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So What Do Massage Guns Actually Do?

I have been a lifelong fitness student and enthusiast ever since winning the gold at conference in the 100 butterfly and 200 IM back in my “glory days.” I am also a writer and the marketing wizard here at My Top Fitness.

I have an ever-growing list of interests, including swimming, running, golf, bowling, speedcubing, speed running (old Nintendo games), locksport, cooking, chess, tournament poker, fishing, hiking, camping, and sleight of hand, just to name a few. On some platforms, you can find me as the self-appointed “Jack of all Hobbies”

I am a proud husband and father of 2 children, a.k.a. gremlins, and I am super excited to help as many people as possible on their individual fitness journeys.

Is a Massage Gun the Right Decision For You?

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. This tool 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 massage guns, 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. 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 (including reduction of DOMS)

  • Improved sport performance

  • Improved flexibility

  • Improved mobility

  • Dispersion of lactic acid

  • Reduction in scar tissue

  • Muscle recovery

These are only a few of the many benefits associated with massage guns, 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. 

Massage Guns: The Real Benefits

As mentioned above, so far, only claims to support 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, also known as percussive therapy or vibration therapy, can be equal to deep tissue massage techniques. The 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.

Research also 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).

Using a massage gun can be a great way to warm up your muscles and perform a more efficient and safer workout. 

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, reducing the impact of delayed onset muscle soreness, and ultimately helping 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 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 regarding the impact of utilizing a massage gun.

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 massage guns to relieve muscle soreness, ease a tight muscle, or simply relax.

To prevent problems, just make sure not to use the massage gun 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.

In a Nutshell

Massage guns have many claims linked to them, including treatment of sore muscles, reduction of muscle tension, alleviation of muscle pain, and improvement of poor blood circulation, although so far, research has only been able to demonstrate their effectiveness in increasing range of motion, reducing muscle soreness, 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 massage gun instructions and not applying any force to injured areas. 

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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