With the increasing popularity and availability of the massage gun, one of the most common questions we get asked in the clinic is “Do those massage guns really work?”. So we thought we would break it down for you all.
What does a massage gun do
Massage guns aim to provide percussive or vibration therapy. The idea being that as the massage gun head oscillates in and out, small vibrations occur in the muscle, replicating the percussive techniques that massage therapists are trained in. If you’ve been to the clinic, you’ll know that this is not a technique that we commonly use. It is predominantly used for post-exercise recovery and occasionally in a pre-exercise/warm up capacity. In our experience, we don’t see it playing a significant role in injury recovery. This is also why, when we prescribe self-releases, we always encourage maintaining constant pressure on the tight spots for 60-90 seconds for most muscles, as this is what is usually required to make a noticeable change in the muscle tightness.
There is some evidence that indicates percussive therapy administered by a massage therapist can help prevent delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and provide some relief for muscle tightness. As with most soft tissue treatment, the mechanism for this is largely neural – that is, the massage causes a response from the nervous system which responds, providing a short-term change in the tissue. This can be from increased blood flow or short-term inhibition of certain nerve endings which contribute to muscle tightness. Due to massage guns being relatively new on the market, there is minimal evidence at this stage investigating if they have a similar effect as percussive therapy performed by massage therapist.
How a massage gun works
Similar to rubbing your shin if you hit it on the coffee table, massage guns can also decrease pain in the short term by using the “pain-gating” theory. That is, if the brain is busy processing the input of touch (either your hand or a massage gun), it can’t produce pain too. This may actually be one of the bigger selling points of massage guns. Often the discomfort of doing self-releases is a preventative factor for people. So with therapy guns often being far more comfortable, this barrier can be removed. While the preference would be sustained pressure on a single spot for 60-90 seconds, if the realistic options are massage gun or no release… we would definitely choose massage gun! If you are looking at getting a massage gun or using one for the first time – think less is more. That is – pick the smaller vibrations and the flattest head (most come with a variety of attachments) and start with just 1-2 minutes per muscle group.