Considering purchasing a massage gun? Dr. Jonathan Su, the Get-Fit Guy, shares research on whether massage guns are effective and if they're worth your time and money.
Chances are you’ve seen someone use a massage gun at the gym or watched a video of someone pressing one into their muscles somewhere on social media. If not, I’m certain you’ve at least heard about this pistol-shaped therapeutic device that sends a combination of percussion and vibrations deep down into your muscles.
Massage guns, also known as percussive therapy devices, are quite popular these days. They’re pitched as portable devices that can be used by anyone (athletes, couch potatoes, and everyone in between) to relieve pain and enhance recovery from exercise and sports activity.
But does percussive therapy really work and are massage guns worth their hype? I’ve gotten a lot of questions from listeners about massage guns so I thought I’d give you the scoop on whether these devices are really worth your time and money.
Percussive therapy has, of course, been around for some time. Tapotement, the rapid and repeated striking of the body with the edge of the hand or a cupped hand, is a commonly used Swedish massage technique and is an example of percussive therapy applied manually.
The wonders of technology have now created percussive therapy devices that are affordable, handheld, and can apply percussion hundreds of times faster than a human hand without tiring out. The speed of these devices not only creates percussion but also simultaneously adds vibration, which can also be beneficial as I’ll explain later.
Percussive therapy devices have been around for at least a few decades but looked different than the sleek devices on the market today. In the past, they were bulky and were used more often in a clinical setting due to their size and cost.
I recall my first encounter with one as a patient at a chiropractor’s office in San Francisco in the early 2000s. The device was the size of a large shoebox with dozens of tiny fingers resembling Bart Simpson’s hair that required another person to hold and press against my body.
Flash forward two decades and we now have more powerful devices you can hold in one hand and buy for as little as $40 delivered to your doorstep in a few days.
Research on percussion and vibration
So what does the research say about percussion or vibration as a treatment approach? Does it really work? After looking through the research databases, I’ve discovered that the available research seems to support percussion and vibration.
One recent study looked at muscle strength and range of motion before and after a handheld percussive massage device was used for 5 minutes on the calf muscle of healthy recreational male athletes. Compared to the control group, the results of this study showed that range of motion increased by about 5 degrees (or 18 percent) following treatment while muscle strength did not change.
Another recent study looked at the effects of applying vibration for 15 minutes on the leg muscles of professional athletes after eccentric exercises. If you’ve ever felt super sore the day after running, hiking, or throwing up some weights at the gym, you’re not alone.
Popularly known as “delayed onset muscle soreness” (DOMS), it’s caused by movements where muscles lengthen under tension called eccentric contractions, such as downhill running, walking down stairs, slowly lowering weights, and plyometric exercises.
Compared to the control group, the results of this study showed that vibration was able to reduce muscle soreness perception. What’s more, the authors also associated increased soreness perception in the control group with changes in posture and reduced muscle strength that was not present in the group receiving vibration therapy.
Who can benefit from percussive therapy devices
You don’t have to be an elite athlete or a diehard exercise fanatic to benefit from percussive therapy devices. In fact, many people who use these devices are normal, everyday people who are looking for natural remedies for stress or pain relief.
Tense muscles from stress can be quite uncomfortable or even downright painful. From my experience, the application of percussion or vibration can help some people release tension and pain in a snap.
I’ve also seen percussion or vibration provide temporary relief for people who are suffering from chronic pain. The gate control theory of pain describes how non-painful input such as vibration can close the nerve “gates” to painful inputs, which can prevent pain sensation from traveling to the brain.
The good news is that if you don’t feel like shelling out money for a massage gun, you don’t have to, because you really don’t need a device to receive the benefits of percussion and vibration. Humans have been applying these methods of treatment manually since massage was first used over 5,000 years ago.
You can apply percussive therapy manually by rapidly striking affected areas of the body with a loose fist. Likewise, you can apply vibration therapy manually by gently and rapidly rocking or shaking affected areas of the body with a hand.
I use both of these techniques almost every day with clients and most people are pleasantly surprised at the results, especially when they realize that they can apply the techniques themselves free of charge. Of course, a massage gun is more convenient, a lot more powerful, and a nice tool to have, but it’s definitely not a must-have.
So if you’re interested in percussive and vibration therapy for your post-workout recovery, for relieving stress, or for relieving pain and you’ve got some extra money to spend, go for it! The research seems to support it and I’m personally a fan of these devices.
If you’re interested in percussive and vibration therapy but you’re unsure about shelling out money for one of these devices, try applying percussion and vibration manually to see how your body responds. Be sure to check out my YouTube channel for videos on how to apply percussion and vibration manually.
5-day percussive therapy challenge
Let’s put this knowledge to use with a 5-day percussive therapy challenge! Over the next five days, your challenge is to give percussive therapy a try, either with a device or manually. Give it a try and let me know how you feel by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leaving me a voicemail at 510-353-3104.