massagers and recovery

The $40 Massager That’s Become Something of an L.A. Cult

The author’s cat, Luna, admires the hard-working Etekcity massager. Photo: Natalie Toren

I first encountered the Etekcity shiatsu massager at designer Lesley Aitken’s studio in the Arts District. I stopped by to talk about a project, but before I could even say hi, she tugged me over to an outlet. “You have to try this,” she said while gesturing toward a device plugged into the wall. “I got it this morning.” The just-opened Prime box I noticed near the door only heightened the apparent urgency.

I settled into a chair with the massager against the base of my neck. The gadget is the size of a small throw pillow with two knobby nodes covered by a mesh panel, and the first thing I thought after turning it on was that it is powerful. It felt almost as if real human fists were kneading me. I pressed a button to heat it up, and within 20 seconds, the nodes warmed to a temperature like that of hot stones a masseuse might use for an actual spa treatment. Using it, my mind drifted to the time I discovered a similar Sharper Image massager at a friend’s place, spent the entire night with my feet glued to it, then went to buy it — only to do a double take at its $200 price tag. So when Aitken said her model cost less than $50, I ordered it right then and there.

Apparently, Aitken had heard about the Etekcity massager from lymphatic-massage specialist Anna Zahn, the founder of Ricari Studios in Beverly Hills, who’s opening a New York City location this summer. Zahn, whose services include using medical-grade machines to stimulate clients’ lymphatic systems, particularly loves this gadget because it’s among the most inexpensive ways to reap the benefits of her treatments at home. “Blood flow is how we heal ourselves — we often think we can facilitate blood flow through exercise, but that’s just one way to do it,” she explains. Zahn says she’s recommended the Etekcity massager to hundreds of people (including Moon Juice founder Amanda Chantal Bacon and actress Dree Hemingway). She’ll even use it on her stomach and jawline — two body parts that often carry tension but few think to massage, she says. And Aitken now uses her massager as part of a larger ritual: She’ll place it with its back against the arm of a sofa, throw a crystal biomat over the cushions, and lie on top of the mat-covered couch as she works the soles of her feet.

I myself use the massager a lot — at least four or five times a day. My favorite spots to target are my lower back, the palms of my hands, my forearms, my scalp, my calves, and the almost-impossible-to-reach space on my back between my shoulder blades (which I turn the massager vertically to reach). Of its two settings, I prefer the higher-intensity option, but I will switch to the lower-intensity massage if my muscles are extremely tight. The massager automatically shuts off after 20 minutes, but I’ve developed a habit of just turning it right back on (if there’s a limit to how much time one should use it, I have not reached it). And after four months of daily use, mine is only slightly worse for wear: One of the node’s red lights has conked out, but that hasn’t stopped the node itself from functioning.

Like Zahn, I now find myself pushing the massager on family and friends, including the author Ivy Pochoda (a parent at the Little Tokyo school my daughter goes to, who told me she already has the exact model) and the actor Danny Franzese (who demanded I stop talking about it and just send it to him already). I guess I just think good circulation should circulate.

More Strat-approved massagers

Amazon reviewers and Strategist readers love this shiatsu massager (it’s been one of our best-selling products after appearing in several gift guides), which, like the Etekcity model, relieves pain with a combination of heat and kneading.

This deep-tissue massager is ideal for percussive massage therapy (a treatment in which the gadget’s rubber head smacks down on the skin), and boasts more than 2,500 reviews on Amazon.

When it comes to treating everyday foot soreness, more than 2,200 Amazon reviewers give this simple roller five stars for its pain-soothing powers.

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The $40 Massager That’s Become Something of an L.A. Cult