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How Do Massage Guns Work?

I am Angelica, a young Italian who decided to start traveling in her late teens. While traveling, I ended up in England, where I decided to stop for a while and to undertake an undergraduate degree in Food Science and Nutrition. During these years, I also developed a passion for weight lifting, so I decided to take up a course to become a Level 2 Gym Instructor, which then later developed into a L3 Personal Training course. 

Fast forward three years, I then enrolled in a Master in Food Science and Biotechnology. During this year, I made a decision to open my own sports supplement company and to formulate my own products, which was a lot of fun until Covid hit, and with great sadness, I had to close down the company. But as the very positive individual I am, I thought that it was because the world had reserved better things for me! 

At the end of my studies, I then applied to become an accredited nutritionist within the UK, of which I currently hold the title, and I decided to follow my passion and start working in the fitness industry. 

I also gained a Level 3 Diploma in Sports Massage Therapy, so I could take care of my clients in all aspects of their journey, from their nutrition and fitness all the way to their recovery. 

Between a client and a training session, I also write scientific articles on fitness and nutrition to try and share my passion and my knowledge with those who want to improve the quality of their life.  

woman, hands, massage

What Does a Massage Gun Do? 

Massage guns have become incredibly popular as most people see them as a great way to save money on massage sessions and still get pain relief from regular self-therapy. The massage gun comes in with a vast array of benefits, or at least, it is marketed as such.

In this article, we will discuss the alleged benefits of using a massage gun (reduction in muscle soreness, muscle pain, muscle stiffness, and muscle tension), what they really do, and how they can help people feel better.

Massage Gun Benefits: How True Are They?

If you search for some information on massage guns, you are likely to find hundreds of articles and websites declaring this is the greatest tool you could ever own. But so many of these benefits are listed by individuals with no credentials or references.

Because of that, it’s important to remember that just because someone says that they saw a reduction of symptoms or alleviation of pain doesn’t mean that a) they’re being truthful, b) they’ve actually used a massage gun, and c) that you’ll see the same results that they saw by following their advice.

With that in mind, let’s recap some of the most frequently cited benefits of using a massage gun.

Commonly Cited Massage Gun Benefits

Among the most common benefits, we find:

  • Improved sleep

  • Stronger immune system

  • Higher concentration

  • Lower incidence of injuries

  • Improved blood circulation

  • Increased muscle strength

  • Increased muscle mass 

  • Decreased muscle soreness

  • Improved athletic performance

  • Improved flexibility

  • Improved mobility

  • Dispersion of lactic acid

  • Reduction in scar tissue

  • Muscle recovery

  • Decreased chance or severity of delayed onset muscle soreness

The Truth Behind the Common Benefits

These are only a few of the many benefits associated with massage gun use, and we have to admit, they look incredible on paper. However, how many of these claims are actually backed by science?

Unfortunately, not many.

In fact, only a few can boast of being truthful. Among these, we find blood circulation and all those related physiological consequences, such as improved mobility, improved flexibility, and muscle recovery. All the others, at the time this article is written, remain simple theories. 

checklist, goals, box

Massage Guns: The Real Benefits

As mentioned above, so far, only claims supporting the evidence that massage guns increase blood flow have been proven in clinical trials.

However, despite seemingly being something not that useful within itself, improved blood circulation actually provides a great deal of benefits to our bodies, especially for those who enjoy exercising or being active. 

In the following paragraph, we will discuss how massage guns increase blood circulation and what effects this has on our muscles. 

How can Massage Guns Improve Circulation?

The treatment style of massage guns can be equal to deep tissue massage techniques.

Massage itself is not able to improve general circulation, but only that of the treated area. The pressure applied to the skin, in fact, enables the flowing of blood in the tissues. However, these effects are only local and acute.

This means that if you’re receiving a massage on your calf, the blood flow only increases in that specific area and only for a few minutes after the treatment has terminated. Despite this, massage guns can still be a great aid, and we will discuss this in detail below.

Warming Up

Clinical studies have shown positive outcomes when using percussive therapy, i.e., massage guns, to warm up the muscles and increase the range of motion (ROM) prior to a workout.

In fact, research shows that the use of a massage gun can increase ROM in multiple settings, making it a great tool to not only indirectly improve performance but also reduce the chances of incurring injuries.

Muscle tightness is linked to decreased strength due to the muscles not being able to fully stretch and contract, and as the movements are restricted, there is a higher likelihood of injuries (such as muscle sprains).

Massage guns are, therefore, a great way to warm up your muscles and perform a more efficient and safer workout. 

woman, yoga, stretching

Recovery

Massage guns have been in the middle of controversial claims between those who swear they can promote recovery and those that say the opposite.

This is mainly due to the lack of scientific research addressing each one of these claims, so many of them have been developed on the basis of other treatments, such as massage therapy or foam rolling.

However, due to the increased popularity of massage guns, many more studies are being carried out to widen the knowledge about this percussive tool. The principle behind the theory that massage can improve recovery is that by increasing blood flow to a certain area, more nutrients are delivered, and ultimately helps repair the damaged tissues.

A study assessing the effects of a range of recovery practices, including foam rolling and massage therapy, found percussion therapy as effective, if not more, in improving muscle recovery following an eccentric overload compared to the other techniques.

The findings suggest that percussive therapy tools have a great potential to sustain muscle recovery following resistance training, including the treatment of delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS).

However, research is still required to expand the understanding of this topic. 

…And Relax!

Despite massage guns not having a great amount of scientific research to back up all their benefits on the human body, this does not mean they don’t provide the claimed effects.

A lack of research doesn’t entail a lack of effectiveness, it simply means that further studies are required to investigate all the other claims. If you feel that using a massage gun on areas of discomfort helps you feel better, then there is no reason why you should not carry on using it.

Many people use a massage gun as a form of percussive therapy or vibration therapy to relieve pain, ease a tight muscle, or simply relax. To prevent problems, just make sure not to use it on injuries, pick the correct head for the correct body part (the instructions provided will come in very handy for this), and only use speeds/forces that don’t cause you unbearable pain.

And most importantly, if you are in doubt, always seek advice from your doctor and/or physical therapist.

In a Nutshell

Massage guns have many claims linked to them, although so far, research has only been able to demonstrate their effectiveness in increasing range of motion and acute topical increase in blood flow, and therefore potentially indirectly increase strength, reduce the incidence of injuries, and sustain muscle recovery.

However, if you enjoy using massage guns as a way of relaxation and they help relieve pain in your muscles, go ahead and use it, but always make sure you are doing so safely by reading the instructions and not applying any force to injured areas. 

In addition, be sure to check with your primary care physician or your physical therapist to ensure that you can safely use a massage gun as a form of treatment or to help with sore muscles.

References

García-Sillero, M., Benítez-Porres, J., García-Romero, J., Bonilla, D.A., Petro, J.L. and Vargas-Molina, S., 2021. Comparison of interventional strategies to improve recovery after eccentric exercise-induced muscle fatigue. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(2), p.647. (LINK)

Gasibat, Q. and Suwehli, W., 2017. Determining the benefits of massage mechanisms: a review of literature. Rehabilitation Sciences, 3(2), pp.58-67. (LINK)

Konrad A, Glashüttner C, Reiner MM, 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. J Sports Sci Med. 2020 Nov 19;19(4):690-694. PMID: 33239942; PMCID: PMC7675623. (LINK)

Monteiro Rodrigues, L., Rocha, C., Ferreira, H.T. and Silva, H.N., 2020. Lower limb massage in humans increases local perfusion and impacts systemic hemodynamics. Journal of Applied Physiology128(5), pp.1217-1226. (LINK)

Trainer JH, Pascarella M, Paul RW, Thomas SJ. Acute Effects of Percussive Therapy on the Posterior Shoulder Muscles Differ Based on the Athlete’s Soreness Response. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2022 Aug 1;17(5):887-895. doi: 10.26603/001c.37254. PMID: 35949391; PMCID: PMC9340828. (LINK)

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