If you’re an athlete, gym-goer or just an average Joe prone to muscle soreness, you’ve probably already looked at a range of different massage devices and foam rollers. But, have you looked at massage guns? As one of the newest entrants to the wellness and therapy market, massage guns are quite different from other devices in this category. They offer more specific and powerful treatment for sore and tired muscles, as well as potentially helping with some other body issues as well.
But what are they exactly? Who are they for? And what are the real massage gun benefits?
Let’s take a look.
What are massage guns?
At first glance, massage guns look like some kind of power tool, complete with a handle grip and an oscillating head. You might even say they sound like one sometimes, but that’s because they are capable of delivering powerful massage therapy through a series of high-intensity and high-velocity ‘impacts’.
Also known as percussive therapy devices, they provide rapid bursts of pointed pressure straight into the body’s muscle tissue, with the oscillating head impacting and retracting at a high rate – just like how massage and sports therapists use light strikes from their hands and wrists. The benefits of percussive therapy are wide-ranging, including better blood flow, removal of lactic acid, muscle recovery and more. We’ll get into more detail on that later on in this article.
It might seem a little difficult to wrap your head around at first, but take a look at this Beginner’s Guide to Massage Guns for a much deeper look into how they work.
Who can benefit from using a massage gun?
Once you start looking further into massage gun therapy, you might notice that a lot of the benefits are angled towards athletes, gym-goers and those who partake in regular sports of fitness activities. In many cases, these might be the larger market but the truth is that anyone can use and benefit from using a massage gun. After all, we all have muscles, and they can all get tired and sore from time to time. For instance, you might be:
- An athlete who trains regularly and puts high stress on bones, joints, muscles and tendons.
- Someone recovering from a sports injury or are going through some form of physical therapy. (Always check with a healthcare professional before using a massage gun.)
- A person looking to speed up the muscle recovery process after sports or physical activity.
- An office worker who spends a lot of time sitting at an uncomfortable desk and has muscle pain or reduced blood flow as a result
- Someone with a job that requires a lot of heavy lifting or standing, such as a security guard or gardener.
People who shouldn’t use them
The benefits of using a massage gun will of course vary depending on who is using it, how they are using it, and why they are using one in the first place. Massage guns aren’t for everybody, and if you fall into one of the following groups, they aren’t recommended. They are powerful machines and may end up causing damage to your body instead of rehabilitation.
- If you have any pulled or torn muscles, or ligament strains. Torn, pulled and strained muscles or ligaments need recovery and rest. Pummeling them with a massage gun may end up increasing trauma and pain, ultimately making the injury worse.
- If you use blood thinners or are prone to blood clots.
- If you have any conditions that severely affect your nervous system.
- If you have broken bones or chronic pain.
- If you are elderly or are prone to bruising.
- If you have varicose veins, high blood pressure or any other conditions that affect blood vessels.
- If you have inflamed areas in the body or have conditions that can cause inflammation, such as fasciitis, periostitis, tendinitis or bursitis.
What does science say?
The merits of massage are widely explored in lifestyle and health journals, and there’s a good amount of research to back up the mental and physical benefits that percussive therapy brings. When it comes to massage guns, the research is not quite as comprehensive but there are indications that at least some of the medical claims they make could be true.
For instance, there was a 2014 study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information that specifically looked into percussive therapy (which massage guns provide) and how it can delay onset muscle soreness. In other words, by using a massage gun before your workout, you may be less likely to feel muscle tightness or pain in the days after an intense workout.
Then we have the Swedish massage therapy technique known as ‘Tapotement’. Although it uses human hands instead of machines it uses the same kind of percussive movement, with sharp movements from the hands onto specific muscle areas. In this study from the Cardiff Metropolitan University, the results show that physical agility and performance were improved after just a few minutes of treatment, and that there are some potential benefits to the nervous system as well.
So, the above studies (and many more on percussive massages in general) do point towards benefits for muscle pain and soreness. However, when it comes to more serious medical conditions, always remember that massage guns are there to help, not cure. While massage guns can do a lot to help with your wellbeing, but should not be regarded as the sole means of treatment for chronic issues or severe muscle pain.
The benefits of massage guns
Massage guns offer a range of different treatments that can offer relief for sore and aching muscles. Here’s what they can do for you:
Sports training and exercise recovery:
If you work out and train regularly, your body will be going through a lot of exertion and stress. By using a massage gun before, during and after a workout, you stand a better chance of remaining nimble and flexible, with less possibility for lactic acid build-up, muscle tensions and pain.
Even if you aren’t a hard-core athlete, percussion massagers also help after normal or light exercise to relieve muscle tightness, reduce the stress placed on bones and joints, increase blood flow, increase oxygen levels to muscles and generally help with fatigue and soreness. In some cases they may help the nervous system stay responsive as well, although this shouldn’t be a primary focus.
If you’re rehabilitee after a recovered injury or have some mobility issues, massage guns (if approved by your healthcare professional) can be used alongside other treatment methods to help you increase:
- Nervous system response and stimulation
- Mobility and overall range of motion
- The flow of blood, oxygen and nutrients to treatment areas
- Muscle strength and reduce non-use atrophy
Better range of motion
Many of us don’t exercise as much as we should or have day jobs which have us sitting in one place for hours on end. This can slowly cause a reduction in mobility over the years, and more muscle pain. By using a massage gun, you can still reach the neglected muscles and keep them stimulated by lengthening the muscle fibres. Through regular massage, you can also increase muscle flexibility and range of motion, as well as reducing the buildup of lactic acid when you exercise.
Muscle pain relief
The pulsating head of the massage gun can help your general aches, pain and body discomfort that come from everyday life. The repeated impact from the massage gun penetrates deeply into soft tissues to work on soreness, knots and any other muscle-related pain you might be experiencing.
Important: Pain can be the result of an injury. Massage guns should never be used to treat injuries and can lead to further damage, pain or trauma to affected areas. Always talk to a doctor if you plan on using a massage gun.
Better lymph drainage
As well as positively affecting your vascular system (which transports oxygen), massage gun therapy can improve the way lymph travels through the muscular system. By stimulating and pressing muscle areas with the device you can improve the flow of lymph, which allows the body to expel toxins and waste.
Natural stress relief
Think about the last time you had any kind of massage. The reduction of lactic acid and improvement of blood flow can have a range of positive effects on your stress levels, releasing dopamine and helping you feel relaxed. Using a massage gun has a similar effect and if you’re feeling overwhelmed or tense from the world, giving yourself a massage can take your mind off things and produce positive bodily feedback.
Portability and convenience
Before these devices came along, you’d have to travel to a massage or sports therapist to get the kind of therapy a massage gun provides. Whether you’re taking it to the gym with you, to the office or sports competitions, you can have your pre-and post-treatment any time you want. Today’s devices put a lot of focus on being portable, so if you do plan on taking your massage gun around with you, make sure your choice has a strong battery life and carrying case.
Massage therapy and massage can be expensive, especially if used very regularly. By making an initial investment and buying a massage gun you can administer percussive therapy to yourself as often as you want.
There are many different types of massage gun. For instance, some are more powerful and aimed more towards athletes and heavier use, while others are intended for the mass market and casual users. Each massage gun will also offer different speed intensities and pressures so that you can adjust it to your specific needs, with different heads and attachments which can target different muscle groups. Unlike some other massaging tools, such as foam rollers, massage guns can hyper-target a specific problem area.
Choosing your massage gun
So, there you have it. There’s plenty that a massage can do for your muscle soreness and overall wellbeing, but with so many different options and benefits out there, where do you even begin? To help you on your way, we’ve put together a list of the Best Massage Guns of 2020 which goes into more details about the different options, and what makes them great. Happy shopping and happy massaging!