year in review

The Best Thing I Bought This Year Is a Massage Hook to Unknot My Back

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photos: Writers

If you’ve read any of our Strategist editor hauls, you’ll know that our writers and editors buy a lot of stuff, and even though we think carefully about each item that goes into our carts, there are still standouts. To close out the year, we’ve asked our staffers to write about the best thing they bought in the past 12 months. Today, Kitty Guo on the massage hook that soothes her stiff back.

Every time I call my mom, I know we’ll be touching on a few recurring topics. These include, but are not limited to: how her garden is coming along; whether I’m eating enough and what I’ve been cooking lately; if I’m dressing appropriately for the East Coast weather; the state of my back.

“Are you still working from bed? You know my back problems started after college, right?” she’ll say, to which I’ll respond, “Yeah … but it’s fine. I have that back massager, remember?”

Though I’d never admit it, she has a point. Having graduated during the height of the pandemic, WFH is the only work culture I’ve ever known. Most of my professional hours have been spent propped up against plush but profoundly unsupportive pillows, or hunched over my laptop in a plastic Ikea chair — both of which, I’m sure, contributed to a growing tension in my shoulders.

It got to the point where, during a ballet class, I realized that my cambré derrière (a backwards arch) wasn’t nearly as deep as before, hindered by a noticeable stiffness. Sufficiently spooked, I booked a slate of pricey massages — but to ease the burden on my wallet, I wanted something supplemental I could use at home. The world of back-massage tools is vast and varied, but a chiropractically conscientious friend had recommended the Body Back Buddy to me, and after just one session with the hook, I was … hooked.

Made from a fiber-infused plastic-composite material, the Back Buddy is rigid and durable, allowing you to apply a fair amount of pressure to release tense or knotted muscles. It’s quite large — the standard size measures a little over two feet long — so you can massage hard-to-reach spots without twisting or straining. The curved S-shape and the protruding handles provide leverage that makes it easy to dig into trigger points, including ones you didn’t know you had. It’s also studded with knobs in varying shapes: round, acorn, and nub, each of which produces a different pressure sensation. The round knobs are best suited for lightly gliding over larger muscles; the acorn knobs, with their pointier tip, can knead further into the deeper tissues; and the nubs are best for digging into the areas surrounding the spine and lower back.

After a few months of stretching and using the Back Buddy all over my body, I feel looser and more relaxed, and my flexibility has returned to its pre-pandemic levels. My evening routine now consists of taking a CBD gummy, throwing on Netflix or a Twitch stream, and idly prodding at stubborn knots between my shoulder blades while some hapless Elden Ring player gets crushed by Malenia for the tenth time in a row.

The Back Buddy isn’t new to the Strategist: It’s also been recommended by Ottessa Moshfegh and Daniel Kwan, both of whom report that it has eased their chronic back problems. Though I don’t have scoliosis like Moshfegh or “debilitating” neck and shoulder pain like Kwan, I’m hoping that regular use of the Back Buddy will prevent me from ever getting to that point — or at least keep me comfortable for years to come. I suspect that in 10 or 20 years, I’ll be looking back and thanking my 2022 self for having the foresight to buy it.

The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best acne treatments, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, natural anxiety remedies, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.

Best Thing I Bought This Year: A Massage Hook for My Back