Sometimes, muscles scream for a massage. But what if an appointment isn’t in the budget, you’re pressed for time, or you just can’t afford to expose yourself to COVID-19 (or any other germs, for that matter)? Enter the budget massage gun.
With a massage gun, which features a variety of speeds and heads, you can give yourself a massage virtually anytime you want, while hitting the just right spot—without ever having to say, “Softer, please? No, lighter. Not that light.” Whether you’re acutely sore after a tough workout, you pulled your muscle when you sneezed wrong (yes, it happens), you have a pesky knot that just won’t go away, or you just want to relax, a massage gun may help.
There are plenty of affordable massage guns on the market right now — enough to make your head spin. To take the guesswork out of it, the team at Ness spent a month testing the four most popular massage guns priced under $100.
With several great options, it was hard to pick a favorite, but the Ruisibaitata came out on top. We spent three hours researching the market and then spent over six hours of testing four massage guns ranging in price from $39.99 to $69.99 and gave the Ruisibaitata the top score for its clean, simple user interface.
Here’s the TL;DR on the best sub-$100 massage guns:
- Ruisibaitata (Top Pick)
The Best Massage Gun Less Than $100
- 30 speeds
- 10 heads
- A full-throttle option with an unfortunate chemical odor
- Lighter weight
- Attachment options offer flexibility
- Strong chemical odor
The Cholas gun emitted a strong chemical odor as soon as I took it out of the packaging. Although this initially turned me off, I only had to use the Cholas a couple of times to decide it was actually one of my favorites. (The smell had dissipated within a day. I honestly would have forgotten about it had I not been taking notes when I unboxed it.)
While 30 speeds are excessive, I loved that it came with 10 heads—including my favorite, the “thumb head.” This attachment was an absolute godsend for working out the tightness in my jaw muscles and in my upper traps, where I tend to hold a lot of tension.
I also found Cholas easier and more comfortable to handle than its competitors. I assumed it was lighter than the other products I tested, and it was—but only by three ounces, compared to the next heaviest massage gun.
As advertised, the Cholas is quiet yet powerful. And for under $50, the value is unbeatable.
Do Massage Guns Work?
Nothing can replace the human touch. But not everyone has a massage therapist they trust, who is in close proximity, or whom they can afford to see on a regular basis. That’s where a massage gun comes in.
Also known as percussion massagers or percussive therapy, massage guns come with rechargeable batteries and look a lot like a cordless drill. But instead of inserting a drill bit into the chuck, you insert different heads. When you turn the gun on and press the head against your muscles, it vibrates (or percusses) back and forth to deliver a massage with as much or as little pressure as you like. While you can control how hard you press the gun into your body, you can also choose from a variety of heads of different shapes and sizes (more on that later), and you can adjust the vibrational speed of the massager. (For more details on how to use your massage gun, we’ve got you covered.)
While no two massage guns I tested came with all of the exact same heads, several are pretty standard. Those included a round attachment that’s just a bit bigger than a golf ball, a cylindrical shaped attachment with a rounded tip, a flat triangle-shaped attachment, and a U-shaped head.
While it can be hard to reach certain trouble areas (I struggle to approach a certain knot in my shoulder blade from the perfect angle), massage guns do an excellent job of taking over for a human massage therapist. They mimic the benefits of a typical massage PubMed.gov “Massage Alleviates Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness after Strenuous Exercise: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis” View Source , which has been shown to reduce inflammation by flushing extracellular fluids such as lymph fluid and venous blood away from the muscle tissue and into the circulatory system. Meanwhile, it can loosen tight muscles, reduce muscle soreness, break up scar tissue and adhesions, and help activate muscles before a workout.
When it comes to massage guns’ effectiveness, you don’t just have to take our word for it.
A 2018 metastudy Frontiers “An Evidence-Based Approach for Choosing Post-exercise Recovery Techniques to Reduce Markers of Muscle Damage, Soreness, Fatigue, and Inflammation: A Systematic Review With Meta-Analysis” View Source found that massage was more effective than several other recovery tools and techniques in reducing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and perceived fatigue. And another recent study PubMed Central “The Acute Effects of a Percussive Massage Treatment with a Hypervolt Device on Plantar Flexor Muscles’ Range of Motion and Performance” View Source found that subjects had increased joint range of motion after using a massage gun on the adjacent muscles.
How We Got Here
Meet Your Guinea Pig
I tested all four massage guns extensively on every major muscle group (although I admit I had a little trouble reaching my mid-back). As a health fitness junkie and freelance journalist, you can usually find me on my bike, lifting weights, swimming, running, or sitting at my computer—which means I’m pretty much always in need of a massage.
Between chronic glute tightness, an almost lifelong case of TMJ disorder, and tightness that creeps into my upper traps whenever I’m stressed or using my laptop on the couch, it wasn’t hard to find trouble spots to test each massage gun.
Before becoming a freelance health and fitness writer, I worked in healthcare as an occupational therapist. For more than a decade, I worked in a variety of healthcare settings (mostly hospitals), helping people with chronic and acute medical conditions (think strokes, joint replacements, and head injuries) function as fully as possible. This meant designing treatments that helped my patients grow stronger, more coordinated, and more self-aware. I also educated patients and their families on how to make their homes as safe as possible.
In addition to my healthcare experience, I’m an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, certified intuitive eating counselor, and the host of Real Fit, a women’s health and fitness podcast. Although my first love is endurance sports—I’ve completed six marathons and two Ironmans—I’ve also dabbled in CrossFit and weightlifting. As a group fitness instructor, I teach indoor cycling.
Our Testing Process
The testing process started weeks before a massage gun touched my sore muscles. First, I researched the budget massage gun market to find out who they’re designed for and which products in the under $100 category are most popular. Once I had my answers, I came up with a preliminary list of products to test and submitted them to the Nessie’s team. We then teamed up to narrow down the four massage guns that made the most sense to test, which The Nessie purchased to try out.
The testing process was fairly simple. I spent a week using each massage gun once per day (more often if I had a specific trouble spot that was calling for attention). Generally, each massage session took anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes. During that time, I started out by using whichever heads I thought would be best to target the areas where I was experiencing discomfort. Once I gave my trouble spots some love with the massage gun, if there was extra time, I experimented with the heads I hadn’t used and played with the different settings. After a week with a product (five to seven uses), I moved on to the next one.
In total, I spent more than six hours testing massage guns. (Tough work, I know.)
What Can You Expect From a Massage Gun That’s Less Than $100?
You may notice a conspicuous lack of massage guns with names like “Theragun” and “Hyperice” in this roundup. (And a conspicuous presence of syllable-heavy, non-brand, Amazon-friendly names.) That’s because we wanted to test budget massage guns—specifically, massage guns that cost less than $100. Take the Theragun, which is often considered the top-tier massage gun option and can go for as much as $599. Are you giving up anything with a less expensive option?
One thing to consider is the warranty. Theragun, for example, comes with a one- or two-year warranty, and the ones on this list didn’t have any that we could find. A more expensive option will probably also look and feel more expensive, with a weightier heft, thoughtful ergonomics, and generally cooler aesthetic. Expensive options may also come with Bluetooth connections, so you can control the gun from your phone, and more thorough instructions on how to use them. Cheaper attachment heads may also be tougher and less forgiving, and the machine itself may feel buzzier. Still, no matter what, you’ll get the percussiveness, which helps with muscle recovery.
I typically use an Addaday massage gun I got in 2020 and it’s clear that technology has come a long way just in the past two years. (It no longer makes the model I have but if I remember correctly, it retailed for about $200.) My massage gun has five speeds, it’s just as powerful as any of the models I tested (if not more), its carrying case is bomb-proof, and I love it, but it came with four heads, none of which are great for my angry jaw muscles.
The Budget Massage Gun Buying Guide
A budget massage gun is for anyone who wants the benefits of a massage—anytime they want, in their own home, and without the financial commitment or the hassle of going to a massage therapist. That includes athletes who may use it as part of their pre-workout warm-up or as a post-workout recovery tool, casual exercisers who experience muscle tightness or fatigue, and anyone with chronic pain. It’s also an excellent alternative for anyone with an illness or disability that makes it hard or impossible to leave their home and/or immunocompromised people who need to avoid public spaces.
The Massage Gun Buying Guide
A massage gun can promote circulation in the area where you’re using it, thereby reducing the inflammation that causes muscle soreness and may ultimately boost your athletic performance.
Because you can self-massage anytime you want, it’s also a lot more cost-effective and convenient than scheduling with a massage therapist. You’re also avoiding catching COVID-19, the flu, a cold, or any other illness from your massage therapist (or their office staff or other clients passing through the waiting area).
Studies have shown that massage can increase your range of motion, promote recovery, and reduce muscular fatigue. While some may still prefer the human touch, a massage gun allows you to control the angle and the pressure to customize your experience. This is a huge plus for those who find it stressful or uncomfortable to be on the receiving end of a massage.
A massage gun can be a handy tool for everyone from the sedentary office worker with a bad case of tech neck to the elite marathoner looking to optimize their recovery for better performance.
Which features matter most when buying this product?
- Effectiveness: Dose it work? Does it feel good while you’re using it? Do your muscles recover faster than they would have otherwise? Does it help you feel more relaxed, or does it noticeably decrease your pain?
- Adjustability: How easily can you customize the massage gun to meet your needs? How many speeds and how many different heads does it offer? Is it flexible enough to satisfy your requirements without overwhelming you with way too many choices?
- Ergonomics: Can you easily locate and operate the appropriate buttons, or do you need to fiddle around or get out the directions to figure out how it works? Are the controls easy to access while in use?
- Noise level: Using a massage gun should be relaxing (or at least not stressful). Does the noise level make you cringe? Do you need to turn up the volume on your tv show or podcast to hear it over your massage gun?
Another Massage Gun Less Than $100 To Consider
- 12 heads
- 7 speeds
- A sleek-looking massage gun that feels more expensive than it is
- User-friendly touchpad
- Versatile and easy to use
- Gentle enough for facial massage
- May be too heavy for some people
The Ruisibaitata stood out for its versatility, ease of use, and smooth feel. Featuring 12 massage heads and seven speeds, it’s the Goldilocks of massage guns with the just right amount of choices.
While we all know you should never judge a book by its cover, I admit I was impressed by the Ruisibaitata as soon as I unboxed it. It comes in a handy carrying case that’s both lightweight and sufficiently sturdy, whereas others were either non-existent or flimsy to the point of feeling cheap. And unlike some of the competitors, the Ruisibaitata’s attachments came in their own mesh drawstring bag for safekeeping. It comes with a manual, but it was easy to set it up and start using without ever glancing at it.
With 12 different massage heads—more than any other massage gun I tested—it wins all the points for being able to target any type of soreness or pain in any muscle group you can think of. While it included all the same four standard heads that every other model came with, it has one that I fell in love with, which I nicknamed the “curved finger.” (According to Ruisibaitata’s website, its official name is “thumb head.”) Shaped like a cylinder with a slightly curved, flat edge, it was perfect for targeting my jaw and facial muscles, which happened to be incredibly tight and painful because my jaw muscles were acting up.
Although I’ve had a massage gun for years and try to do various types of self-massage on my face (thank you, TMJ TikTok), it never occurred to me to try a massage gun on my angry jaw muscles until I saw the curved finger—and it exceeded my wildest expectations. After just a few minutes of using it before bed and first thing in the morning (when the pain tends to be the worst), the pain was markedly reduced with a couple of uses, and continued to improve over time.
I also loved the fact that the gun has seven speeds to choose from. While the others offer as many as 20 or even 30 different speeds, for me, this was overkill. I just wanted to relax and all those choices made my ADHD brain freak out a little. (Is this too fast? Too slow? Where is the EXACT RIGHT SPEED??) Seven choices gave me plenty of options without the decision fatigue I experienced with the others.
As far as overall user experience, it’s way ahead of the competition. The speed adjustment buttons are super responsive, and the handle features ribbed rubber, making my grip feel solid.
Although it’s a little heavier than my other frontrunner, the Cholas, in some ways, this was a selling point. Its heft made me feel confident that it would hold up over time. It was also surprisingly quiet. Even at the highest speed, I didn’t have to touch the volume on my TV.
Massage Guns Less Than $100 You Can Skip
- 20 speeds
- 8 heads
- A decent massage gun that’s lacking in accessories (and somewhere to put them)
- Clear markings for speed and battery life
- No bag for attachments
20 speeds were more than enough for me. But I would have preferred having more than eight heads to choose from, especially given the fact that the Ruisibaitata, which is similar to the Hardnex in so many ways—including the general feel and the price point—comes with 12 heads. I also wished this product came with a mesh bag to store all the heads; I was afraid they were going to come spilling out of the carrying case when I opened it. As for the noise level and effectiveness, it was on par with the other products I tested.
While the Hardnex scored extra points for making it super easy to figure out what the display numbers stood for (vibrational speed and battery charge), that wasn’t enough to make me love it anywhere near as much as the Ruisibaitata.
- 20 speeds
- 6 heads
- A nice-looking massage gun without much else to offer
- Sleek look
- Tough to operate
- Doesn’t come with enough head attachments
- Sometimes stopped in the middle of use
Despite being the same price as my beloved Ruisibaitata, the Aerlang only came with 6 heads (as compared with the Ruisibaitata’s generous 12). And while I appreciated its effective massage capabilities, low noise level, sturdy feel, and sleek design (featuring a shiny, gray-on-black checkered pattern), those qualities couldn’t compensate for the points the Aerlang lost in other areas.
From the start, the Aerlang was hard to operate. The speed control buttons weren’t nearly as responsive as the buttons on the other products. Often, I had to push the buttons more than once to get the massage gun to respond.
Even worse, it completely stopped working on my third or fourth use, despite being more than 50 percent charged. Although it worked fine the next time I picked it up, I still can’t recommend something that spontaneously turned off for no apparent reason.
- General benefits of massage guns: Can a massage gun fill in for your therapist? Here’s what you need to know. The Washington Post (April 2020)
- Massage can help with pain relief and general relaxation: Determining the Benefits of Massage Mechanisms: A Review of Literature Rehabilitation Sciences (May 2017)
- Massage after strenuous exercise can decrease: “DOMS and improve performance Massage Alleviates Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness after Strenuous Exercise: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis” Front. Physiol. (Sept. 2017)
- Massage is more effective than other recovery methods: “An Evidence-Based Approach for Choosing Post-exercise Recovery Techniques to Reduce Markers of Muscle Damage, Soreness, Fatigue, and Inflammation: A Systematic Review With Meta-Analysis” Front Physiol.
- (Apr. 2018)
- Massage gun use can increase joint range of motion: The Acute Effects of a Percussive Massage Treatment with a Hypervolt Device on Plantar Flexor Muscles’ Range of Motion and Performance – PMC J Sports Sci Med. (Dec. 2020)