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7 amazing massage guns to soothe your sore muscles, tested and reviewed

Turns out you don't have to spend a lot to get a really good back rub.

The human body consists of 11 major muscle groups, with literally hundreds of individual muscles throughout. Needless to say, some of them are going to get sore once in a while, whether from exercise or injury or just damn aging. Unless you’re lucky enough to afford a live-in masseuse (please adopt me), you might want to consider owning a massage gun. Also known as percussive massagers, these devices promise to knead away the aches and pains. But with prices starting as low as $40 and skyrocketing to over $500, how do you know which one to choose? Below I've rounded up some of the best massage guns you can buy, all of them tested by (and on) yours truly. I know, it's tough work, but someone's gotta do it.

Quick overview
  • Arboleaf J2 Mini Massage Gun

    Best budget massage gun

  • Renpho Reach Massage Gun

    Best massage gun for self-care

  • Renpho Thermacool Massage Gun With Heat and Cold Head

    Best temperature-adjustable massage gun

  • Renpho Power Plus Bluetooth Massage Gun

    Best massage gun overall

  • Ekrin Athletics Bantam Mini Massage Gun

    Best mini massage gun

  • Theragun Mini 2.0 Handheld Electric Massage Gun

    Best smart massage gun

  • Bob and Brad D6 Pro Massage Gun

    Best Theragun alternative

See 2 more

Personal massagers have been around for a long time, but old models merely vibrated — pleasant enough but not the same thing as modern massage guns. Now you have a head that pulses back and forth at great speed to increase blood flow to the muscle tissue. This not only feels nice, but also potentially aids in recovery. (Note, however, there are few studies to support just how much aid a massage gun provides; a lot of the evidence to date is anecdotal. And before you use a massage gun, consult your doctor. These devices exert a lot of force, and if used incorrectly they could do more harm than good.)

As you'll see in the roundup below, massage guns come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Yes, many of them are vaguely gun-shaped, hence the nickname, but in reality most look more like hair dryers. (I guess “massage hair dryer” doesn’t have the same ring, though.)

There’s also a huge discrepancy in pricing, which begs a question I was determined to answer: What’s the difference between a $40 massage gun and a $400 one? (Side question: What about all the ones in the middle?)

Before I delve into specifics, let’s talk about overall design. The size, shape and weight of a massage gun can affect how easy it is to travel with, how well it reaches various parts of the body and how comfortable it is to hold for more than a few minutes.

But there’s a lot more to consider as well, including some lingo you’ll want to learn, like “amplitude” and “stall force.” Here are the most important features to consider when evaluating massage guns.

Weight: The models in this group range from just under a pound to nearly 3 pounds. The irony of a heavy massage gun is that it can tire out one set of muscles (in your arm, natch) while relaxing another. The flip side is that the larger, heavier ones tend to produce more power (in the form of amplitude; see below), something to consider if you want the deepest possible massage.

A massage gun shown with a noise-meter app.
Most massage guns are pretty quiet. The Arboleaf J2, shown here at its slowest speed setting, generates around 62 decibels, similar to the level of average conversation. (Rick Broida/Yahoo Life)

Noise: These are mechanical, motor-driven machines, and consequently they make some noise. None are what I would describe as loud, but when you’re working on areas near your head (neck, shoulders, etc.), obviously quieter is better. For testing purposes, I used a decibel-meter app on my phone, recording the numbers at both the lowest and highest speed settings. This is far from scientific, but with all else being equal, it helps indicate which are the quietest and noisiest devices. (Spoiler alert: There was surprisingly little variance among models.)

Amplitude: Also known as stroke length, this indicates how far back and forth the head travels. The higher the number (measured in millimeters), the greater the “punch.” If you were to guide a massage gun over, say, your thigh, applying no pressure other than gravity, you would feel a stronger, deeper percussion from a 12 mm amplitude than you would a 6 mm one. Yes, in the latter scenario you can simply apply some force, but this can also tire you out more quickly. The lower the amplitude, the harder you’ll need to push if you’re trying to get a really deep massage. Worth noting: The highest amplitude available, 16 mm, may actually feel too strong for some users. If you have a high sensitivity, consider 12 mm or less.

Stall force: Speaking of pushing, you can only press so hard until a massage gun says “no more.” This is called stall force, basically a measure (in pounds) of how much pressure the motor will accommodate before stalling. Again, this is important only if you’re looking for super-deep massages; in my testing I never came close to hitting the stall-force limit before the action became too uncomfortable.

The Renpho Power Plus shown with its six included attachments.
Most massage guns come with four attachments, aka heads. The Renpho Power Plus adds a couple of extras. (Rick Broida/Yahoo)

Attachments: At a minimum, look for the “big four”: a low-impact ball head for sensitive areas, a flat head good for overall use, a bullet head to target knots and trigger points and a fork head to use along the spine. Those cover the basics, but some massagers come with additional heads for things like abdominal muscles, palms or even the soles of your feet. One the models listed below includes a special head with heating and cooling capabilities.

Speeds: Most massage guns offer at least three speed settings, rated in percussions per minute (ppm). In theory, you’ll stick with a lower speed for more sensitive muscles (think: calves) and ramp up to higher ones for tougher areas (like glutes). While some makers tout lots of speed settings, anything over five seems fairly pointless. Indeed, even the priciest massagers top out at just three or four speeds.

Battery life: All massage guns have rechargeable batteries, with rated battery lives of at least a couple of hours. Of course, it’s difficult to accurately gauge this because it will vary depending on the speed you use. I don’t consider it a major factor, because most massage guns can run for at least a couple of hours on a charge, and it’s widely accepted that you should spend no more than a few minutes on each muscle group. Only if you’re traveling a lot do you need to pay close attention to battery life.

Carrying case: Nearly every massager in this roundup comes with one; I consider it crucial not just for easier travel, but also keeping the attachments organized. If you decide to venture outside this list, make sure the model you choose comes with a case. Not all of them do. (Looking at you, Hyperice.)

So now we come to the $64,000 question (look it up, kids): Are these things actually any good? My opinion: Yes, but with caveats. The first, as noted above, is to be careful: These things can exert a lot of force, and it’s easy to get carried away — to the point where you could cause injury rather than relieve it.

Second, and this is related: Amplitude isn’t everything. As a general rule, the most expensive massage guns push the amplitude envelope to 16 mm, but I’m not convinced I want a bull working on the China shop that is my calves and abdominals. There’s an argument to be made in favor of midrange amplitude (10-12 mm), which still affords plenty of muscle-punching power but doesn’t overwhelm sensitive areas. You can always push a little harder if you want a deeper massage, but if a gun is starting from a place of “too strong,” there’s no way to lighten up.

Finally, to answer the question I posed earlier, you simply don’t have to spend a lot of money to reap the benefits of a percussive massager. I’ve enjoyed the muscle relief that comes from models like the Arboleaf J2 ($60) and Renpho Thermacool ($88) just as much as I did from the Theragun Mini 2.0 ($199) and Bob and Dale D6 Pro ($249). Thus, I’m hard-pressed to explain why it makes sense to spend $300, $400 or more on a massage gun when you can get the same results for less.

Weight: 10 ounces | Speeds: 4 | Attachments included: 4 | Amplitude: 6 mm | Noise (low/high): 66/79 dB

PROS: Low price, with frequent discounts available; very light; slip-resistant handle

CONS: Limited amplitude; drawstring carrying case

How good can a $60 massage gun possibly be? In the Arboleaf J2’s case, pretty darn good. It’s lightweight and comfortable to hold, and although it lacks the amplitude punch of other models, you can still get a perfectly good massage just by applying some extra pressure. What’s more, there’s almost always a sale (often in the form of a clippable coupon) that knocks the price down even further.

$60 at Amazon

Weight: 1.4 pounds | Speeds: 5 | Attachments included: 4 | Amplitude: 8 mm | Noise (low/high): 53/73 dB

PROS: Smart, practical handle design; comprehensive printed instruction manual; very quiet at low speeds; low price

CONS: No carrying case; some “bounce” at lower speeds

VERDICT: True to its name, the Reach can hit areas other massage guns can’t, all thanks to its removable extension handle. And it’s a blissful revelation to work your mid and lower back without needing a partner. I did encounter some odd “bounce” when tackling those areas using the extension handle, but it mostly went away when I increased the percussion speed. If it’s self-massage you’re after, there’s arguably no better massage gun to buy — and the Reach is surprisingly affordable to boot. 

$70 at Amazon

Weight: 1.5 pounds | Speeds: 5 | Heads included: 4 | Amplitude: 8 mm | Noise (low/high): 60/69 dB

PROS: Heating/cooling attachment works well; good printed instructions; reasonably priced

CONS: On the heavy side; heating/cooling attachment must be charged separately

VERDICT: What may seem like a gimmick absolutely isn’t. Renpho’s Thermacool attachment can achieve four levels of hot or cold just by pressing a button, and on bare skin it adds another layer of massage goodness. You do have to charge that attachment separately, but otherwise it’s a great addition. In most other respects, this is a fairly standard full-size gun, albeit a slightly heavy one. And it goes on sale often, so don’t pay the full list price.

$110 at Amazon

Weight: 1.75 pounds | Speeds: 6 | Attachments included: 6 | Amplitude: 12 mm | Noise (low/high): 62/68 dB

PROS: Very powerful; quieter than many full-size massagers; textured rubber grip; connects to app for guided massage courses

CONS: Attachments a little difficult to insert and remove; limited course selection

VERDICT: Another Renpho product offering maximum bang for the buck (almost literally in this case), the Power Plus delivers an impressive 12 mm amplitude, extra attachments and digital touchscreen controls, all for around $100 — less if you catch a sale, which happens frequently. This is also an app-connected massage gun, much like the latest Theraguns, with video courses that help you with various situations and body parts. Renpho's app is a little less polished, though, and some of the mid-course speed changes seem a little arbitrary. Even so, it's hard to argue with this kind of value.

$130 at Amazon

Weight: 1.1 pounds | Speeds: 3 | Attachments included: 4 | Amplitude: 10 mm | Noise (low/high): 67/77 dB

PROS: Extremely powerful for a mini; rated 6-hour battery life; lifetime warranty

CONS: A bit heavy; a bit pricey

VERDICT: If you want more power than the average mini massager dishes out, look to the Bantam. Its 10 mm amplitude puts it well above most minis, and its 6-hour battery will keep you massaging long after others have run out of juice — though it helps to explain the slightly heavier-than-average weight. I like the lifetime warranty, which helps explain the higher-than-average price tag. The angled grip is a nice touch, but it’s a little slippery; a rubberized coating would be nice.

$150 at Amazon

Weight: 1.5 pounds | Speeds: 3 | Attachments included: 3 | Amplitude: 12 mm | Noise (low/high): 61/72 dB

PROS: Compact, lightweight and powerful; excellent companion app

CONS: Costs more than most mini massagers; can be awkward to hold; poor battery life

VERDICT: Though it improves on its predecessor in several key ways (it’s smaller and lighter, for example), the pricey Theragun Mini still has an unusual — and somewhat awkward — design, and Therabody continues to be stingy with the accessories. Yes, you now get three heads instead of just one, but the carrying case is too small to hold the extras. It still makes the best-list cut, though, because the massage is a punchy slice of heaven.

$199 at Amazon

Weight: 2.8 pounds | Speeds: 6 | Attachments included: 7 | Amplitude: 16 mm | Noise (low/high): 70/74 dB

PROS: Handle design allows for multiple grip angles; massive massaging power; multiple operation modes; superb printed instructions; includes USB AC adapter 

CONS: So-so battery life; large and heavy

VERDICT: The D6 Pro is a straight-up challenger to the Theragun Pro, offering a similar (but better) adjustable-arm design and the same whopping 16 mm amplitude — for less than half the price. There’s no companion app like with the Theragun, but you do get an 85-page illustrated guide to healing with massage. Despite being a heavy massager, and therefore less travel-friendly, it lasts only up to three hours on a charge. The massage is absolutely superb, however, making this an excellent choice if you want maximum power without the Theragun Pro price.

$250 at Amazon

I also had the opportunity to test the Hyperice Hypervolt 2, Hyperice Hypervolt 2 Pro, Theragun Pro, Ekrin Athletics B37 and Bob and Brad Q2 Mini. Without exception, they were all great in the most important area: massage quality. In a vacuum, I’d have no qualms about recommending any of them.

So why didn’t they make the list? Mostly because of little things. The Hyperice models, for example, rely on a proprietary AC charger rather than USB-C, meaning if you lose or forget to pack that adapter, you’re out of luck. What’s more, they’re on the expensive side (especially the 2 Pro) and don’t even come with a carrying case.

The Theragun Pro is large and powerful and enhanced by the same companion app as the Theragun Mini, but it’s also $549 — far too expensive when you consider the $249 Bob and Brad D6 Pro is just as powerful. The Theragun was also one of the noisiest models I tested.

The Ekrin B37 is solid, with excellent battery life and the same great lifetime warranty as the Bantam. It just feels overpriced relative to what it offers, especially in comparison to the much cheaper Renpho Power Plus.

Similarly, Bob and Brad’s Q2 Mini should definitely be considered in the budget category alongside the Arboleaf J2, and in fact the former includes one extra attachment, a slightly higher amplitude (7 mm) and a hard-sided carrying case. However, it has a list price of $129.99, and while it typically sells for around $70-$90, the J2 routinely drops to around $40.