Friday 25th June, 2021

Percussion massager vs vibration massage

Percussion vs vibration massage

The simplest way to explain the difference between a percussion and vibration massager is that vibration massagers use vibration to penetrate whereas percussion massagers use mechanical vibration to assist physical penetration. This is like comparing a jackhammer with vibrating compactors used in the construction industry. In this article we will discuss the effectiveness, safety and usage of each.

CONTENTS

Scientifically proven benefits
Penetration
Safety
How to tell the difference between a persussion and vibration massager
Table: Comparison of percussion and vibration massage
Further information
Professionals
Reference

Scientifically proven benefits

The scientifically proven effects of vibration massage
Summary of the scientifically proven effects of vibration massage

Vibration massage

Vibration massage is supported by extensive scientific research. For an excellent summary please see the The scientifically proven effects of vibration massage- with clinical applications. In summary, these clinically proven effects include the following.

  • Relaxing muscles
  • increasing blood flow
  • “stretching muscles”
  • reducing post exercise soreness and speeding recovery
  • improving performance
  • reducing pain
  • helping musculoskeletal conditions
  • increasing healing

Percussion massage

We were not aware of any research or other scientific information supporting the use of percussion massagers so we did an extensive search of websites claiming to show the benefits of percussion massage. In every case where they referenced a scientific study it was a study of vibrations, not percussion.

Penetration

False information on line

In our research we found many unsubstantiated claims that percussion massagers penetrate 60% better than vibration massagers. We believe the source of this claim is the following statement on Theragun’s website, claiming that their professional grade percussion massagers penetrate 60% more than consumer grade vibration massagers. This is probably true, but consumer grade vibration massagers are generally poor quality, poorly designed and not very effective. A comparison with these is neither valid or flattering.

Quote from Theragun regarding penetration
Quote from Theragun website regarding penetration

Vibration penetrates much better

It is a fundamental principle of physics that properly applied vibration penetrates much further than physical penetration. For example, according to a scientific journal article on the effects of vibrations in the construction industry (1)⁠ vibrations from a pile driver travel from 18- 247m, whereas vibrations from a quarry blast travels 1.6-6.4km. There is no question that a properly designed vibration massager can penetrate much further than a percussion massager.

Safety

The physical penetration of a massager head that occurs in percussion massage creates a far greater risk of causing damage or injury.

How to tell the difference between a vibration massager and a percussion massager.

While there is some crossover between the two types of machine there are certain characteristics to look for.

Percussion vs vibration massage: amplitude

The amplitude of the vibrating head

Amplitude simply means how far the head goes up and down. A typical vibration massager will use an amplitude of about 3-5 mm. If the amplitude was much greater it would push the head in or tend to patter and bounce uncontrollably. Theraguns have an amplitude of 16mm, which is clearly to help drive the head in. To tell how far a massager head moves up and down you can look at it side on while it is running.

The shape of the head

Looking at the example of the compactor and the jackhammer, vibration massagers tend to use a flattish contact to help vibration transfer, whereas percussion massagers tend to have shaped heads such as balls or more pointed contacts to help the head penetrate.

Machines that look like massagers

If you go to alibaba.com, the portal used by manufacturers and search “massager” you will find over 200,000 listings. These are typically those Theragun described as consumer machines. Too many are built as cheaply as possible, with more concern about looking the part than how they work. We would not consider them as serious vibration massagers or percussion massagers.

Comparison of percussion and vibration massage

NOTE: You may need to scroll the table below left/right for more information

Mode of operation

Scientifically proven benefits

Safety

Amplitude

Heads

Vibration massage

Penetrates with vibration

Extensive: see research summary

Relatively safe

3-5mm

Flattish for vibration transfer

Percussion massage

Uses vibration to push in head

Tries to claim the benefits of vibration

Penetrating head can cause injury or damage

larger

rounded or pointed

Further information

For further information about the beneficial effects of vibration massage and suitable machines please see the following:
The scientific effects of vibration massage with clinical applications
How to choose a massager
Video: Our highly effective vibration massager

Professionals

If you are a professional and wish to know more about vibration massage please check out practitioner page for more information and possibly a sample massager to try this therapy yourself. Our DrGraeme massagers were originally built by Dr Graeme for use in his clinic, and to prescribe to his patients for additional self use at home. Now these are used by colleagues and other professionals for similar purposes.

Reference

  1. Svinkin MR. Minimizing Construction Vibration Effects. Pract Period Struct Des Constr. 2004;9(2):108–15.

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Dr Graeme

About Dr Graeme

Several years ago Dr Graeme, a Chiropractor practicing in Victoria, Australia was looking for a serious hand held massager his patients could use at home to get the extra quality massage they needed. The ones he found in the shops and on-line for home use looked nice but were not serious, and... read more



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