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.
- Best budget massage gun
Arboleaf J2 Mini Massage Gun
- Best massage gun for self-care
Renpho Reach Massage Gun
- Best temperature-adjustable massage gun
Renpho Thermacool Massage Gun With Heat and Cold Head
- Best massage gun overall
Renpho Power Plus Bluetooth Massage Gun
- Best mini massage gun
Ekrin Athletics Bantam Mini Massage Gun
- Best smart massage gun
Theragun Mini 2.0 Handheld Electric Massage Gun
- Best Theragun alternative
Bob and Brad D6 Pro Massage Gun
What does a massage gun do?
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?)
What features are important in a massage gun?
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.
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.
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.)
Are massage guns worth it?
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.
Massage guns that didn’t make the cut
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.