What’s all the Buzz about Massage Guns?
At the end of a long day or after a hard workout, there’s nothing like sitting down in a vibrating massage chair… However, sometimes those massage chairs can’t get the right spot and they are definitely NOT portable.
This is where massage guns fit the bill perfectly! These devices produce percussive vibrations that help relax muscles, relieve trigger points, and decrease pain (assuming that your pain is due to tight musculature in the first place) (1, 2). They can help make you feel ‘oh-so-good’ without the effort of rolling on massage balls or across foam rollers. It’s almost like having a portable massage therapist that you can use on a daily basis and can help ‘save’ the thumbs/hands of your trusted friend or partner. From a physiotherapy point of view, these powerful tools can help you manage your pain between physiotherapy sessions and allow you to continue with your work and/or exercises.
HOW TO USE:
The overall key is that the sensation should be comfortable. Most devices have an intensity setting that can be adjusted up or down as needed.
It is recommended to start the device before placing over your desired area (3, 4), and then slowly move it over the sore muscle (approx. 3 cm or 1 inch per second) (3). There is no need to apply additional pressure with your hand. Instead, allow the head of the massage gun to ‘float’ over your skin, letting the weight of the device and the internal motor apply the force. If you find a ‘knot’ or ‘trigger point’, hold the device in place until the knot relaxes. Therabody (previously called Theragun) recommends no more than 1 minute per general area on each side per treatment session (3, 4).
Most importantly, BREATHE and ENJOY! By breathing deeply, we can help stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system (aka the ‘rest and digest’ system), further allowing our muscles to relax more deeply (5).
We do not recommend placing the head of the massage gun directly over bone or the front wall of your chest because: a) it will be uncomfortable, b) it will not likely be effective, and c) may pose a risk to your bone or heart. Always feel free to bring in a massage gun device and have your physiotherapist or massage therapist show you how to safely and effectively use the massage gun.
Just like a hammer is fantastic with nails but useless with bolts, this tool is not a magical, fix-everything solution. The massage gun is great on MUSCULAR issues – think muscle tension, tightness, cramping, or generally sore muscles – but may not be beneficial for issues due to other tissues including joints (eg arthritis), ligaments (eg sprains), tendons (eg achilles tendinopathy), bursa (eg greater trochanteric bursitis), or nerves (eg neuropathies).
It is ESPECIALLY IMPORTANT to AVOID using a massage gun if you have:
- Uncontrolled hypertension or high blood pressure
- Varicose veins, Peripheral Vascular Disease (PVD)
- Blood clots or unexplained calf pain
- Severe osteoporosis, fractures (or even stress fractures)
- Pacemakers, arterial stents
- Iron deficiency anemia, kidney problems, and/or a history of rhabdomyolysis (6)
- Prone to bruising or other bleeding disorders
- Post-operative (and your doctors has not yet cleared you for use of this device)
These vibrations are not for everyone. In certain rare circumstances, using a massage gun can result in excessive muscle tissue breakdown which could have more serious consequences (6). If you develop severe bruising, urine colour changes, worsening pain, and/or extreme fatigue, consult your doctor immediately.
FEATURES TO LOOK FOR:
There are hundreds of massage guns on the market – ranging anywhere in price from approximately $100-$600. We at Thrive Now Physiotherapy, recommend doing your research as there are plenty of variables to consider:
- Ergonomic handle/grip options and weight of the device: consider whether you have a helper to apply this or will be using it yourself in awkward places (eg one-handed over your shoulder)
- Settings/Speeds: If your body becomes used to a setting, the device loses its effectiveness. While multiple settings provide new stimuli for the muscles and nervous system, having more than 5 settings is unnecessary.
- Noise level: Most massage guns operate in the 50-60 dB range (similar to normal conversation levels) (7). For example, the popular Theragun can reach 72 dB (similar to a vacuum cleaner), while the TimTam Power Massager Pro operates at 10-20 dB (7).
- Attachment options: There are almost an infinite number of shapes, sizes, and firmness of attachment heads which are designed for specific regions and uses. eg Smaller heads provide deeper percussive forces which may be valuable when attacking a stubborn trigger point or when working on a smaller region (ie upper shoulder), while larger heads distribute the same force over a larger area which can make it more comfortable over sensitive zones.
Massage guns can be used for muscle relaxation, pain relief, or at the very least, some TLC. A little self-care can go a long way to improving not only your physical health, but your mental health as well! As the wise and witty Jonathan Van Ness from Queer Eye says, “To me, self-care isn’t really shallow. Showing up for yourself…can inspire so many different parts of your life” (8)
- Lu X, Wang Y, Lu J, You Y, Zhang L, Zhu D, & Yao F (2019). Does vibration benefit delayed-onset muscle soreness?: A meta-analysis and systematic Journal of International Medical Research, 47(1), 3-18. Accessed Aug 2/2021: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0300060518814999
- Ingraham, P. (2021 May 7). Vibration Therapies, from Massage Guns to Jacuzzis: What are the medical benefits of vibrating massage and other kidns of tissue jiggling? Accessed Aug 2/2021: https://www.painscience.com/articles/vibration-therapy.php
- Goop (2021). Theragun: A Massage Tool to Relieve Sore Muscles and Full-Body Tightness. Accessed Aug 1/2021: https://goop.com/ca-en/wellness/fitness/how-to-use-theragun/
- Therabody (2021). Theragun: How to Use. Accessed Aug 2/2021: https://www.theragun.com/ca/en-ca/howto/theragun/
- John Hopkins All Children’s Hospital (2021). Complementary Pain Therapies: Diaphragmatic Breathing. Accessed Aug 2/2021: https://www.hopkinsallchildrens.org/Services/Anesthesiology/Pain-Management/Complementary-Pain-Therapies/Diaphragmatic-Breathing
- Chen J, Zhang F, Chen H, & Pan H (2021 Jan). Rhabdomyolysis after the use of percussion massage gun: A case report. Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation Journal (Vol 101: Issue 1). Accessed Aug 2/2021: https://academic.oup.com/ptj/article/101/1/pzaa199/5958507
- MMA Fan from MMA Life (2020). What is the Quietest Massage Gun? Ranking by Noise and Speed. Accessed Aug 2/2021: https://mmalife.com/ranking-massage-guns-by-noise-level-and-speed/
- Casey C – Faviana (2019 July 15). Self Care Quotes from “Queer Eye’s” Jonathan Van Ness. Accessed Aug 2/2021: https://faviana.com/blog/self-care-quotes-from-queer-eyes-jonathan-van-ness