Do Massage Guns Work? Here’s the Research and Insights from a PT

Of all the gadgets designed to alleviate muscle soreness and accelerate muscle recovery, massage guns have rapidly risen to occupy the vanguard position. In the hands of many physical therapists, massage guns have roared past foam rollers and other ergonomic handheld devices to become the most hyped-up devices for soothing sore muscles.

Massage Gun
Credit: Denis Botarev / Shutterstock

Despite this, many people are still asking the question: do massage guns work? And if percussive therapy is indeed superior to foam rolling as an overall wellness tool, is it enough to shift your approach to post-workout muscle recovery? We got into it with an expert in the field: here’s what you need to know.

Editor’s Note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it should not be taken as medical advice. When starting a new training regimen and/or diet, it is always a good idea to consult with a trusted medical professional. We are not a medical resource. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. They are not substitutes for consulting a qualified medical professional.

Meet Our Expert

Heather Asti, PT, MPT, has been a practicing physical therapist for nearly two decades in the outpatient orthopedic world. In addition to her Master of Physical Therapy degree from Wayne State University, Asti owns certifications in Instrument-Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization, and Prenatal and Postpartum Care. She is also an APTA Advanced Certified Clinical Instructor.


How Do Massage Guns Work? 

Massage guns are percussion therapy tools. You’ll find different attachments placed on the percussive arms of the devices. From there, whenever you press the “on” button, the arm will oscillate (or vibrate). When you sweep the massage head along any muscle groups, the percussive massage increases the blood flow to the muscle tissues in that area.

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When you up the blood flow to your muscles, they won’t only relax. The increased flow may also help remove waste products and other toxins from your muscles that have been building up, perhaps since your last workout. (1)


How Effective Are Massage Guns?

It’s one thing to say that a massage gun provides percussive therapy when you place its vibrating head against your muscles. It’s quite another thing to suggest that massage guns are actually capable of alleviating muscle tension on the level of a massage therapist.

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Yet, studies have shown the effectiveness of massage guns for hastening several desired outcomes. (1)

For Recovery

There is a reason athletes often seek massage therapy to help them recover from delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Frankly, massages feel enjoyable to many people, one reason being that they can be comforting, both physically and mentally. Like traditional massage, massage guns have been similarly shown to aid muscle recovery. (2)

A person using a massage gun to massage their arm.
Credit: Aitor Lamadrid Lopez / Shutterstock

[Read More: Best Vibrating Massage Rollers: Top Picks for Recovery and Mobility]

“Massage has long been held as a means to improve recovery after competition or a workout, and massage guns offer the same benefits,” Asti tells BarBend. “Improving the blood flow to the targeted areas can reduce the effects of DOMS and help relax overworked muscles.”

For Performance 

Many athletes swear by massage guns improving their athletic performance — however, the data is mixed on this. Some studies indicate that massage guns may actually hinder athletic performance. (2) 

“There are many hopefuls who believe that a little massage gun session before a workout or competition can boost muscle strength and performance factors,” Asti says. “However, evidence does not yet support this claim. I would suggest using massage guns as part of a proper dynamic warm-up routine to assist with increasing muscle extensibility to prep the body for efficient movement.”

[Read More: Massage Gun Vs. Foam Roller — Which Is Better for Strength Athletes?]

Still, simply believing that massage guns can help with performance may well help them do so. Asti points out: “Let’s not write off the placebo effect though, because if someone believes it is improving their performance, science has proven that there is power in that belief.”

For Flexibility

If you’re interested in extending your range of motion, massage guns can lend you some assistance. This doesn’t mean massage guns will offer your legs the same flexibility boost that would come with deliberately stretching your quads. However, if you are actively stretching, massage guns can provide effective flexibility assistance. (3)

“Massage guns assist with improving flexibility because they increase blood flow, which makes the muscle tissue more pliable and more receptive to stretching exercises and mobility work,” Asti explains. 

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However, make sure you’re not skimping on your stretching routine just because you have the newest recovery toy. “A massage gun on its own does not improve flexibility,” Asti says. So stretch and use your massage gun.

For Injury Recovery

If you’ve experienced an injury, a massage gun may be a wise choice for accelerating the recuperation of your soft tissue. A massage gun certainly shouldn’t be used against a doctor’s advice or instead of prescribed physical therapy. However, it may help in conjunction with other healing methods.

“While I would not generally recommend applying a massage gun directly to injured tissues, especially in the acute phase, they could conceivably be used in later stages of recovery to assist with restoring muscle flexibility in the affected areas,” says Asti.

A physical therapist using a massage gun to massage someone.
Credit: Microgen / Shutterstock

[Read More: How to Use a Massage Gun, According to a PT]

“For the most benefit in regards to injury recovery, a massage gun should not be used as the only means of self-treatment,” Asti explains. “Following application of the massage gun should be focused stretching, mobility exercises, and progressive strengthening exercises for a well-rounded rehab program.”


How to Use a Massage Gun 

Whether you are using a massage gun as part of a pre-workout routine or post-workout recovery method, the steps of application are the same:

  • Step 1: Identify the sore or tight muscles you want to target.
  • Step 2: Choose the appropriate massage head attachment for the targeted area. For large muscles, select the large head size. For smaller muscles, opt for the smaller head size.
  • Step 3: Begin with the massage gun on a low setting and slowly sweep the muscle.
  • Step 4: Gradually increase the speed or depth of pressure to any areas within the muscle that feel particularly tight or sore.
  • Step 5: After 30 seconds to two minutes, move on to the next muscle group.


How Not to Use a Massage Gun

As you’re completing sweeps over your body with a massage gun, here are three mistakes you’ll want to avoid making:

  • Mistake 1: Using a massage gun on bony areas or nerves.
  • Mistake 2: Continuing to use the massage gun if you have pain or radiating symptoms such as numbness or tingling during application.
  • Mistake 3: Placing the massage gun directly on open or unhealed wounds, injured tissues, or areas of swelling. 

Massage Yourself

As long as you know how to use it properly — avoiding injured tissue, bony areas or nerves, or continuing to massage through acute pain, numbness, or tingling — a massage gun may well be a great addition to your recovery routine.

Massage guns can help increase blood flow to exhausted muscles, helping drain toxins away and bring fresh blood in. You may also find yourself more flexible — as long as you’re also continuing your regularly scheduled stretching routine. So do massage guns work? Quite possibly — it just depends on what your expectations are.


FAQs

If you’re still wondering whether or not a massage gun is an optimal solution for dissolving the tension in your sore muscles, check out the answers to the questions below.

How often should you use a massage gun? 

A massage gun can be used as frequently as needed to ease muscle soreness, or as part of a pre-workout routine. To achieve long-term gains in flexibility, it is advisable to combine the use of a massage gun with a stretching routine at least four times per week.

What are the benefits of massage guns? 

Massage guns improve blood flow to the areas in which they are applied. This results in a loosening of muscles, an alleviation of pain, and an increase in flexibility. 

Do massage guns work? 

Studies have demonstrated that massage guns can indeed help increase blood flow in massaged muscles, which can be helpful for loosening your muscles and reducing pain or soreness. But if you’re aiming to improve your performance, the data are more mixed.

Can massage guns be harmful?

In general, massage guns are as safe as any other type of equipment you’ll find in the gym — you just have to use it right. A massage gun can be harmful if you apply it too hard or in the wrong places. Parts of your body that are sensitive to massage guns include nerves, veins, arteries, or injured tissues.

References

  1. Sams L, Langdown BL, Simons J, Vseteckova J. The Effect Of Percussive Therapy On Musculoskeletal Performance And Experiences Of Pain: A Systematic Literature Review. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2023 Apr 1;18(2):309-327. 
  2. Ferreira RM, Silva R, Vigário P, Martins PN, Casanova F, Fernandes RJ, Sampaio AR. The Effects of Massage Guns on Performance and Recovery: A Systematic Review. Journal of Functional Morphology and Kinesiology. 2023; 8(3):138. 
  3. 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.

Featured Image: Credit: Denis Botarev / Shutterstock

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