The 5 best back massagers for knots, according to a physical therapist

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best back massagers for knots

A professional massage isn’t always cheap or convenient, which is why the best back massagers for knots can save you time and hassle. That said, there are various types of massagers, and not all of them are well-suited for working out knots. According to Kyle Freeman, PT, DPT, a physical therapist and lifestyle coach, the most beneficial massager is one that allows for “deep pressure relief” of overworked trigger points.

“A trigger point is a band of muscle that is in spasm as a result of overuse, poor positioning, or weakness,” Dr. Freeman tells Mic. “Applying deep pressure to a trigger point with a massager for a few minutes can help calm the nervous system and allow the spasm to ‘release.’” Many different types of massagers can do this, but for knots specifically, Dr. Freeman says “massagers that enable you to utilize your own body weight for pressure moderation are my personal favorite. [...] Because of this, I like handheld trigger point massagers and roller ball massagers.” If you’re looking to work out a larger area rather than a specific knot, however, Dr. Freeman recommends percussion massagers and shiatsu massagers, which are “better for relaxation and muscle soreness relief.”

Read on for Dr. Freeman’s top recommendations for four popular massager types: trigger point, roller ball, percussion, and shiatsu massager — including many direct recommendations from Dr. Freeman. You’ll also find a budget-friendly option that’s great for knots that’s one of the more popular options on Amazon and still meets Dr. Freeman’s criteria for easy pressure moderation.

1. The trigger point massager

“Handheld trigger point massagers allow you to self-moderate the pressure applied to trigger points in different areas of the body” which helps to release them, according to Dr. Freeman. Plus, they’re usually inexpensive and portable, since they don’t require batteries or cords to operate.

The Body Back Buddy Elite is Dr. Freeman’s recommendation for this category because it’s “affordable and lightweight.” In addition, the S-shape design is versatile, and it “enables self-massage and trigger-point release with multiple knobs, which you can use on different areas of the body,” Dr. Freeman adds. Choose from black or blue.

One reviewer wrote: “As someone who suffers from frequent knots mainly along my shoulder blades, it's almost impossible to work out the knots on my own. With this device I've been able to apply ample deep pressure with minimum effort.”

2. The roller ball massager

Roller ball massagers “enable you to utilize your body weight to self-moderate the amount of pressure applied to trigger points or sore muscles as you roll your muscles over the ball,” Dr. Freeman writes. “They are easy to transport and use pre- or post-workout to improve range of motion, reduce muscle stress, and relieve trigger points.”

The Hyperice Hypersphere Mini is compact and easy to toss into a bag, and comes as a direct recommendation from Dr. Freeman. Even though it fits in the palm of your hand, it’s dense and textured for knot releasing — and it vibrates with three different speed options to further loosen tight muscles. The lithium-ion rechargeable battery can last up to two hours on a single charge. If you’re interested in a trigger point massager but would rather save a few bucks than get a model that vibrates, scroll on to the end of this page.

One reviewer wrote: “This thing is the best thing for travel. [...] This gets the job done and can easily be thrown into any suitcase or gym bag.”

3. The budget roller ball option

If you’re looking for a cheap alternative that, according to one Amazon reviewer, offers “spectacular massage relief,” these spiky massage balls are an “amazing little set for the price.” They’ve earned an overall rating of 4.5 stars after more than 2,000 reviews. While they’re not a direct recommendation from Dr. Freeman, they do allow you to leverage your own bodyweight to work out knots, especially since the PVC material is dense and textured for effective trigger-point release. For less than $10, you get two different sizes (one 3.5-inch ball and one 3-inch ball), and they’re both durable, portable, and versatile enough for full-body use.

One reviewer wrote: “I have plantar fibroma on my feet and trigger points/knots on my palm/wrist/foot arches and lower back. This product relieved them so well that I immediately ordered a second pair. I usually ask for EXTREME pressure while getting a massage (which most therapists aren't able to give me and I can't afford to get frequent $120 massages). This product is a HUGE relief for me and I'm so happy I bought it.”

4. The percussion massager

“The percussive vibration provided can help prevent or relieve soreness from exercise, improve lymphatic blood flow, improve flexibility, improve blood circulation, and provide relaxation,” Dr. Freeman says. While you can use it on specific knots, it can also provide relaxing vibration across larger areas.

Dr. Freeman recommends the Hyperice Hypervolt GO percussion massage gun because it’s quiet and compact. It’s rechargeable with three different speed options and two included massage attachments, so you can effortlessly work out most knots. Since it weighs just 1.5 pounds and works without any cords, it’s easy to bring with you.

One reviewer wrote: “I have [two] spinal fusions and am recovering from a severe car accident where I broke pretty much every bone in my body aside from my actual arms. This gets all of my knots out and helps severely with all my pain. [...] I highly recommend this to anyone who wants a high-quality massage gun that’s easy to transport.”

5. The shiatsu massager

Finally, there are shiatsu massagers, which feel the most like a classic in-person massage. While they’re not the most effective for targeting specific knots, they can help with overall muscle tension and “can be relaxing and help reduce muscle soreness,” Dr. Freeman writes.

According to Dr. Freeman, the Zyllion Shiatsu massage pillow is “great while sitting at a desk” or for “long car rides,” because it has an adjustable strap and a car adapter plug. And while it’s designed for the back and neck, the design is easy to use on legs and arms, too. The four 3-D nodes change directions every 60 seconds, while the automatic shut-off function saves energy and prevents overheating, all for less than $75. Choose from three colors.

One reviewer wrote: “I have lower back and [sciatica] issues at times along with knots in my shoulder blade area. I have been for massages over the years but I can't afford to go as much as I would like and to be honest they never did what I needed. I was desperate to find something that gives a deep nice massage and THIS IS IT!”


Dr. Kyle Freeman, physical therapist, lifestyle and sex coach