Dr. Harris MBBS, RMP
The Use of a Massage Gun in Lower Back Pain
Back pain is one of the leading causes of disability in the world and results in many people missing their work (1). It results in the loss of 264 million working days in a year i.e., two days for every person who has a permanent job in the country. It is the third most common reason for appointments with doctors, after skin and joint disorders (2).
All around the world, the number of years lived with a disability resulting from lower backache has increased by 54% between 1990 and 2015 (3).
With such a wide prevalence of lower backaches, a non-invasive treatment using massage guns is getting much attention all around the globe. However, their effectiveness is still a matter of debate due to the lack of sufficient clinical data.
Mytopfitness has formulated a blog comprising scientific data and available evidence regarding the effectiveness of a massage gun in relieving lower back pains, tight muscles, delayed onset muscle soreness, and chronic pain.
To understand the use of massage guns in lower back pain, we need to first understand the causes of lower back pain and the working of massage guns.
Lower Back Pain
The lower back, also known as the lumbar region, supports the weight of the upper body and provides motion for movements such as bending and twisting. Lower back pain can result from muscle strains or sprains, medical conditions, or poor posture.
Also, the body responds to injury by activating an inflammatory healing response. Although inflammation appears to be a minor issue, it can cause severe pain.
Muscle Strains or Sprains
Lifting heavy weights or abrupt awkward movements can strain the back muscles and spinal ligaments.
Degenerated or Herniated Discs
Over time, the vertebral discs may undergo wear and tear, or the vertebral discs may bulge out and put pressure on a nerve, thereby causing pain.
Motions such as twisting, over-stretching, bending awkwardly for long periods, and straining the neck forward, such as when using a computer or driving, also lead to back pain.
A medical condition that can cause complications with the joints in the lower back and hips.
Sciatica is a common type of pain that affects the sciatic nerve, which runs from the lower back down the leg. This nerve is responsible for sending signals between the brain and the muscles of the leg. When something puts pressure on or irritates the sciatic nerve, it can cause a sharp and often debilitating pain in the lower back, hip, and leg.
Massage guns have recently gained popularity in the treatment of backaches. A massage gun is a small, portable, handheld device that looks and sounds like a drill. Most of them come with different interchangeable attachments and speeds that can be employed to target precise muscles or provide a particular type of massage.
They work on the principle of percussive massage i.e., rapid, repetitive strikes to specific areas of the body modeled after a Swedish massage therapy technique known as tapotement. These 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.
Also, they supposedly influence the ability of your brain to feel stiffness or laxity in soft tissues i.e., muscle, tendon, or fascia (5).
Effectiveness of Massage Guns in Lower Backache Relief
Massage guns can provide significant recovery and pain relief from different lower back pain caused by sore muscles or muscle tension (6). In particular, when the proper muscle is targeted, it provides relief from pain arising due to back strain, thereby controlling the pain at its source for faster and long-lasting relief.
Massaging the Quadratus Lumborum and Gluteus Medius, the muscles that play a vital role in steadying and supporting the lower back and hips, using a massage gun helps to alleviate the pain arising due to straining and fatigue of these muscles.
How a Massage Gun can Help with Pain Relief
Massage guns help with the movement of essential body fluids, improving the removal of toxic waste and delivery of oxygen to the tissues. An efficient supply of oxygen to the muscles helps to reduce pain and aids with recovery. A massage gun can help repair damaged and strained muscles and ligaments.
In addition, utilizing a massage gun for massage therapy can help with muscle tension, sore muscles, and muscle knots in the following ways:
Deep Tissue Massage
A massage that targets deep tissue can help to improve blood flow to the muscles, reducing inflammation and enhancing the range of motion. When the muscles in the lower back are stiff or torn, the region becomes inflamed.
This inflamed area spasms, cramps, and contracts tightly, leading to intense pain. Percussive therapy, with the help of massage guns, reduces the blockage arising due to the inflamed tissues easing pain, increase blood flow, and help to boost the recovery of the muscle tissues.
A massage gun is an excellent means to aid with myofascial release. Studies reveal that massage guns can help to alleviate pain in myofascial tissues when correctly used (7).
Myofascial release helps with the treatment of the skeletal muscle by relieving tension and reducing stiffness in the lower back. Moreover, it helps to boost blood and lymphatic circulation, helping with the stimulation and stretching of lower back muscles.
A massage gun can help 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) (8).
The massage gun relaxes the tight connective tissues that might be squeezing your sciatic nerve by providing a deep tissue massage, relieving the pain and other sciatica symptoms i.e., pins-and-needles sensations and numbness.
Moreover, the vibrations they provide stimulate the release of endorphins, thus, helping soothe the nervous system and reducing sensitivity to pressure around the sciatic nerve/nerve root.
When a Massage Gun Should Not be Used
A massage gun should not be used for nerve, bones, joints, or tendon issues. They should not be used in areas where there are scabs, wounds, bony fractures, or cancerous lesions.
Similarly, children or people who have a loss of sensation, such as those with peripheral neuropathy, should not use these. They only work in people having mild to moderate back pain caused by muscle tightness or muscle spasms.
People suffering from severe back pain may not get relief by using a personal massager. They may have an underlying injury or problem that may be causing back pain. Such cases require help from a healthcare professional.
Utilizing a massage gun is a great means for treating lower back pain, especially when a person has mild to moderate pain caused by muscle tightness or muscle spasms.
They provide deep muscle massage, thereby improving circulation and delivery of oxygen to muscle tissue and aiding in recovery. However, lower back pain, specifically chronic pain, can not be managed with a massage gun alone. It is a multifaceted problem and mostly requires a combination of different techniques.
Proper rehabilitation, following healthcare professionals’ advice, massage therapy, hot baths, and compresses are all part of the process to relieve muscle pain as well.
1. Casiano VE, Sarwan G, Dydyk AM, Varacallo M. Back Pain. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 [cited 2022 Oct 8]. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK538173/
2. St. Sauver JL, Warner DO, Yawn BP, Jacobson DJ, McGree ME, Pankratz JJ, et al. Why Patients Visit Their Doctors: Assessing the Most Prevalent Conditions in a Defined American Population. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 2013 Jan 1;88(1):56–67.
3. Hartvigsen J, Hancock MJ, Kongsted A, Louw Q, Ferreira ML, Genevay S, et al. What low back pain is and why we need to pay attention. The Lancet. 2018 Jun 9;391(10137):2356–67.
4. Ropper AH, Zafonte RD. Sciatica. N Engl J Med. 2015 Mar 26;372(13):1240–8.
5. Martin J. A critical evaluation of percussion massage gun devices as a rehabilitation tool focusing on lower limb mobility: A literature review [Internet]. SportRxiv; 2021 Jan [cited 2022 Oct 9]. Available from: https://osf.io/j9ya8
6. Preyde M. Effectiveness of massage therapy for subacute low-back pain: a randomized controlled trial. CMAJ. 2000 Jun 27;162(13):1815.
7. 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 Dec;19(4):690–4.
8. 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.