year in review

This Heated Shoulder Massager is The Best Thing I Bought This Year

Photo: Karen Adelson

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 thing 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, senior writer Karen Iorio Adelson on the heated shoulder massager that makes her feel like she’s at a spa.

It has been nearly two years since I started working from home, and I really should have mastered my ergonomic setup by now. I’ve certainly done enough research, speaking to chiropractors and orthopedists for a number of Strategist stories about posture-correcting products and home-office upgrades. I even bought a footrest and back cushion to make my dining chair — that’s absolutely not designed to be sat in for eight hours straight — more comfortable. And yet I still hunch forward, slouch over, and ignore the oft-repeated advice to switch positions or get up and move every few hours. All of which is to say, my back, shoulders, and neck generally feel pretty wrecked at the end of the day.

Since I can only ask my husband for so many back rubs before actively putting my marriage in jeopardy, I finally gave in and ordered this heated shoulder massager earlier this fall. Similar massage tools have been big hits among Strategist readers and editors, but I was truly surprised by how much I ended up loving it. It’s very simple to use: Just wrap it around your shoulders like a shawl and let the massaging nodes do their work, kneading out tension in your neck, shoulders, and upper back. There are holes in the shoulder straps you can loop your arms through that allow you to read a book (or work on your laptop) while keeping it in place. You can lightly (or less lightly) tug down on the shoulder straps to increase the massage pressure.

The massaging knobs genuinely feel like hands, kneading aching muscles and working out sore spots. It takes just one 15-minute session to soothe my stiff neck and shoulders, and it’s become a treat I look forward to at the end of the day. Much like a good massage, where the therapist actively focuses on your tightest areas, you can position the massager so the nodes run over knots in your muscles until they feel loose. When I feel a tension headache coming on from a stiff neck, I can usually stop it at the source with a few minutes under the massager. The heat also helps me relax and lets me imagine I’m at a spa and not just in my living room. The massager isn’t just for the neck and shoulders, either. I sometimes like to wrap the straps around my waist to focus on my lower back. I even get down on the floor with it to work out my glutes, leg muscles, or IT bands — all of which felt fantastic after running the NYC marathon in November.

Along with the power button, the buttons for speed, heat, and direction are conveniently located on the shoulder strap so you can adjust your experience without stopping the massage. The massager has three speed settings, and I typically use the middle one. When I want a more relaxing session, I’ll switch to the slowest speed and just sink into the languorous sensation. If you want something more vigorous, the fastest setting is like an aggressive hands-on massage. There’s an option to change the direction of the massager’s movements from clockwise to counterclockwise, but it automatically alternates every few minutes so I usually don’t futz with that button much. The same goes for the heat setting, which I tend to leave on since it’s a nice, muscle-warming temperature that doesn’t get too hot.

The massager automatically shuts off after about 15 minutes, but more often than not I’ll turn it back on and keep going. It comes with a mini duffel-style bag for storage or travel, but in the couple of months that I’ve owned the massager, I’ve just left it out because I use it so frequently. It makes a low, mechanical whirring sound (a bit like a cat’s purr) when it’s in use that’s not at all annoying. The only thing I’d change about it would be to add a battery so it could be used cordlessly. Fortunately, I’m usually near an outlet, but I imagine it’d be inconvenient if you don’t have somewhere close by to plug it in.

In a perfect world, I’d invest in a truly ergonomic work-from-home setup, sit up straight at all times, and even stand from time to time to truly keep my body in the best possible condition. But we definitely do not live in a perfect world, and I am far from a star-posture scholar, so instead I’ll depend on the next best thing: this incredible gadget, which does the hard work of a professional masseuse at a fraction of the price.

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This Shoulder Massager Is the Best Thing I Bought This Year