Seeking product for tense back muscles
December 7, 2017 3:42 PM   Subscribe

My husband carries all his tension in his back and is always super knotty to the touch. Regular massages aren't in the budget right now, but I'd like to gift him a product he can use at home to help work out all the knots. Any recommendations? I looked through the options on Amazon, but if you have something tried-and-true, I'd love to hear about it.
posted by anderjen to Health & Fitness (38 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
theracane for sure, and foam roller

plenty of how-to's on youtube for both
posted by blueberrypuffin at 3:46 PM on December 7, 2017 [4 favorites]

foam rolling can help but it involves some awkward positioning if it's upper back as well as lower. i tend to just stick a lacrosse ball on the area of worst knots and then lay on it until it becomes unbearable, but this involves a high level of discomfort and is therefore not for everyone.
posted by poffin boffin at 3:47 PM on December 7, 2017 [6 favorites]

also moist heating pads are great for muscle tension but if there's any chance there might be arthritis involved then dry heat will be more effective IME.
posted by poffin boffin at 3:48 PM on December 7, 2017

I have used one of these and it isn't half bad once you get the hang of it. I don't know if they last terribly long, I'd be surprised if it lasted a year with a lot of use, but it does make a difference and is a lot easier than trying to foam-roller or theracane yourself.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:51 PM on December 7, 2017

And this video is amazing for multiple reasons. I tried some of them along with the video and felt immediate tension-releasing relief.
posted by blueberrypuffin at 3:52 PM on December 7, 2017 [9 favorites]

Yes, theracane! We gift them to friends on the regular after their initial "omg, this is so good" response to trying out ours.
posted by Jaclyn at 3:55 PM on December 7, 2017

He needs the ma roller. My husband used to complain constantly about back pain for the same reason you describe and one of his friends gave him this. He's been using it every night for years now and he doesn't complain about his back any more. I use it now and then (I'm not a tense person) and I find it very relaxing.
posted by onebyone at 4:04 PM on December 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

Oh, I should clarify that we do have a foam roller already, but it rarely gets used because he doesn't like sitting or lying on the floor. That, and our preschooler tends to come throw herself on top of anyone she finds doing so like it's a big game. I think I'm looking for more...passive...product recommendations, along the lines of what Lyn Never linked to. Theracane would work if he can use it quickly here and there...something about foam rolling always feels like it needs a chunk of dedicated time, which is hard to come by. Thanks!
posted by anderjen at 4:06 PM on December 7, 2017

A theracane is more dignified than rolling around on the floor on two tennis balls in a tube sock.

Has he tried Tiger Balm in addition to massage? It worked wonders for me when I ran through a period of neck and shoulder knots. Tiger Balm is available in a non-staining formulation.
posted by dws at 4:26 PM on December 7, 2017

I know you said regular massages are not in the budget. However, where I am, the local college has a massage therapy program; the students run a massage clinic where massages are free with donations accepted. The massage offered is a full-hour Swedish massage. It may be worth checking to see if something similar is available where you are.
posted by epj at 4:29 PM on December 7, 2017

My boyfriend uses one of those spiky massage balls against a wall for his back and shoulders, in combination with resistance bands.
posted by Wantok at 4:43 PM on December 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

If he likes heat therapy, he'll love ThermaCare heating pads. They sell them at Target, Walgreens, etc., and they're cheaper at Costco. They last for 8+ hours. They're amazing for pain relief.

(If you don't have a Costco membership but have a friend who does, you can use their account and order with your payment info and ship to your house.)
posted by radioamy at 4:51 PM on December 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

I know you already have a foam roller that doesn’t get used but MELT Method has been life changing for me.
posted by Champagne Supernova at 5:03 PM on December 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

The Hitachi magic wand (despite its reputation for other uses) is actually really good at breaking down muscle knots.
posted by platypus of the universe at 5:04 PM on December 7, 2017 [5 favorites]

A heating pad and a Valium work wonders for me.
posted by AugustWest at 5:14 PM on December 7, 2017

Salonpas patches.

These are the only things that help release any neck/shoulder tension for me. Slap a few on before bed and I sleep so well. When I'm really carrying some bad tension, as few nights of using them makes a big dent.

I find them at Target, with the other heat & pain patches.
posted by RhysPenbras at 5:37 PM on December 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

Seconding the Hitachi wand. GodDAMN that thing does a job on whatever that muscle is under my shoulder blade.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 5:55 PM on December 7, 2017

I recently got talked into trying cbd oil and it's an amazing muscle relaxer for me anyway. I understand there is a very slim chance I'd test positive on a drug test taking the full spectrum stuff (its all made from hemp) but I'm not likely to be tested and weed is legal here anyway so worth it.

Its really amazing, I can just feel the tension melt away. I assume this is why people use it for pain.
posted by fshgrl at 6:01 PM on December 7, 2017

Seconding Tiger Balm (the white one doesn't stain). I have a connective tissue disorder which causes lots of joint and muscle pain. Tiger Balm is very effective!
posted by dostoevskygirl at 6:06 PM on December 7, 2017

I have this version of the device Lynn Never linked above. It’s magical, and I’ve personally sold six of them to people who have tried it at my house. I bet they’re all the same, though, so go with the cheapest one (mine was half price when I bought it).
posted by snickerdoodle at 6:12 PM on December 7, 2017

Moving a tennis ball around between his back and a wall is very effective. Recommended by a massage therapist!
posted by Dolley at 6:13 PM on December 7, 2017

Linements, balms and ointments have hardly been mentioned?

Buy a handful of stuff: Ben Gay, dragon balm, tiger balm, volcanic oil, icy hot, etc.

Used in adddion to various stretch and self massage techniques, these can work wonders.

These are all permutations of the same handful of active ingredients, but the best way is to try to see what feels good and smells good (and is strong, imo, ymmv).
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:32 PM on December 7, 2017

I have the Brookstone version of the massager Lyn Never linked to- it’s great. I use it on my lower legs, low back and neck. I also have the Homemedics Shiatsu full back massager. It goes on a chair and does back and neck. I’m the wrong size of it to hit between my shoulder blades AND my traps at the same time which I find frustrating. Still, it’s pretty good and I like that I can lean into it to increase the pressure.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 6:35 PM on December 7, 2017

My cousin, a non-woo doctor, is asking for a TENS unit for xmas. As a back pain sufferer myself, I'm thinking about getting one, but have no experience with them.
posted by homesickness at 6:37 PM on December 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

i have a small TENS unit and it didn't really do much for releasing muscle tightness/spasm but i did get some temporary relief in areas where the pain was caused by disc damage. i found it was far more useful on pain areas that were caused by repetitive stress injury or sprains. as always YMMV.
posted by poffin boffin at 6:43 PM on December 7, 2017

Growing up, these accupressure suction cups were used religiously for various soft tissue things from tight shoulders to rolled ankles. It worked most of the time, but it does leave perfectly little round bruises that look suspiciously like hickies if they're placed in the upper shoulder/neck area.

It works best if you're still, but if he's careful about it on his back, then should be fine standing/just not laying for 15 minutes.
posted by astapasta24 at 7:36 PM on December 7, 2017

I've never used but have heard good things about Thumper percussive massagers (different than kneading massagers). There are also cheaper versions, though I don't know how they compare.

If he doesn't like lying down, there's always leaning on a tennis ball against the wall. (You can put the ball in a sock and hold one end so the ball doesn't drop.)

If you go for the theracane, make sure he learns how to use it (you don't just rub it up and down). You could get him one of these books to go with it, if he'd be into that.
posted by trig at 11:22 PM on December 7, 2017

Hitachi for sure! It must be the only "personal massager" that gets used for actual massage. :)

If you already have one for intimate use, get a second one for above-the-waist use.
posted by rhiannonstone at 11:46 PM on December 7, 2017

I had a couple of knots that lived under my right scapula for years until I got a trackball mouse.
posted by xyzzy at 1:24 AM on December 8, 2017

I also like the kind of massager Lyn Never linked to, but I prefer it in the smaller "pillow" format. I like being able to rest against it when I'm half-lying-down on the couch and I find it easier to maneuver into just the spot I want. Spending some time with it is key, though - it heats up gradually and I feel its effects MUCH more after 30-40 minutes while I'm watching TV, when it's gotten really warm and has been going on the same spot for a while. 5-10 minutes feels nice but doesn't give much lasting relief.
posted by somedaycatlady at 5:10 AM on December 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have a full back massager by The Sharper Image that I bought at a Bed, Bath, and Beyond. One of those that you place on a chair. I thought it was going to be a bad financial decision, but was in enough pain that I bought it anyways. I still use it a number of years later, and it really, really makes a difference. I’m gazing at it adoringly right now...
posted by Vaike at 1:17 PM on December 8, 2017

I have one of these which is similar to what somedaycatlady posted. I have found it to be a million times more effective than any kind of foam roller/tennis ball type object. After seeing mine a friend bought one for herself and says she also finds it more effective than anything else she's tried.
posted by mrmurbles at 6:31 PM on December 8, 2017

A Tiger Ball is what you need. It’s kind of a lacross-ball-on-rope, so he can use it against the wall. Also, the rope part makes it super easy to position it in the correct spot on his back.
posted by sideshow at 8:14 AM on December 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've had good results with self-massage just putting a couple of tennis balls behind my mid/upper back in my car while I'm driving. I have to reach back and scoot them around a little to hit the right spots now and then. It's good because it doesn't take any extra time.
posted by beandip at 2:51 PM on December 13, 2017

I like these little spikey ball things. They're good for feet and for getting to those awkward back pains.
posted by answergrape at 9:19 AM on December 14, 2017

Lacrosse ball against a wall!
posted by exceptinsects at 12:33 PM on December 14, 2017

Although actually I've found that regular weight training (I do Bodypump which is good for beginners like me) has helped way more than any kind of massage for getting rid of back pain.
posted by exceptinsects at 12:35 PM on December 14, 2017

Thank you all! I ended up getting the "pillow" format that somecatlady linked to, and gifting it to him several days early after absently brushing my hand across his back one night and finding it a complete mass of knots. He's been using it almost daily since and finding a ton of relief. I've tried it myself and it's so OMG GOOOOOOOOD that the full-back version may be in our future as well!
posted by anderjen at 6:04 PM on December 26, 2017

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