less effective at delivering vibration, and a lot more dangerous.

How to choose a vibration massager

Unfortunately the manufacturers of personal massagers have a long history of making product that looks good on shp shelves, but are not effective. Also, in recent times the market has been flooded with massage guns which as we've seen are not good. Because of that to get a proper effective vibration massager you really need to check out our article How to choose a massager.

Building our own vibration massagers

If you check out our article then have a look around you'll find that most consumer personal use massagers are not very good, and the professional machines that are effective tend to be very expensive and designed for a professional to use on someone else rather than for self use. Frustrated looking for something to recommend for patients we decided to build our own, and now they are sold and recommended by thousands of professionals across Australia, New Zealand, the UK and Europe. You can get these either directly from us or from one of those professionals.

The General Purpose Massager

The first is our General Purpose Massager which as you can see has a proper ergonomic handle that makes it extremely easy to use. It’s so effective that as well as personal use it’s used by thousands of professionals in their own clinics and in about 15 university courses. Best of all it’s very affordable.
More information about our General Purpose Massager

The DrGraeme Ultimate Quad Head Massager

The Ultimate Quad Head Massager

The other one is our new quad head massager. This one has all the good things of the General Purpose Massager, plus you can obviously massager a much larger area at one time. As well as that it’s got a special dual offset rocker mechanism with a damper. What that means is that it’s incredibly smooth and it sends the vibrations deep into your muscles rather than vibrate the machine, and if you accidentally go over a bony part it won’t do any harm.
For more information about our Quad Head Massager


DrGraeme massagers were originally built by Dr Graeme for use in his clinic, and to prescribe to his patients for additional self use at home. Now these are used by colleagues and other professionals for similar purposes. If you are a professional and wish to know more about this therapy, or possibly get a sample massager to trial please check out our practitioner page.