New technology hits the spot when it comes to muscle pain
A real massage is hard to beat, but could a deep-kneading gadget do the job in your own home? By Damon Smith
I had my first professional massage during my final year at university. Rather embarrassingly, I had sneezed violently as I stretched to hang up some washing during a break from revision, and a thunderbolt of intense pain forked down the right-hand side of my body. That whiplash jolt resulted in a pulled muscle and a dent in my student grant.
For the next week, I couldn't rotate my head fully. Massage, coupled with visits to a chiropractor, who identified an unusual curvature to bones in my neck, taught me a valuable - and excruciating - lesson about protecting and regularly exercising muscles that I had always taken for granted.
Since then, I have had occasional massages to ease muscle strain and tension, which accumulates in my lower back and underneath my shoulder blades from sitting at my computer for prolonged periods. For temporary relief to worn and screaming muscles, I have also tried various massage chairs and home-use appliances.
Professional massages can cost from £40 to £50 per hour, so the one-off cost of a home-use appliance is an attractive alternative. These gadgets are not a substitute for medical attention and can never replace the gentle touch of a professional masseur, however.
Their functionality is predetermined, and appliances don't respond to subtle changes in muscle tension as a session progresses and then change the intensity or direction of a massage accordingly.
The HoMedics Gel Shiatsu Back & Shoulder Massager has four rotating, gel-coated nodes - with an option to add soothing heat - which knead and roll over tight muscles. This new technology claims to emulate the palm-like feel of a real massage in the comfort of your home. I was excited to feel the difference.
The massage unit is comfortingly sturdy, with plush grey material on the head rest and around the fringes of the back and seat areas, which is soft and velvety to touch. Using the small alun key provided, I easily removed the screw located on the back of the unit, which locks the massage heads in place during transit.
The 2.8m power cord is long enough for me to position the massager in most of the chairs in my living room without an extension lead. An elasticated strap with Velcro fastenings slips over the back of the chair without any palaver, and ensures the appliance doesn't slip during use.
The programme remote control is permanently attached to the base via a 55cm cord, and slips into a side pocket during massages. The slimline handset fits snugly in my palm and the 16 self-explanatory buttons are generously spaced to minimise the possibility of me hitting the wrong function.
What the massage feels like
The appliance has three different massage options, each lasting 15 minutes, to deliver shiatsu, rolling and targeted spot relief across the back, shoulders and neck.
Simulating the rhythmic finger pressure that the Japanese believe stimulates our vital energy - 'chi' - and eases tension and stress, the Shiatsu gel massage is my favourite, as it delivers relief to the lower, upper or full back. It's simple to stop the massage heads at a particular spot and use up or down arrows on the remote control to guide the swirling mechanism to exactly the right pressure point. By the end of each 15-minute session, I feel deliciously relaxed and blissed out.
The second setting is a shoulder massage. I'm 5ft 11in tall and using the up and down arrow keys on the remote control, I can adjust the height of the massage heads in the shoulder mechanism zone to target the very top of my shoulders or roll down to focus on the area beneath my shoulder blades, where my tension tends to collect.
The final option is a rolling massage, and mimics two thumbs working up and down my back. There's also an option to apply soothing heat with the touch of a separate button.
Of all the home-use appliances I have tried, the HoMedics Gel Shiatsu Back & Shoulder Massager is my favourite so far. The gel-coated nodes come surprisingly close to replicating the sensation of fingers kneading flesh.
I find I relax fully into a massage when I can hear the steady tempo of my own breathing and that's not possible with the HoMedics appliance or other units on the market.
I won't be giving my professional masseur the cold shoulder in favour of the HoMedics massager but, as light relief, some of the appliance's functions hit the spot.
HoMedics Gel Shiatsu Back & Shoulder Massager, £299.99, available online and in select Argos, Boots, Currys, Debenhams and John Lewis stores in the UK. To find out more visit homedics.co.uk