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Do Massage Guns Really Work?

Hi! I am Dr. Haris, a certified physician, and medical writer. I completed my MBBS degree from King Edward Medical University and am currently practicing medicine as a registered house physician at Mayo Hospital Lahore, Pakistan. My expertise is in treating chronic diseases.

Being a fitness lover since my high school days, I have always devoted time to learning things that improve body health and wellness and have applied that knowledge in both the gym and the kitchen. This inclination has made me a nutrition and fitness expert, and I always love to guide my patients on how to adopt a good lifestyle for better health.

I am also a freelance medical writer and have been writing on fitness and health-related topics for the past three years. I am currently affiliated with multiple health products websites working in the UK, USA, and India as a part of their medical experts’ panel. Contact me here: Linkedin

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Each one of you may have suffered from muscle tightness, pain, or knots at some point in life, either as a result of a tough workout or due to bending over your laptop all week. You may also have tried different readily available remedies such as massage, foam rolling, heating pads, and stretch routines. However, another remedy that has gained immense popularity in recent times is a massage gun. It is one of the trendiest tools being used in the fitness industry right now. Fitness fanatics and athletes use these whenever they have muscle pain and before and after working out. But the question arises, do massage guns really work?

Here’s all you need to know about what they are, how they work, who may use them, and what their benefits are.

What is a Massage Gun?

A massage gun is a small, portable, handheld device that appears and sounds like a drill. Most guns come with different interchangeable attachments and speeds that can be employed to target precise muscles or provide a particular type of massage. For example, smaller, narrower parts are useful for areas such as feet, hands, and calves, while rounder, wider parts are useful for larger muscle groups like quads, glutes, and hamstrings.

Almost any massage gun is fairly noisy and quite intense, depending on your degree of sensitivity. Some guns even have a monitor connected to an app to direct you how hard and how long to go. Stay away from bony areas. And if you have an injury, check with a physical therapist before using a massage gun on it. Preliminary research shows that there could be potential benefits to using massage guns.

How do they Work?

They work on the principle of percussive massage i.e., rapid, repetitive strikes to specific areas of the body modeled after a Swedish massage technique known as tapotement. The quick and repetitive punches to the body prompt the blood vessels to dilate, thereby assisting in hydrating muscle tissue with blood and helping release the knots.

Like foam rollers and the trained hands of a massage therapist, massage guns supposedly influence the ability of your brain to feel stiffness or laxity in soft tissues i.e. muscles, tendons, or fascia. If you’ve had trouble with muscle knots and soreness in the past, chances are you’ve used a foam roller once or twice before. The problem is foam rolling can be painful. While explanations of how a massage gun works sound pretty similar, can it really replace foam rolling?

Vibration Therapy

Studies have found massage therapy to be just as effective as a manual massage and “possibly more effective” than a foam roller or vibration therapy. When performed before exercise, vibration therapy is as effective at preventing soreness as traditional massage

Effectiveness of Massage Guns

Though massage guns are being used frequently these days, the real question is how effective they are. Some studies have revealed that a massage gun can help reduce workout-related soreness and stiffness and improve short-term muscle length. The different proposed benefits of a massage gun are discussed below:

Muscle Recovery- Prevention of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

Like massage therapy, massage guns help against posture-related pain and stress relief, particularly DOMS (1,2). DOMS can result in muscle soreness for 24 – 72 hours after a rigorous workout. By using the massage gun on the muscles involved in the workout, you can supposedly decrease the amount of muscle soreness, thereby helping in muscle recovery (3). They do so by preventing lactic acid and toxin buildup in the muscles and by improving blood circulation and oxygen delivery to the muscles. If you notice abnormal aches or pain, consult with your physical therapist or another medical professional.

Athletic Performance

According to claims, using a massage gun before and after a workout is equally beneficial. When used before a workout, it increases the blood flow to the body and prepares the muscles for exercise with an increased amount of oxygen and nutrients. According to some studies massage gun helps to achieve a wide range of motion, thereby allowing you to access deeper positions when working out (4,5).

For instance, an improved range of motion in the ankle allows you to achieve a deeper squat position.  Also, pre-workout use of a massage gun helps to decrease microtears in the muscle, which are primarily responsible for muscle soreness. However, some scientists disagree with the notion that a massage gun can help to reduce fatigue.

athlete, runner, sprint

Circulation 

Supposedly, a massage gun can act as an alternative to compression socks. Like other soft tissue therapies, the rapid, repetitive strikes of the massage therapy are assumed to increase blood flow to the affected areas (6), thereby decreasing swelling and reducing circulation-related feelings such as numbness and tingling. However, no concrete evidence links massage guns to improved circulation. Still, you may use a massage gun to help against fluid buildup resulting from prolonged sitting at your desk.

Fibromyalgia

Some claim that massage guns can be used to treat fibromyalgia, a disease characterized by extensive musculoskeletal pain along with fatigue, sleep, stiffness, and mood problems. They gently massage the tight adhesions in the fascia and break up muscle knots, which eases pain and enhances mobility. According to a study, deep oscillation massage through massage guns helps to greatly improve the symptoms and quality of life in fibromyalgia patients (7). However, not much data is available to support the use of massage guns for fibromyalgia (8), and hence, you need to consult your doctor before employing it as a treatment option. 

Sciatica

Some believe that massage guns can provide relief from sciatica, the pain caused by compression and inflammation of the sciatic nerve that radiates along the route of the sciatic nerve (a nerve that runs from your lower back through your hips and buttocks and down each leg). The massage gun relaxes the tight connective tissues that might be squeezing your sciatic nerve, thereby relieving the pain and other sciatica symptoms i.e., pins-and-needles sensations and numbness. Just like fibromyalgia, limited research is available to back massage guns as a treatment option for sciatica (9). Therefore, it is essential that you refer to a healthcare professional before deciding to use these.

Counterclaims

Although there are claims that massage guns are effective in treating muscle pain, fatigue, soreness, and many other diseases, a limited amount of data is available to support these claims. Some argue that as opposed to traditional vibration massagers that do not harm the surface, massage guns harm the surface without providing any additional benefit. A case study revealed that the use of a massage gun in a cyclist having muscle fatigue proved to be nearly fatal as she developed muscle tenderness and multiple hematomas in her thighs (10).

Bottomline

The above discussion may lead you to the conclusion that massage guns are an effective tool against muscle pain, fatigue, soreness, and diseases like fibromyalgia and sciatica. However, you need to tread with caution as limited research is available to prove this. You should consult with a healthcare professional before using a massage gun and discuss your medical history and the reason for using it, along with any contradictions.

woman, massage, therapy

References

1. Imtiyaz S, Veqar Z, Shareef MY. To Compare the Effect of Vibration Therapy and Massage in Prevention of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). JCDR [Internet]. 2014 [cited 2022 Sep 11]; Available from: https://jcdr.net/article_fulltext.asp?issn=0973-709x&year=2014&volume=8&issue=1&page=133&issn=0973-709x&id=3971

2. Davis HL, Alabed S, Chico TJA. Effect of sports massage on performance and recovery: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ OPEN SP EX MED. 2020 May 1;6(1):e000614. 

3. Lu X, Wang Y, Lu J, You Y, Zhang L, Zhu D, et al. Does vibration benefit delayed-onset muscle soreness?: a meta-analysis and systematic review. J Int Med Res. 2019 Jan 1;47(1):3–18. 

4. Lyu BJL Chia LunAU Chang, Wen DienAU Chang, Nai JenTI Effects of Vibration Rolling with and without Dynamic Muscle Contraction on Ankle Range of Motion, Proprioception, Muscle Strength and Agility in Young Adults: A Crossover Study. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2020;17(1). 

5. Konrad A, Glashüttner C, Reiner M, Bernsteiner D, Tilp M. The Acute Effects of a Percussive Massage Treatment with a Hypervolt Device on Plantar Flexor Muscles’ Range of Motion and Performance. Journal of sports science & medicine. 2020 Dec 1;19:690–4. 

6. Portillo-Soto A, Eberman LE, Demchak TJ, Peebles C. Comparison of Blood Flow Changes with Soft Tissue Mobilization and Massage Therapy. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2014 Dec 1;20(12):932–6. 

7. Kraft K, Kanter S, Janik H. Safety and Effectiveness of Vibration Massage by Deep Oscillations: A Prospective Observational Study. Häuser W, editor. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2013 Oct 3;2013:679248. 

8. Li Y hui, Wang F yun, Feng C qing, Yang X feng, Sun Y hua. Massage Therapy for Fibromyalgia: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. PLOS ONE. 2014 Feb 20;9(2):e89304. 

9. Majchrzycki M, Kocur P, Kotwicki T. Deep Tissue Massage and Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs for Low Back Pain: A Prospective Randomized Trial. Duport S, Tsauo JY, editors. The Scientific World Journal. 2014 Feb 23;2014:287597. 

10. Chen J, Zhang F, Chen H, Pan H. Rhabdomyolysis After the Use of Percussion Massage Gun: A Case Report. Physical Therapy. 2020 Nov 6;101. 

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