Thursday 15th July, 2021

Should I get a percussion massager, or a vibration massager

You will find a well designed vibration massager easier to use, safer, and will do a much better job. This is because:

  • the scientific studies support vibration, not percussion massage,
  • in their common configuration as a massage gun they don't even have a proper handle to allow you you to effectively self massage a lot of your body,
  • and with percussion massagers/massage guns becoming a fad Chinese factories are flooding the market with ineffective gimmick ridden machines.
Percussion vs vibration massage

What is the difference between a percussion massager and a vibration massager

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

Comparing the scientifically proven benefits
Comparing the penetration
Comparing the safety
You cannot self massage a lot of your body with a massage gun
The flood of poorly designed percussion massagers/massage guns
How to tell the difference between a persussion and vibration massager
Table: Comparison of percussion and vibration massage
Further information
Professionals
References

Comparing the 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. For example: on Hydragun’s website their article 5-scientific reasons percussive therapy works references the following journal articles (1–6)⁠. They are all studies of vibration therapy, not percussion.

Comparing the penetration of vibration and percussion massagers

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 (7). 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 (8)⁠ 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.

Comparing the safety of percussion and vibration massagers

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

You cannot self massage a lot of your body with a massage gun

Aiming a massage gun

Most percussion massagers come configured as a massage gun. As this diagram shows, like a real gun massage guns need to be pointed correctly to have their proper effect, but their handles do not allow doing this for self massage for a lot of your own body, unless you have arms like Inspector Gadget. This is why we so often see people demonstrating massage at the back of the shoulders with the massage gun at an ineffective angle.

Using a vibration massager prone
With a proper handle vibration massage can easily be applied anywhere on your body

Proper ergonomically designed handle

As a contrast, the vibration massager pictured has an excellently designed handle allowing effective self use anywhere on the body. Video of the vibration massager pictured

The flood of poorly designed ineffective percussion massagers/massage guns

Alibaba massage gun listing
You can buy one of these for under $15, including the stupid looking heads

With percussion massagers/massage guns becoming a fad we have factories in China with little knowledge of building therapeutically beneficial machines flooding the market. If you check Alibaba.com, the website manufacturers use to list their products you will find over 200,000 listings for massagers. As stated, most know very little about therapeutic benefits and try and differentiate their product by price and gimmicks. This pic shows an excellent example. You can buy those machines for under $15 from the factory, and they come with a range of stupid looking heads, one which might be useful as a hair brush.

Massage gun with gimmicks
Would you expect to see a quality power tool with fiddly push buttons, a LED speed display, cheap nasty plastic attachments and a handle like an aerosol can?

How to pick gimmicks

Gimmicks are things manufacturers add rather than functionality. The easiest way to pick a gimmick with a massager is to consider it as a power tool (which they are). For any feature, consider whether you would expect it on a quality power tool from manufactures such as Makita, Bosch or AEG. If not, it’s probably a gimmick.

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.

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 very 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.

References

  1. Imtiyaz S, Veqar Z, Shareef MY. To compare the effect of vibration therapy and massage in prevention of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). J Clin Diagnostic Res. 2014;
  2. Johnson PK, Feland JB, Johnson AW, Mack GW, Mitchell UH. Effect of whole body vibration on skin blood flow and nitric oxide production. J Diabetes Sci Technol. 2014;8(4):889–94.
  3. Herrero AJ, Menéndez H, Gil L, Martín J, Martín T, García-López D, et al. Effects of whole-body vibration on blood flow and neuromuscular activity in spinal cord injury. Spinal Cord. 2011;49(4):554–9.
  4. Lau RWK, Liao LR, Yu F, Teo T, Chung RCK, Pang MYC. The effects of whole body vibration therapy on bone mineral density and leg muscle strength in older adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Vol. 25, Clinical Rehabilitation. 2011. p. 975–88.
  5. Thompson WR, Yen SS, Rubin J. Vibration therapy: Clinical applications in bone. Curr Opin Endocrinol Diabetes Obes. 2014;21(6):447–53.
  6. King LK, Almeida QJ, Ahonen H. Short-term effects of vibration therapy on motor impairments in Parkinson’s disease. Vol. 25, NeuroRehabilitation. 2009. p. 297–306.
  7. McDonagh D, Wilson L, Haslam C, Weightman D. Good vibrations: Do electrical therapeutic massagers work? Ergonomics. 2005;
  8. Svinkin MR. Minimizing Construction Vibration Effects. Pract Period Struct Des Constr. 2004;9(2):108–15.

We are continually adding more information on research and uses. Subscribe below to have us email them to you "hot off the press".

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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