As a physical therapist, one of the most common body aches I see in people of all ages is neck and shoulder pain. If your neck and shoulders are tight, a pillow massager can help you find fast relief at home. Keep reading for everything you need to know about buying a pillow massager!
Benefits of a Pillow Massager
Neck and shoulder pain often stem from tight muscles and poor posture. The body thrives in a variety of movements, but muscles tense up when they’re held in one position for too long, such as the hunched-forward posture we easily don when driving, typing at a computer, or staring at a cell phone.
Although I always recommend PT exercises and stretches to fix poor posture, a nice massage can help ease tense muscles and relieve immediate pain. Massage therapy works by breaking up knots, or tight bands of muscle tissue, and allowing the muscle to lengthen and relax.
But massage therapy can get expensive. One way to do-it-yourself is by using a massage gun, a handheld device that delivers pinpointed, deep-tissue percussion at the trigger of a finger. The downside to massage guns is that they require active use—and you may find it’s hard to relax when you have to hold the unit in place. A massager pillow, on the other hand, lets you sidestep the stickup and completely relax.
Plus, massager pillows are easy to use, compact, and downright comfortable—it’s a pillow, after all. You can easily position it to hit any spot on your back that’s giving you trouble, whether that’s your neck, low back, quads, or lats (probably not your feet—save that for a nice foot massager!). Simply prop the pillow on your couch or chair, lean back, and let the magic happen.
Types of Pillow Massagers
Pillow massagers come in all shapes and styles. In fact, you’ll find three broad types of pillow massagers populating the market today:
- Shiatsu massagers
- Vibrating massagers
- Heated massagers
Which kind is best? That’s a matter of preference. Let’s take a closer look at what each type of pillow has to offer.
Shiatsu: The term “shiatsu” translates to “finger pressure” in Japanese. This style of massage uses a kneading motion and firm pressure to break up knotted muscle tissue. A shiatsu device typically delivers this kind of massage in a circular motion using distinct, knobby nodes. Shiatsu can feel intense—even painful—on tender areas, while in some cases anything gentler wouldn’t do the job. So if you have particularly tough, stiff knots in your upper back, shiatsu may be a good option.
Vibration: A vibrating massager is more self-explanatory. Instead of a few large nodes, it typically features several smaller nodules that vibrate to gently stimulate your muscles and promote blood circulation. If you find your muscles tense up under shiatsu massage, a vibration massager may be the better choice.
Heat: A heated pillow massager generally uses one or both of the above massage methods, with the added feature of thermotherapy or heat therapy. Heat is a vasodilator, which means it widens blood vessels and increases blood flow, naturally relieving pain. If you experience arthritis pain or joint stiffness along with muscle aches, then look for a massager with a heat option.
- Shiatsu: best for targeting tough knots and large muscle groups
- Vibration: best for general relaxation or a gentler touch
- Heat: best for promoting blood flow
The following 4 pillow massagers combine aspects of all three of these therapeutic functions!
Top Pillow Massagers
iReliev Relaxable Pillow Massager
Unlike most of its competitors, this pillow massager from iReliev actually looks like a pillow! Available in 5 colors—including genuine leather—its discrete style can match any decor. It may be the priciest massager on this list, but it’s the only one that’s cordless.
- Two-way kneading massagers
- Infrared ceramic bulbs for heat
- 10-min auto shutoff
- Rechargeable battery (cordless)
- 2-year warranty
- On sale for $90 from iReliev
Zyllion Shiatsu Back and Neck Massager
This powerful device from Zyllion delivers a shiatsu massage strong enough to melt away your toughest knots. Thoughtful accessories include a sleeve for modifying the intensity of the rollers and velcro straps for securing the massager to the back of your chair.
- Two-way kneading massage that reverses each minute
- Optional heat setting
- 20-min auto shutoff
- Includes 6-ft cord, sleeve, straps, wall charger and car adapter
- 2-yr warranty
- On sale for $60 on Amazon
Papillon Back Massager with Heat
The shape is in the name: “papillon” is French for butterfly, and this ergonomic device promises to keep you lithe and limber whether you’re at home or on the road, thanks to the included car charger.
- Two-way shiatsu that automatically changes direction
- 3 massage speeds
- 2 heat settings
- 15-min auto shutoff and overheat protection
- Includes 7-ft cord, wall adapter, and car charger
- On sale for $40 on Amazon
Homedics Back and Neck Pillow Massager
If you’re new to pillow massagers, this affordable option from Homedics is a great place to start. It offers kneading, vibration, and heat—everything you’d want from a back massage, whether gentle or strong.
- Two-way kneading shiatsu massage
- Includes vibration and heat settings
- 15-min auto shutoff
- Includes 6-ft cord and wall charger
- 2-yr limited warranty
- On sale for $50 on Amazon
Pros and Cons of Pillow Massager
Pillow massagers are convenient and affordable, but they aren’t the panacea to chronic pain. Consider the following pros and cons of pillow massagers:
- Can relieve tension and stress in the neck, shoulders, and back
- Improves blood circulation
- Delivers a soothing and relaxing sensation
- Travels well
- Accommodates use at home or at work
- May not address deep-tissue pain
- Can be noisy
- Can feel too intense or uncomfortable on tender areas
- May not be as effective as manual massage
Best Pillow Massager for Neck and Shoulder: Summary
Although it’s no silver bullet, a pillow massager is a good home remedy for muscle tension in the neck and shoulders. It can’t replace the benefits you’d get from treating the root of your problem—such as muscle weakness and poor posture—but it can certainly help you find relief at home in the meantime.