Angelica Avolio - Personal Trainer & Nutritionist
Can Massage Guns be Harmful?
Massage guns became a very popular tool to ease off muscular discomfort by both professionals and non-professionals. In fact, many more chiropractors, physiotherapists, and massage therapists are resorting to the use of handheld percussive therapy to treat patients with soft tissue dysfunctions, and likewise, many people bought massage guns for self-induced therapy purposes.
Besides their recovery benefits, such as reducing muscle strain, muscle stiffness, and muscle pain, massage guns have also been found to be particularly useful in increasing one’s range of motion and decreasing the impact of delayed onset muscle soreness if used prior to working out. However, despite being generally safe to use, massage guns may come with a series of side effects or exacerbate existing problems if used incorrectly.
In this article, we will investigate whether massage guns can cause damage and how this can be prevented by using your massage gun safely.
What is Soft Tissue Dysfunction?
Soft tissues include muscles, tendons, and ligaments, and the formation of scar tissue or adhesions within them can cause local pain, discomfort, asymmetrical adjustments (such as asymmetry in posture), decreased muscle strength, and reduced range of motion. Soft tissue dysfunction can occur due to poor posture, muscle overuse, sport, work, lifestyle, or previous injuries.
The affected soft tissues will feel stiff, fibrous, and thicker to the touch, with pain protracting for a wider radius from the onset point. These are often treated with massage as it helps recovery by drawing more blood along with more nutrients toward the affected area.
DOMS (delayed onset of muscle soreness) is one of the most commonly treated soft tissue dysfunction.
Can Massage Guns cause Blood Clots
Massage guns help draw more blood toward the treated area, so they can definitely have an impact on blood flow. This is due to a response our body puts in place when some sort of pressure is exerted on any of its tissues.
Usually, no side effects are encountered due to this, although some reports of blood clotting have been recounted following the use of a handheld percussive gun. For instance, a 32-year-old male developed acute Hemothorax after using a massage gun on his back and chest. Hemothorax consists of the collection of blood between the lungs and the chest and can lead to lung failure.
Similarly, a 27-year-old woman developed arterial dissection following the use of a massage gun in the cervical region. Arterial dissection causes tearing of the inner walls of arteries and, in this case, prevented the blood from reaching the brain due to arterial occlusion.
For these reasons, the use of massage guns should be avoided on the cervical area, chest, and rib cage, as not enough studies have been carried out to establish whether it is safe or not to use on these body parts.
Can Massage Guns Hurt You?
Despite being uncommon, massage guns may hurt you if used inappropriately. In fact, the use of percussive therapy using handheld devices may worsen a pre-existing injury or create new ones.
For instance, a 25-year-old woman developed Rhabdomyolysis, which is a potentially life-threatening condition where skeletal muscle fibers break down and leak their content in bloodstreams, such as proteases, potassium, and myoglobin. Damage to the muscles may be caused by repetitive trauma or impact. This could be prevented by using the massage gun at lower speeds and sporadically, only when really needed.
It is always advised, however, to seek guidance from your GP or physician on whether you would benefit from using a massage gun. Many times, it is worth seeing a professional, like a physiotherapist, if the discomfort carries on and becomes unbearable.
Can Massage Guns Cause Bruising?
Yes, massage guns can potentially bruise you. Bruises are caused by blood leakage from damaged blood vessels and occur following trauma from an impact. This can happen if a higher speed or a particularly hard head has been used on more sensitive parts.
Generally, bony areas tend to bruise more easily.
Can Massage Guns Cause Nerve Damage?
Although massage guns are unlikely to cause nerve damage in a healthy individual, it may be different for people suffering from Type 2 Diabetes.
In fact, this condition can lead to nerve damage, a consequence of diabetic peripheral neuropathy, and that can cause numbness of the limbs. Using a massage gun on the affected areas may result in further damage without the individual realizing it, as their sensations are altered.
For these reasons, people with Type 2 Diabetes should seek advice from their GP before undertaking any percussive therapy.
How to Prevent Injury When Using Massage Guns
The best way to prevent damage when using a massage gun is to be mindful. Avoid using it on injuries, bones, or soft spots, and only use it on muscles. Also, remember that you should only use it on your muscles if the pain and discomfort are caused by dysfunction and not injury, as in the latter case, the use of a massage gun can aggravate the problem.
For more delicate areas, you may want to choose a soft head and use low force so as to be as gentle as possible.
If you have any pre-existing condition, like Type 2 Diabetes, suffer from blood clotting, or are pregnant, you may want to refrain from using a massage gun unless approved by your doctor.
Chen, J., Zhang, F., Chen, H. and Pan, H., 2021. Rhabdomyolysis after the use of percussion massage gun: a case report. Physical Therapy, 101(1), p.pzaa199. (LINK)
Dobbs, N. and Versoza, N., 2021. Measuring the Effectiveness of Blood Flow Restriction Training and Theragun Application in Upper and Lower Extremities (Doctoral dissertation, Azusa Pacific University).(LINK)
Martin, J., 2021. A critical evaluation of percussion massage gun devices as a rehabilitation tool focusing on lower limb mobility: A literature review.(LINK)
Masters, A., Duarte, R., Chiang, B., Sarvottam, K. and Patel, K., 2022. Hemothorax After Use of Percussion Massage Gun: A Case Report. In C43. CASE REPORTS: PLEURAL DISEASE DILEMMAS (pp. A4172-A4172). American Thoracic Society. (LINK)
Sulkowski, K., Grant, G. and Brodie, T., 2022. Case Report: Vertebral Artery Dissection After Use of Handheld Massage Gun. Clinical Practice and Cases in Emergency Medicine, 6(2). (LINK)