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Massage Gun Benefits, Best Types & Do They Really Work?

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Massage gun - Dr. Axe

There’s a lot to love about getting massages, including feeling more relaxed and finding relief from pain. This raises the question: Can you use a massage gun at home in place of getting a traditional massage?

For one thing, massage gun devices offer convenience since they can be used any time in the comfort of your own home. While they can be pricey to invest in, if you’re someone who benefits from receiving massages therapy sessions often, they can actually wind up saving you money considering it’s not cheap to regularly get professional massages.

According to recent research (although more is still warranted), massage guns can also be just as effective as other massages at boosting athletic performance and decreasing stiffness, and they can even help you to unwind and sleep better.

What Is a Massage Gun?

A massage gun is a muscle recovery tool that offers percussive or vibration therapy. These guns look like small handheld drills and can be spotted in people’s gym bags, at physical therapy or chiropractic offices, and among athletes who use them before and after training sessions.

Vibration therapy and massage therapy are both considered forms of percussive therapy, which is a treatment for soft tissue pain. Percussive massage is thought to “accelerate the growth and repair of tissues by providing concentrated, rapid, short-duration pulses deep into the tissues of the body.”

In other words, massage guns provide “bursts” or pulses of concentrated pressure to muscle tissues that can have certain healing effects.

Massage guns work much like traditional deep tissue massage therapy that is performed with a therapist’s hands.

When a massage gun is pressed against the skin, it has a ripple effect as its head oscillates back and forth. Blood flow is increased to specific areas of muscles, which is intended to help promote healing, decrease tension, prevent tight “knots” from forming and reduce inflammation.

Use of these guns may also improve range of motion, break down adhesions and improve lymphatic circulation. And they seem capable of increasing heat inside tissues and stimulating certain nerve receptors that can improve overall functionality.

Recently athletes have also turned to use of massage guns to help them warm up prior to intense workouts, in addition to helping them heal afterward and protect against injury.

Types/Varieties

Which massage gun is the best?

Here’s more about some of the most popular types of massage guns:

  • Theragun — This is a popular but expensive line of guns, costing between $250 and $500 depending on the type. Theragun was created by a chiropractor named Dr. Jason Wersland to help himself and his patients recover more easily from injuries. The professional-grade Theragun device is considered one of the most effective and can deliver strokes 40 times a second while giving users a 60 percent deeper massage than standard vibration massagers.
  • TimTam — This is another top-rated deep massage gun that costs between $200 and $400. It’s intended to help break down knots, increase blood flow and release stored lactic acid, and it may also help manage chronic pain.
  • Hypervolt — This is a bluetooth-enabled massage gun that features prebuilt or custom recovery programs. It’s used to help relax sore and stiff muscles and to improve mobility.
  • Kraftgun — This machine prides itself on being quiet and having nine speeds and a very powerful percussion vibration. It can be used for help with muscle recovery and reducing common aches and pains.

Are cheap massage guns any good? The best massage guns tend to cost a bit more, however some affordable massage guns are also available — for example, by retailers such as Amazon.

On Amazon you can now find a variety of options that cost around $100 or even less, some of which are highly rated and seem to be overall effective.

Do Massage Guns Work? (Benefits/Uses)

Are massage guns worth it? And do they really work?

Overall, compared to more traditional forms of massage therapy, there’s not a lot of research available that has focused on percussion massage guns specifically. However, based on what we know about percussive therapy in general, here are some of the potential benefits and uses of these devices:

1. Help Promote Exercise Performance and Recovery

Some experts have referred to the use of massage guns as “an absolute game-changer in rehabilitation and sports performance.”

There’s evidence from some studies suggesting that use of percussion massage guns can help to not only warm up muscles and improve responsiveness, but also prevent delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) that can contribute to stiffness and soreness within the one to three days following an intense workout.

One study concluded that “vibration therapy and massage are equally effective in prevention of DOMS” and that vibration therapy shows clinically early reduction of pain during post-exercise periods.

According to another 2014 review published in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research, vibration therapy can lead to improvements in range of motion and shock absorption that positively affect physical activity, less strain placed on soft tissue structures, reduce compensatory recruitment of muscles that may lead to injuries, and prevent reduction in strength due to muscle tightness.

2. Capable of Targeting Pain in Specific Muscles

Massage guns can hyper-target specific problem areas. For people who suffer from aches and pain, such as tennis elbow, “tech neck,” frozen shoulder pain or knee pain, use of a percussion gun may offer a reduction in inflammation and improvement in motion.

Many people report experiencing relief, at least in the short term, when using deep tissue massage guns between workouts or as part of their regular self-care routines. These guns can increase blood flow to the painful area, which can accelerate healing and potentially help improve overall functioning.

3. Can Help You Warm Up (+ More Comfortable Than Myofascial Release)

Massage guns can be used as recovery tools and as part of a dynamic warm-up. If you’ve experienced good results when using other massaging tools to warm up prior to workouts, such as foam rollers, but prefer something a bit gentler, a massage gun may be an especially good option for you.

According to Runner’s World, “if you apply a massage gun to the muscles you want to stretch and then stretch them, you can increase the range of motion 50-80% in 30 seconds, according to our research.”

Overall, vibration guns are considered about equally as effective as foam rollers but a bit less uncomfortable. Another advantage is that these guns are automatic and don’t require you to be able to get up and down from the floor to use them, so they are suitable for people with limitations.

4. May Help You Relax

Like some other forms of massage therapy that focus on specific areas of the body, such as Shiatsu massage, you may find that using a vibration gun helps you relax since it reduces tension held in your muscles. This might contribute to you getting better sleep, which can have big payoffs in terms of supporting overall health.

It’s also possible to use vibration along certain “meridians” in your body, similar to with acupressure, which can promote an upbeat mood. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, meridian lines are considered to be pathways and channels in the body that carry energy, so applying percussion to these areas can theoretically support general well-being.

How to Use

Plan to use a massage gun on your legs, back, shoulders and hips, but avoid your neck, which can be dangerous. To use one, hold the head up to your skin, about an inch away, and let it pulsate for several minutes (or sometimes even less) before moving to another body part.

Many top-rated massage guns feature adjustable speeds and mix-and-match massage heads to give you options when it comes to intensity and pressure level.

High-quality percussive therapy guns usually have a frequency of 22–40 hertz, which means they “pound” the targeted area of muscle 22 to 40 times per second. This means that even several short minutes using a gun can make a big impact if used pre-workout.

Less expensive options have a lower hertz but can still be used for aches and pains.

In most cases you want to use a gun for no more than several minutes or so at a time on one muscle group. Your entire session before a workout may be 10 to 15 minutes, while after a workout you might go for longer.

After purchasing a massage gun, read the directions carefully, and consider following a preset routine if it’s offered. How long of a session you want to do and how much pressure to apply depend on the specific muscle group you’re targeting, your level of pain and your goals.

When in doubt, ask a professional for help in terms of where to place the gun, how long to use it and how much pressure to aim for.

Risks and Side Effects

Are massage guns bad for you in any way? While they are generally very safe and considered low-risk devices, overuse of them may be aggravating if you suffer from certain types of injuries.

They are also not intended to be used directly on the neck, which may trigger injuries.

If you’re experiencing persistent sciatic pain or strong pains in your lower back, hamstrings and glutes, it may be best to speak with a professional before experimenting with a massage gun.

If you are dealing with an injury, keep in mind that longer sessions are not always better. You want to use the gun for very short periods of time on injured muscles, at least at first, to test your reaction and prevent further irritation.

A sign that massage gun use may not be right for you is if you start experiencing numbness or pins and needle sensations.

If you notice reactions, such as your skin becoming very red or your muscles feeling sore and tender, then back off and shorten sessions, especially if you experience bruising afterward.

Conclusion

  • Massage guns (also called percussion massage guns or deep tissue massage guns) offer a form of vibration therapy that can help reduce pain and promote muscle recovery.
  • Compared to other forms of massage therapy, there’s not a lot of research available that has focused on massage guns specifically. However, based on what we know about percussive therapy in general, benefits may include improving athletic performance, supporting recovery, and reducing inflammation and soreness.
  • Which are the best massage guns to try? Some of the most popular brands include Theragun, TimTam and Hypervolt. There are also less expensive options available depending on your goals.
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