The use of massage guns (a form of percussive therapy) has surged in recent years amongst both recreational and elite athletes, with this deep tissue massage tool becoming mainstream for muscle recovery. Massage guns are great for use on any muscle group in the body as it is extremely targeted and can get deep into specific trigger points with focussed pressure.
Below we explore some of the basics on massage guns and percussive therapy, and look to explore the empirical evidence to see whether it’s just a fad or a useful tool to throw into your bag for your next workout.
What is Percussive Therapy?
Percussive Therapy is a massage technique directed to the treatment of soft tissue. Percussive therapy uses a power tool to deliver a repetitive vibration and pulsing movement to the muscle targeted area (or areas). The rapid strokes stimulate blood flow to the muscles to help relieve soreness and to help with recovery from injury.
Are Massage Guns and Percussive Therapy safe?
Yes, percussive therapy and the use of a massage gun is completely safe. Of course, like the use of any tool, the safety depends upon the user; when used correctly it’s most definitely safe but if not used properly, then you can put yourself at risk of injury.
Any decent massage gun will come with a clear user guide. This typically contains which head attachment is best suited to which muscle groups, which body areas should be treated with care and those that should be avoided altogether. Not only is this going to help avoid injuries from misuse, but it will guide you for the best possible results.
It’s also important to stress that you don’t need to apply any additional pressure when using the massage gun. Pushing the tool into the muscles will make it painful and can lead to tissue damage. You simply need to hover the massage gun above the target area, allowing it to do all the work. To change the intensity, you should just alter the speed and head attachment.
Do Massage Guns Really Work?
With the increasing popularity of percussive therapy and the use of massage guns specifically, it makes sense that there’s more studies surfacing to see whether they’re effective or not.
A study in 2014 compared the effects of vibration therapy (most similar to the use of massage guns) and massage therapy in the prevention of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). The result showed that both massage and vibration therapy help with the recovery of muscle soreness, with vibration therapy being the most effective.
A further study in 2020 looked at the use of a massage gun on the calf muscles to improve range of movement and muscular performance of the plantar flexor muscles. Though no specific muscular performance improvement was clear, the use of a massage gun showed improvements to range of movement.
It is therefore suggested to be a useful tool for athletes both pre- and post-workout; during warm-up for increased range of movement without any loss of muscular performance and afterwards to decrease the time to recovery.
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Imtiyaz S, Veqar Z, Shareef MY. To Compare the Effect of Vibration Therapy and Massage in Prevention of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). J Clin Diagn Res. 2014;8(1):133-136. doi:10.7860/JCDR/2014/7294.3971 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3939523/
Konrad A, Glashüttner C, Reiner MM, Bernsteiner D, Tilp M. The Acute Effects of a Percussive Massage Treatment with a Hypervolt Device on Plantar Flexor Muscles' Range of Motion and Performance. J Sports Sci Med. 2020;19(4):690-694. Published 2020 Nov 19. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7675623/