The manufacturers claim these devices can relieve all kinds of aches and pains. Not suprisingly, perhaps, the two professionals thought that such gadgets, which mostly rely on vibration for their relaxing effect, were a poor substitute for the real thing.
'None of them remotely compares with a hands-on massage,' said the therapist Adam Jackson. 'They have yet to make a machine with the sensitivity and healing effects of the human touch.'
Our other two panellists agreed: 'About as sensuous as an inept lover who can't find the right spot,' said one. Some of the devices may comfort because they provide heat as well as vibration - though, as therapist Catharine Scholnick reminded us, a soak in a warm aroma-tic bath would work just as well. But there are advantages in this type of massage, the main ones being convenience and low cost. You can use them at any time in the comfort and privacy of your own home - and if you're remotely squeamish or embarrassed by the idea of being pummelled by a stranger, this may be the answer.
Read on for our guide to the different types on the market.
Adam Jackson, physical therapist and author; Catharine Scholnick, bodyworker and massage therapist; Anne Walter, student; Marianne Reback, teacher.
The panel gave the massagers marks (later converted into star ratings) for how good they were at relieving tension; how easy they were to use; looks and style; and value for money.
***MORPHY RICHARDS FOOT MASSAGER
Fill with water, plonk feet in, and switch on. The nobbled floor of the footbath starts to vib-rate, massaging the soles of the feet. Another switch keeps the water hot. This device was very popular, easy to use and good value for money. According to Adam Jackson, it is especially good not only for foot and ankle problems but also for 'emotional and mental tension'. Other panellists thought their feet felt pleasantly relaxed afterwards but that the massage sensation should have been stronger: 'I found watching the patterns of the vibration in the water more relaxing than the effect on my feet,' said Anne Walter. Marianne Reback said: 'Having had a foot massage recently, I can say that this doesn't even begin to compare.'
CARMEN INTRA-SONIC MASSAGER
Although this device is supposed to reach deep into the muscle by combining vibration with 'deep penetrating sound waves', the panel thought it the least effective of all the gadgets. 'It may be good for you in the long term,' said Marianne Reback, 'but the vibration was so small that a heavy lorry passing the house would have created a more beneficial effect.' Adam Jackson was even more disparaging: 'It looks quite nice but is almost totally ineffective. A complete waste of time and money.' Anne Walter said: 'With the strongest setting, the vibration seemed quite light, and I could hardly feel anything on the lightest setting.' She found the small massage head just the right size for the face and neck, though, and felt it was easier to hold than some others because it is light. The massager has attachments for different parts of the body, including a concentrator to stimulate pressure points on your feet, reflexology-style. Poor value for money.
*VIVA AROMATHERAPY BODY MASSAGER
A do-it-yourself aromatherapy kit which comes with a selection of oils suitable for conditions from cellulite to 'those special times of the month'. The massager has four different applicators, including ones for the face and scalp, and can be heated. It was Anne Walter's fav-ourite: 'The heat setting was very pleasant on the skin, and relaxing when used with the oils'; though she added that, while the massage head was good for large muscle areas, it was rather big for smaller areas like the neck. Catharine Scholnick thought it was gimmicky: 'Initially I was impressed by all the oils but I soon realised that these are all that is impressive about this product.' She would like to know exactly what was in them: 'The instructions should list the ingredients.' Adam Jackson thought the extra bottles of oils, which can be ordered from the manufacturers, were overpriced.
**CARMEN INFRA-RED MASSAGER
One of the more popular massagers, particularly because it can be heated. It was also good value for money. 'This is the best of the bunch,' said Adam Jackson. 'Infra-red helps relax deep tissues when combined with vibratory massage. It's easy to use and has fully illustrated, easy-to-follow instructions. Useful for minor aches and pains,' he added. The instructions were the most helpful, with diagrams showing how to treat such conditions as colds, insomnia and flatulence (apply between the shoulder blades). But the panellists weren't too keen on a hairbrush attachment for scalp massage. Care should be taken not to keep the infra-red switched on for too long - a friend of Catharine Scholnick's who tried it for her tennis elbow was slightly burnt.
*PRO-SHIATSU PORTABLE MASSAGER
This was the only machine that re-created the feeling of muscles being kneaded by a masseur - and a masseur with a powerful hand, at that. Instead of simply vibrating like the other appliances, two rotating balls move backwards and forwards, grabbing the flesh like disembodied hands. 'The only deep tissue massager,' said Adam Jackson. Despite this realism, panellists weren't altogether enthusiastic about the appliance, complaining that it could be uncomfortable. 'The machine that bites back,' quipped Anne Walter. 'Deepest of all the massages, but painful on calf and neck muscles. It squeezes very hard.' Catharine Scholnick declared it 'the most human-like of all the appliances. It even pinches]' She was also concerned about what its effect might be on the spinal column. Adam Jackson advised against using it, as the manufacturers suggest, for the limbs and abdomen. Very expensive.
STOCKISTS: Morphy Richards: 0709 585525. Carmen: 061 681 8321; Viva: larger Boots stores, department stores and selected chemists, health food shops and electrical shops; Pro-Shiatsu: Harrods, Selfridges, DH Evans in London, and some branches of Debenhams, Fenwicks, Allders and other department stores.
NEXT WEEK: KNIFE SHARPENERSReuse content