Depending on your source, somewhere between eight percent and 100 percent of adult Americas have experienced back pain at some point, or experience it consistently. If you’re one of those people, you’ve no doubt started down the path of figuring out why the hell your back is bothering you to begin with. The sources of back pain are diverse, but there are fewer tools that genuinely mitigate it (ibuprofen notwithstanding). Hence the hubbub around Chirp Wheels, the tire-turned-pain-reliever selling thousands of units on Amazon. But does it do any good—especially at the price they’re charging? We sent Chirp Wheels to members of the Hone Health Community (and one to the writer of this piece) to review and find out.
This story is a part of The Edge’s Community Review Project, where we send new and interesting gear to men in the Hone Health Community to review. If you’re interested in participating, join the community and email this story’s editor, Will Price with the subject line “Community Testing.”
What Is the Chirp Wheel?
It looks a bit like a Shark Tank product, and that’s because it is. The Chirp Wheel was designed as a variation on the classic foam roller. To use it, lay down on the EVA foam and plastic wheel and gently work your body back and forth over it, stretching the muscles on either side of the spine to release tension. It’s also said to do a nice job with light back cracking, if you’re into that kind of thing, but generally pain relief is what the wheels are best for.
The Chirp Wheel is also a family of products—12″ to 4″ in diameter. The simplest way to describe the difference between them is intensity: the smaller the wheel, the more pressure on the stretch. The wheels cost between $30 and $70 individually, or $100 as a full set.
What’s Good About Chirp Wheels?
Great for relaxation
Of the many words available to describe the Chirp Wheel, a majority of our testing team chose “relaxing.” This came as a surprise, as stretching and muscle tension release is usually more of a pleasure-from-pain thing. But when asked when they worked the Chirp Wheel into their return, a majority of testers said they incorporated it into their pre-bedtime routine, citing the looser, freer back feeling as an excellent preamble to sleep.
“I use it regularly now after work to relieve back tension. Makes it easier to relax when falling asleep,” Chris L. wrote.
This could be connected to what’s called myofascial release, which stems from the wheels providing a myofascial massage, which are fancy ways of saying the wheels can provide pain relief in spots causing your regular pain. For those that struggle with stiffness and tightness in the lower back, midsection, and between shoulder blades, Chirp Wheels should be seriously considered.
Upgradable in the sense that the Chirp Wheels all build off of each other in some respects. While each technically works different parts of the back and neck, the full set acts more as a progression system—like adding weight to a workout over time—than a specific muscle targeting tool.
The biggest wheel is where you get your feet wet; shake off the cobwebs if you haven’t been limber for a while, relax a bit before bed, and so on. As you size down, the rolls get more challenging, putting more pressure on your back and core, and relieving tension more dramatically. This progression system is handy for a number of reasons, but most importantly and obviously—it requires no extra research or knowledge or form tricks to figure out. You try out the smaller wheel when you’re ready for a more challenging roll. Simple as that.
Deep Breath, and Stretch
No learning curve
The Chirp Wheel’s chief competition is a foam roller, which is cheaper and easier to track down at Dick’s than a Chirp Wheel will ever be. Unlike a foam roller, though, there is really only one way to use the Chirp Wheel—line it up with your spine, lay on it, and slowly roll back and forth.
The simplicity of it is both a strength and a weakness, but the good will likely outweigh the limitations. Sure, you could wiggle around on a foam roller long enough to figure out how to hill XYZ sore spot. But for most people, recovery is already a chore, so the least amount of time spent on it the better.
Can buy separately
This is a small pro, but our testers were pleased with the fact that the company allows you to purchase wheels individually, should you want to. A $30 investment in the small, high-pressure wheel is a nice way to get to know the brand without spending $100 on the whole set and feeling (potentially) disappointed with it.
Muscle Recovery, Optimized
What’s Not Good About Chirp Wheels?
Limited stretching by design
Yes, we discussed how the more streamlined design of the Chirp Wheel facilitates a very clear stretching routine. But this does mean that some users with perhaps more specific muscle relief needs—like, say, pain focused on either side of their back or shoulders—may get more mileage out of a traditional foam roller or other tension release tool.
What does this mean in practice? We recommend Chirp Wheels for general back and shoulder stiffness and pain, but would suggest a foam roller or massage gun if your problem area is more isolated.
We also had more than one tester suggest a foam roller is a superior tool for deep-tissue relief.
“The foam roll provides a greater deep tissue stretch, for sure,” Jerremy G, said.
Far more challenging for larger users
Across our testing, a clear pattern emerged: bigger people struggled to use the Chirp Wheel exponentially more than smaller folks.
Several testers suggested the bedding-in period—how long it took them to feel comfortable rolling on the biggest wheel—took longer than they expected, while one tester only used the wheels enough to form an opinion on them to send review notes. The verdict: If you’re taller than 6’2 or weigh north of 250 pounds, you might be better off with another product.
It’s $15 and it can, with some practice, do a lot of what the Chirp Wheel aims to do. You will benefit from googling foam rolling techniques and practicing with the roller. It isn’t as simple as the Chirp Wheel, but it’s certainly more economical.
Is the pain you’re trying to quell focused around your hips and lower back? There’s a chance you’ve got tight psoas, the result of which can be discomfort from your middle back and down. The Pso-Rite is a weird but effective tool for crushing psoas tightness.
Maybe your pain points are deeper and more isolated? While targeted stretching can work, it’s often simpler to blast it away with a massage gun, which is also just a really useful tool to have lying around when you’re bored.
The Bottom Line
Chirp Wheels are a solid tool for releasing tight muscles through the center of the back, but may not be suited for more advanced users or those with isolated muscle concerns.