DIY massage tools have taken a quantum leap into the future. Our panel get down to some serious pummelling
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It's no surprise that massagers have a slightly risque image. After all, any device that depends on the sensation of vibrating, rhythmic movements on bare flesh for its effect is a dead cert for getting those of the "nudge, nudge, wink, wink" persuasion foaming at the mouth. Such connotations aside, the wide range of massagers on the market are promoted by their manufacturers as having a serious role to play in helping combat muscular pain, stiffness and fatigue and as an aid to relaxation. With regular treatment from a real life masseur being too pricey or simply beyond accepted "touchy feely" boundaries for some, DIY massagers can be attractive alternatives, ranging from simple manual gadgets through to sophisticated contrtaptions using vibrations and electronic waves to penetrate deep down into the muscle.


Coleen David, a trained masseuse with her own practice in London; Chris Adams, a self- proclaimed fitness fanatic plagued by muscular aches and strains; Theresa Brooks and John Thompson, long-distance commuters with stressful jobs, both eager to find new ways of winding down when they get in from work.


Our panel tried out six massagers - four automatic and two manual. They judged them on the basis of ease of use, general massage effect and value for money. All are suitable for self-massage, but Theresa and John also tried some of them out on each other.


pounds 89.99

The most hi-tech massager the panel tested, this uses low frequency electronic waves to stimulate the nerves and the muscles. You attach a pair of sticky pads to your skin through which the waves are transmitted. Our panel were intrigued at the effect - if rather disturbed. Chris was impressed: "Maybe I'm a masochist, but this is one of the few devices that feels as if it's actually doing anything." John was cautiously positive: "I liked the kneading effect but only on the lowest setting." Coleen was frankly scared: "Good grief! The pins and needles sensation was disturbing."


pounds 25.99

A deep-heat massager that comes with a selection of aromatherapy oils to deal with "conditions" from troubled sleep to fatigue. You put your chosen oil onto your skin then massage it in with the heated, vibrating head of the massager. The heat and the vibrations from the massager help the oil to be absorbed. Coleen was enthusiastic: "The heated pad is a good idea and, along with the oils, provides a gentle, soothing massage." Chris agreed: "The oils smell great. The action of the massager is hardly vigorous, but it is effective if you just want to feel a bit pampered." Theresa and John liked the relaxing effect of the oils but had reservations about its "self-massage" ability: "It's much nicer to have someone use this on you - otherwise the effort isn't really worth it," said Theresa. The overall winner for a relaxing massage, but only by a whisker.


pounds 49.99

A strange-looking device indeed. A pair of cloth-covered, round massaging balls protrude from a largish base. You place the rectangular device on your body, turn it on and the balls rotate with a firm, twisting action. Chris had positive views: "It really feels like a strong pair of hands giving you a good old kneading." Coleen was mildly impressed. "Weird! I felt a bit bruised after using this, but at least I felt something. It's curious, though, that it's promoted as a shiatsu treatment - this is a very pinpointed type of massage and the action of the Pro-Shiatsu seems too cumbersome for that." Theresa had stronger reservations: "It's too bulky. You're also meant to be able to use it on all of your body, but when I used it on my legs and arms, it pinched rather than massaged."


pounds 4.95

One of the Body Shop's "Trade Not Aid" products, this Russian-manufactured contraption consists of a round, wooden base holding a set of wooden balls - you grip the base and roll the balls on your skin. Both Theresa and John thought it was fine at giving a gentle massage to each other, but disappointing as a self-massager. Chris was non-plussed: "I don't see how this could be very effective on my painful muscles." Coleen was negative: "Well, it looks pretty and it seems well made but I'd rather feel the touch of my own fingers or a friend's."


pounds 7.95

Another of the Body Shop's extensive range of manual massagers, the Backstrap is made up of a set of wooden balls joined together with rope in a ladder-type structure. You roll the Backstrap gently up, across and down your back with a towel-like action. Coleen was scathing. "Nice as something to put on show in the bathroom, but I'm sceptical about its effectiveness as a massasger." Chris was a tad kinder: "I tried this after a session at the gym when my shoulder was aching and it did seem to do it some good. I'd be a bit worried about using it if I had a hairy back, though, because of the thought of the hairs getting caught." John thought the strap was far too short: "I had to keep my arms quite close to my body to be able to use it which wasn't really comfortable."


pounds 7.50

"A unique therapeutic device... for a happy mind and a healthy life" (so the manufacturer claims), the Curvemate is a handy-sized, battery-powered massager with a curved head that vibrates when you press it down on to the skin. It aims to relax tired muscles, but our panel were unimpressed. Chris thought it was unpleasant to use: "You have to keep pressing down to keep the vibrating motion going, so I found it unrelaxing." "Your hand shakes more than the area you're targeting," complained Theresa. Coleen was disturbed by its effects: "When I held it to the back of my neck it made my teeth vibrate. Most disconcerting."


Viva Aromatherapy Body Massager and the Omron Pulse Massager available from Boots; Pro-Shiatsu Portable Massager and Curvemate available from the Leading Edge stores, Unit 115, Whiteleys of Bayswater, London W2 (0171 229 3338), Bond Street tube station, and in-store concessions at Harrods and Selfridges (or by mail order from the Leading Edge on 0171 499 7891); Six Ball Massager and Backstrap available from the Body Shop. !