October 20, 2021

Wellness Read: What is the deal with massage guns?

by Avis Jason

Are massage guns effective?

Commonly known as “massage guns”, handheld percussive massage therapy tools are gaining popularity in the health and fitness community as innovative recovery tools. Popular products on the market include the Hypervolt® and Theragun®. These devices have a sleek, lightweight, and cordless ergonomic design for self-use or administration by another provider with the intended purpose of improved muscle recovery. Hypervolt® markets their design as a “percussive massage device to relieve tension and stiffness.” These devices deliver an overall customizable experience producing vibration frequency up to 53 Hz with a variety of attachment heads to target various body parts and tissue types.

How do these massage guns help?

In an article published in the Journal of Sport Science and Medicine, Konrad et. al (2020) found dorsiflexion ROM was significantly increased by greater than 5 degrees following a single percussive massage treatment to the calf muscles with the Hypervolt® device.1 Similar to conventional massage or other vibration tools, such as a vibrating foam roller or power plate, it is presumed that the increased range of motion through this vibration therapy is due to decreased muscle stiffness and stimulation of all muscle receptor types.2  Similar to the benefits of foam rolling, percussive massage treatments induce pressure and friction on treated muscle, skin and fascia to reduce muscle stiffness.1 A recent study found that participants who completed a 5-minute hamstring and lower back massage daily for one week using a Theragun® increased their sit and reach score by 5 inches and reduced perceived pain by 6 points on the visual analog scale.3 While the research is limited on muscle performance after use of a percussive massage treatment, the studies conclude no significant change in maximum voluntary contraction (MVC) or overall performance.1,4

Why are massage guns used?

Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is the soreness experienced in muscles by the creation of small microtears with unusual exertion or overload of a muscle. Though a normal sensation experienced through routine exercise, it is more commonly brought on by muscle contraction through a lengthened (eccentric) portion of an activity. DOMS can develop as early as 8-10 hours post-activity, but often peaks within 24-48 hours and can last up to 72 hours. The damage is characterized by discomfort, decreased muscle force production, and reduced range of motion. The reduced range of motion decreases shock absorption during physical activities and generates additional strain on other soft tissue structures.

When can a massage gun be used?

Implementation of these percussive devices during a structured warm-up prepares the body for activity through improved range of motion, increased blood flow, increased pliability and reduced stiffness of muscle and fascia.In addition, the vibration of massage guns can be utilized post-activity to lessen the perception of pain through reduced afferent fiber transmission (sensory input from muscles, skin, organs, etc. to the central nervous system (CNS))in accordance with the pain gate theory mechanism (a non-painful input closes the “nerve gates” and ultimately prevents the pain sensation from traveling to the CNS so we do not register something as a painful stimulus).2 Reduced sarcomere (basic contractile unit of a muscle) disruption through the vibratory input will also diminish the intensity, production, and sensation of DOMS.2

Are massage guns right for me?

Recovery is a crucial component of muscle health and performance. Massage guns provide us with another tool for our recovery regimen. Personal preference dictates the use of soft-tissue therapy options, including traditional massage, lacrosse balls, Thera Canes, and foam rollers. Further research must compare the effectiveness of one brand versus another. Therefore, the considerations for device selection are determined by cost, design, noise level, weight, and size. The convenience and user-friendly experience of these massage guns make them a great option for use both at-home and while traveling. Ultimately, the most effective tool(s) are the ones with perceived benefits that will be utilized for personal recovery.

When developing your personalized recovery plan, consider adding a massage gun to your recovery regimen to alleviate pain caused by myofascial tightness and to keep the muscle systems in balance as you work toward peak performance. Any questions on the use of a massage gun for specific injuries or further instruction on proper application of this device should be discussed with a physical therapist. Please direct any questions to your SHIFT physical therapist, Avis, at avis.jason@shiftlife.com.

In Real Health,

Avis Jason, PT, DPT

SHIFT Physical Therapist

Reference List

1. Konrad, A., Glashuttner, C., Reiner, M., Bernsteiner, D., & Tilp, M. (2020). The acute effects of a percussive massage treatment with a hyperbole device on plantar flexor muscles’ range of motion and performance. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, 690-694.

2. Imtiyaz, S., Veqar, Z., & Shareef, M. (2014). To compare the effect of vibration therapy and massage in prevention of delayed onset muscle soreness (doms). Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research. 8(1): 133-136.

3. Patel, R. & Patel, A. (2020). Effect of Theragun on the improvement of back flexibility: A case study. IOSR Journal of Dental and Medical Sciences (IOSR-JDMS), 19(5), pp. 15-16.

4. Kujala, RP; Davis, CD; and Young, L (2019). The effect of handheld percussion treatment on vertical jump height. International Journal of Exercise Science: Conference Proceedings: 8(7): 75.


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