How Effective Is a Massage Gun for Recovery?

woman using massage gun for recovery

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Massage guns are one of the trendiest tools in the fitness industry right now. Dedicated fitness enthusiasts and athletes use massage guns before and after working out, on rest days and whenever they feel muscle pain. 

But how effective are massage guns, really? 

Using available research and insights from massage gun expert Dan Kozak, co-founder of Ekrin Athletics, a massage gun manufacturer, we'll share the purported benefits of massage guns and whether or not these trendy devices work.

How Effective Are Massage Guns?

“Unless you happen to have the knowledge and equipment of a physiotherapy scientist, it’s very difficult to quantify the effects of vibration and percussive therapy,” Kozak says.  

While there have been recent studies showing the effectiveness of percussive therapy and proving benefits such as reduced lactic acid buildup and soreness, “the best way to maximize the benefits is by knowing how to use a massage gun correctly,” Kozak enthuses. 

Ahead, learn how effective massage guns are for different uses, including workout recovery and medical musculoskeletal conditions. 

For Muscle Recovery

You can use a massage gun for a number of things, from posture-related pain to stress relief. Most people primarily use their massage gun for workout-related soreness and stiffness, particularly for delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS)

As it turns out, it’s not a matter of if you use a massage gun, but when

“If you’re trying to decrease muscle soreness after exercise, it’s best to use your massage gun immediately after your workout to help reduce lactic acid and toxin buildup in your muscles,” Kozak says.  “A quick application again the next day will increase blood flow, bringing oxygen to your muscles while loosening hardened fascia.”

Doing this sporadically and inconsistently probably won’t help much, though. 

“Just like exercise, the benefits of using a massage gun only last if you maintain regular use,” Kozak says. For the best results and long-lasting relief, keep your massage gun in your gym bag or near your home workout equipment so you remember to use it during your cool-down.

What the Research Says

  • Vibration therapy is likely just as effective as massage therapy at reducing muscle soreness, an impressive finding considering the ample evidence supporting massage therapy for muscle recovery.
  • When used immediately after a workout, massage guns seem to reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS), the type of soreness that sets in 24 to 48 hours after exercise.

These findings hold promise, but overall, more research is needed to determine the true effects of massage guns on muscle recovery. Studies such as these have limitations, including the fact that soreness is self-reported. 

For Athletic Performance 

Using a massage gun before a workout offers just as many benefits as using one after a workout. By increasing blood flow to targeted areas, you can prime your muscles for exercise with an increase in oxygen and nutrients.

What the Research Says

  • Using a massage gun as part of your warmup may reduce your perception of muscular fatigue during workouts. Scientists aren’t sure if percussive therapy reduces actual fatigue, but even if it doesn’t, the placebo effect can be a very powerful thing.
  • One study found that using a massage gun before exercising may reduce the total volume of microtears in muscle (the muscle damage that makes you sore) when compared to using a massage gun after exercise.
  • Research has shown vibration therapy to effectively increase range of motion, which can help you access deeper positions when working out. For example, increased range of motion in the ankle helps you reach a deeper squat position. 

For Circulation

Percussion massagers are the new compression socks. The mechanical, hammer-like action of a massage gun increases blood flow to targeted areas, effectively reducing swelling and eliminating circulation-related sensations like numbness and tingling.

For those who suffer from poor blood circulation, Kozak recommends maintaining two to three full sessions per day without exceeding 15 minutes per session. Using a massage gun in the morning, afternoon, and evening will help increase and maintain blood flow throughout the day, he says, and you’ll get the best long-term results if you do this every day.

What the Research Says

Certain types of soft tissue therapy, including massage therapy, are thought to increase blood flow to targeted areas. However, no studies have found a relationship between improved circulation and massage guns specifically.

While there’s no concrete evidence yet that massage guns improve blood circulation, that doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t help for this purpose.

If you notice poor circulation, such as in your lower legs from sitting at your desk too long, a massage gun may help work out some of that fluid buildup. If you experience significant or severe swelling, talk to a doctor before trying a massage gun. 

For Fibromyalgia 

Massage guns might be an effective treatment option for fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia is a disorder that causes widespread pain in the muscles and joints, as well as stiffness, fatigue and headaches. 

Massage guns treat fibromyalgia by gently massaging tight adhesions in the fascia (a type of connective tissue) and breaking up muscle knots, which relieves pain and improves mobility.

What the Research Says

  • One study found that “deep oscillation massage” was well-tolerated by fibromyalgia patients and that it “significantly improved” quality of life and symptoms.
  • In general, long-term massage therapy is seen as an effective symptom-management tool for fibromyalgia, but massage guns specifically do not have as many studies backing them.

Massage guns may help people with fibromyalgia manage pain, but they should definitely talk to their doctor about appropriate usage before trying percussive massage. 

For Sciatica

People with sciatica may also find relief with a percussive massager. Sciatica involves compression and inflammation of the sciatic nerve, a large nerve that runs from your lower back through your legs. When the sciatic nerve becomes inflamed, it can lead to sharp pain, pins-and-needles sensations, and numbness. 

Percussive massage helps loosen up tight connective tissues that might be compressing your sciatic nerve. Decompressing the nerve should relieve pain and other sciatica symptoms

What The Science Says

  • Deep tissue massage is thought to relieve sciatica pain, but even research on that relationship is limited.

Again, the scientific evidence isn’t robust, but sometimes anecdotal evidence is the best indicator. If you have sciatica, your doctor has cleared you to use a massage gun and you feel that it helps, by all means use a massage gun to relieve pain. 

Along with sciatica and fibromyalgia, Kozak says “massage guns can be effective for anyone suffering from shin splints, muscle cramps and spasms, myofascial pain syndrome, tennis elbow, chronic pain or anxiety, carpal tunnel syndrome, or bulging discs.” 

Of course, you should consult with your doctor first to make sure a massage gun is appropriate for your intended use, Kozak says, particularly if you have experienced inflammation-related injuries, fractures, varicose veins, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, are taking blood thinners, or are pregnant.

Massage Gun Safety

Massage guns are safe and effective when used properly and the primary risks of massage guns are related to improper use, Kozak says. 

“The main risk for any athlete using a massage gun is to make sure it’s not causing more damage to an existing injury,” he explains. “For instance, it’s best to avoid treating areas with muscle tears or strains, as the impact from the massage gun could further aggravate the injury.”

It may sound like common sense, Kozak points out, but the best way to avoid this is to be aware of how your body feels and how you think it will respond to the impact of a massage gun.  “A great rule of thumb is to always stop the treatment if it is causing pain,” he says. 

Always refer back to your device’s instructions or consult a doctor if you’re not sure how to use a massage gun or if you should at all. 

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