This $15 Japanese Gadget Ended My Back Pain Forever

Sit at your desk all day? You need this. Now.

If you’re like me, your job requires long hours sitting in a chair, typing at a computer. (Even dashing international correspondents like me spend less time actually dashing and more time leaning forward, squinting at a screen.) The result is often a crick in your neck, a stitch in your lower back or a burning in your mouse-shoulder (that’s the shoulder connected to the hand that moves your mouse, duh). The pain can feel like a laser pointed directly up your arm and into your eye.

Back pain and repetitive strain are serious conditions that can reduce your quality of life and land you in a costly chiropractor’s chair. Thankfully, Japanese designers have figured out a simple, cheap and elegant solution.

Doesn’t look like much, does it? | Amazon.com

My journey began a few years back, when I was visiting a colleague at the Tokyo bureau of the publication that employed us. Around his neck was a foot-long, question-mark-shaped bar of metal. At the straight end was a handle; at the curved one, a nub with a tiny pin. By slipping the curve around his back or neck and pulling forward on the handle, my colleague could pinpoint shiatsu pressure points, alleviating aches and pains.

“What’s great about it is you can keep it handy near your desk and give yourself a…back massage to release the built-up tension that arises from sitting in front of a computer for eight or more hours a day at work,” my friend, Michael Blaskoski, said.

“I want one!” I exclaimed, and the next time one of our coworkers arrived from Tokyo, she presented me with my own shiatsu stick.

You have to hand it to Japanese engineers. The stick is a pure expression of simple, elegant, field-tested industrial design, on par with the Sony Walkman, Toyota Prius or Nintendo Wiimote. Its curve lets you hang it off of your desk, ready when needed. You can even wear it around your neck (though don’t forget to take it off before you head out for lunch).

The key to the device’s effectiveness is repetitive use. Its small size is unobtrusive, allowing you to use it at work with your left hand, while you use your right hand for something productive, like scrolling through Faceboo — er, TPS reports. Rather than working kinks out at the end of your workday or -week with a recuperative massage, you treat muscles regularly, ideally at a slightly faster rate than you’re damaging them with all that inactivity and constant strain.

Within a few weeks, the back pain that had dogged me for years was a thing of the past. Jealous colleagues noticed and soon the shiatsu stick was a sought-after gift requested of colleagues visiting from Tokyo. One coworker took pleasure in swinging the stick in the air in great arcs, which constituted a minor form of exercise, though it also tended to intimidate desk mates.

Then, as happens, I moved and lost the thing. Now back in America, again seated at a desk for hours, I noticed the back pain creeping back in. It was time to find another stick, which was more easily said than done.

Mundane Google searches failed. The combined industrial design prowess of the world minus Japan has not managed to replicate the shiatsu stick. Oh, it’s easy to find similar devices, but those were much larger and more complex, requiring two hands. They were also brightly colored, so your colleagues, partners and pets can laugh at you.

Now that just looks silly. | Amazon.com

Having lived outside the US for many years, I’m quite a canny internet shopper. Searches lasting long into the wee hours, night after night, finally bore fruit, thanks to the bounty that is Global Rakuten. Rakuten is Japan’s much-cooler rival to eBay, offering a cornucopia of rarefied consumer products sold exclusively in the Japanese market. Graciously, the company has set up an international sister site.

There, sellers are willing to ship, for a mere king’s ransom in overseas markups and shipping charges, sought-after curios to us foreigners. After painstaking categorization and falling down many “see more like this” rabbit holes, I found my elusive prey.

The main problem with locating the shiatsu stick online is that it’s not called a shiatsu stick. Or a massager. Or a massage bar. In one of those peculiarly Japanese translations of English, it’s called a “muzzles.” (Get it? Muscles!) It was mine for just 10 bucks (1,000 yen) plus another 10 for freight and an agonizing, muscle-cramped, three-week wait for shipping.

Now, thank the gods, the very same item can be found on Amazon.com, provided you know what to look for. Rather than searching through 271 pages of dog- (and cat-!) bite inhibitors, you’ll need to include the manufacturer’s name. Searching for “atex muzzles” will reveal the “Tex (Atex) Muzzles ATX-2030” — a very high-tech name for a decidedly low-tech device. It comes in pink and mint, though I prefer always-fashionable black. This device has no equal, anywhere.

I keep one at my desk and my girlfriend has one in her office and another in her car. Get it for yourself or as a gift for anyone whose love you want to buy forever for $15.

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