We review the benefits of the best massage guns Australia has to offer and see if massage guns are scientifically proven to be effective.
Massage guns have surged in popularity amongst athletes, physical massage therapists and literally anyone in pain in recent years, especially during pandemic times where many health clinics and spas were forced to close. This saw at home self-care tools like percussion therapy massage guns and fitness equipment hit its peak in online sales in stores like Kmart, Harvey Norman, Rebel Sport, Amazon, Ebay, Big W and AldiI. Massage guns claim to help by 'increasing blood flow, decreasing lactic acid and interrupting the pain cycle in the brain.' Massage guns however don’t come cheap with basic models for roughly the $100 mark, the most sought-after guns cost far more, including high-end ones by Theragun ($1357) and Hypervolt ($599.95). So are these massage gadgets really worth the hype and cost? We investigate the benefits, scientific claims from experts in the field around percussion massager tools and massage guns.
Do Massage Guns Really Help?
The scientific evidence behind massage guns is early and has not reached a conclusion as they are very new, but recent clinical studies show they do work providing positive benefits and now has given enough evidence to be taken seriously. Percussion therapy and the use of massage guns do have a place in the field of recovery physical therapy alongside other recovery tools like foam rollers and massage balls. Massage guns claim they are best used for muscle pain, lactic acid recovery after exercise and possible increase in range of motion. You may be aware of the benefits of massage and its life-changing effects for chronic pain, injury recovery or management of muscular aches and pains but can a massage gun even compare to a treatment by a professional clinical massage therapist. Massage therapists implements manual massage techniques by use of elbows, forearms and thumbs leaving you feel less pain, more movement and less stress but can a massage gun provide similar benefits by deep percussion therapy?
Massage Gun Benefits
Massage guns work by repeatedly applying rhythmic oscillation bursts of pressure to muscle tissue in a rapid jackhammer like up-down motion, to deliver what’s known as percussive or vibration therapy. One of the biggest effects of massage guns are facilitating the removal of metabolites waste products associated with exercise reducing DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). DOMS is due to microscopic muscle fiber tears are characterized by muscular pain, decreased muscle force production, reduce range of motion and discomfort experienced. The presence of DOMS increases the risk of injury by the reduced range of motion subsequently leading to incapability to efficiently absorb the shock that comes from physical activity. Alterations to mechanical motion may increase strain placed on soft tissue structures. Massage guns help remove Lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) in 48 hours post exercise and also increases blood flow promoting nutrients into the muscle similar to what you can achieve with foam rolling, yoga and light exercise.
Massage guns work by overriding the sensation of pain within a sore muscle and may help relax sore muscles by stimulating the GTO (Golgi Tendon Organ), a structure within a muscle that inhibits contraction. Vibration provides stimulation to muscle spindles and increases its nerve impulse activities in a similar way to TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation), they both reduce the perception of pain through the same mechanism known as the 'Gate Control Theory of Pain'. So massage guns mainly works on a neurological mechanism on the soft tissue components and the brain’s ability to sense tightness or laxity in muscle, tendon, or fascia. Massage therapy has long been considered a recovery aid for athletes says Murray Kovesy Clinical Myotherapists at Motion Myotherapy and Hawthorn Football Club. Massage has many benefits from increased blood flow, relieved muscle soreness, improved range of motion and stress. Murray states "A massage gun will never replace a professional Massage Therapist or Myotherapist who assess and treat soft tissue injuries as a trained therapist provides more benefits. The big advantage of a massage gun is unlike a foam roller you’re not manoeuvring your body around on the floor to get the effects but just press a button as your sitting comfortably.
Scientific clinical studies have been emerging. A 2014 study compares the effect of vibration therapy and massage in prevention of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). The result of this study indicates that vibration therapy and massage therapy both are equally effective in prevention of DOMS. Massage is more effective in restoration of concentric strength, yet vibration therapy shows clinically early reduction of pain and is effective in decrease the level of Lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) in 48 hours post exercise periods.
One 2020 study on 16 men found that using a hypervolt massage gun improved range of motion after exercise. This study was the first to examine the effect of a 5-min massage of the calf muscles on the ROM and muscle performance. It was observed there was an increase in ROM, but no change in muscle performance. Therefore, we suggest including a percussive massage treatment in a warm-up regimen to optimize the flexibility level of an athlete, without losing muscle performance.
Are Massage Guns Safe?
Massage guns can cause more damage when used inappropriately to injured areas and conditions where inflammation is present like muscle strains, tendonitis and joint pain. You don’t want to over-stimulate an area if injured. Try and avoid the neck area as it is quite sensitive or at least use a very low setting. Another areas not to be used too close to are any joints, bony prominences, nerve bundles, veins and arteries which are more vulnerable which does mean you have to have basic understanding of anatomy structures. Long-term pounding on these vulnerable areas can lead to neuropathy, numbness in the hands and other circulatory problems.
It is recommended to seek professional medical advice from a physical Myotherapist to assess the issue first when injuries are present to understand exactly what's happening. Treatment from a therapist is more effective when dealing with prolonged pain or impaired function. Ice is recommended when inflammation is present and massage guns may cause irritation and increase pain during the first 72 hours. Massage guns can provide benefits but should not be used instead more important recovery factors such as sleep, diet and adequate rest from exercise.
How to Use Massage Gun?
Which ever model you have you want to apply to areas of the body you want to focus on with the thumping motion adjusting the varying speeds and pressure as desired. Take the time to learn all the features and how they work first before using to make it more effective. The more expensive ones have more features and can even be Bluetooth integrated.
Start slow by doing short burst like five minutes then build up to 10, 15, 20 minutes, and so on if its going well. If you've ever had a strong deep tissue massage by a massage therapist you know you want to work up the pressure slowly and not just go full high intensity at the start. You want to make sure it hurts but in a good way. If your especially tight with trigger points from a vigorous exercise routine or poor posture from working long hours you want to ease yourself into it. As your sitting get your massage gun and run it over your quads, upper traps, calves or any other tight muscle group. They are easy to use, feel great and require minimal effort. Within a few minutes, a massage gun can effectively work over a large muscle group, loosening tissue, increasing blood flow and temporarily easing pain and soreness and you don’t have to leave the comfort of your own home. Don't use the massage gun every day but implement along side stretching, foam rolling as the tool’s effectiveness may diminish with frequent use.
When to Use Massage Gun?
Massage guns are best used straight after exercise within the first 48 hours as studies have shown that it prevents DOMS and lactic acid build-up and on rest days in-between exercise. We suggest including a percussive massage treatment in a warm-up regimen to optimize the flexibility level of an athlete, without losing muscle performance. Massage guns are helpful but are no match for a skilled massage therapist. Massage guns are good for general muscle tightness but not so good for injuries. It doesn’t know if you’re injured, if there is any underlying inflammation, biomechanical issues or muscle imbalan
ces present. Massage guns should be used alongside other recovery strategies like stretching, foam rolling, spikey ball, professional massage and Myotherapy, sleep and nutrition but not heavily relied upon to solve all your musculoskeletal issues.