Thursday 15th July, 2021

The benefits of percussion massage (massage guns) vs vibration massage

The terms percussion and vibration massage are often used interchangeably, but they are different and have different effects. In this article we will explain the difference, share and compare the benefits of each, then most importantly let you know how to tell which is which.

Percussion vs vibration massage

What is the difference between a percussion massage and vibration massage

The easiest way to explain the difference is that percussion massage is like a jackhammer while vibration massage is like a vibrating compactor They both vibrate, but you get completely different effects. Lets look at those effects..

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 has a host of scientifically proven effects and benefits (1–26) These are listed in the illustration, and in the appendix below. For more information please see our guide The scientifically proven effects of vibration massage- clinical applications..

Percussion massage

Before doing the research for this article I wasn’t aware of any scientifically proven benefits for percussion massage so I studied the websites that discussed the benefits of percussion massage. In every case, where they mentioned a scientific study, the study wasn’t even percussion, they were of vibration.

To put this into perspective it’s like jackhammer manufacturers claiming the benefits of vibrating the ground. Yes they vibrate, but but it’s for the purpose of driving in the head, not vibration the ground. If you wanted to vibrate the ground you’d use a compactor, not a jack hammer.

As an example. According to Google one of the top references for the benefits of percussion massage is this article by Hydragun. The scientific studies it referenced were of vibration, not percussion.

Google search results: Hydragun
Hydragun article: uses scientific studies of vibration to support percussion

Comparing the penetration of percussion and vibration massage

Many websites on percussion massage claim is that by driving the head in it gives better penetration. This is total garbage. Vibrations always penetrate much more than physical penetration. For example, in a scientific paper about vibrations in the construction industry it states that while a pile driver may drive a pile in a few cm, the vibrations travel from 18-247m (27)⁠. However, lets look at our jackhammer vs compactor analogy. Jackhammers are designed to drive their head in and do a lot of damage, but their heads only go in so far. On the other hand the vibrations from compactors penetrate much deeper.

Comparing the safety of percussion and vibration massage

Comparing the safety of percussion and vibration massage is a no brainer. With vibration massage the vibrating pad sits on the surface and lets the vibrations soak in. Nothing is perfectly safe, but it’s pretty close to it. On the other hand with percussion massage you’re driving a head in like a jackhammer, and if you don’t know what you’re doing and aim it at injured tissue, blood vessels or nerves you can do some serious damage.

Comparing the effects of percussion and vibration massage breaking up scar tissue

Many websites and videos on percussion massage claim without providing any scientific evidence that percussion massage helps break up scar tissue and adhesions. They don’t say whether it’s old scar tissue or newly forming scar tissue, so lets look at each.

Old scar tissue

Scar tissue can stick things together and cause problems, and there’s a technique called cross friction massage that’s used to break it up (28)⁠. However, cross friction massage is actually tearing scar tissue, so it’s extremely aggressive and painful. Unless you use a very powerful percussion massager with a hard head in a very aggressive and painful manner it’s not going to effectively break up scar tissue, and if it did, just by the very nature it’s deliberately damaging tissue, so that should only be done by a professional who knows what he or she is doing.

Scar tissue formation: effect of vibration
A study showed that vibration causes muscles to heal with far less scar tissue

Newly forming scar tissue

The good news is that, as this pic shows, vibrations alone have been scientifically shown to stop scar tissue forming (18)⁠. It doesn’t need percussion. In fact the percussion head would probably do further damage to the healing tissues and cause more scar tissue.

The ability to effectively apply percussion and vibration massage

The previous sections give the relative benefits of percussion and vibration massage, but the effect of each also depends on how the therapy is applied. The big issue here is that most percussion massagers are massage guns.

Aiming a massage gun

As this diagram shows the percussion effect from a percussion massager is directed straight out of the head, so you need to point it like a gun. If it’s applied at an angle it’s effect is minimised. Massage guns don’t come with proper handles, so unless you are Inspector Gadget you can’t point the gun properly at places like your back.

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

On the other hand, some, not all vibration massagers come with a proper handle to allow you to use them anywhere on your body. Video of the massager pictured

How to tell the difference between a percussion and vibration massager

So, if you’re after a massager how do you tell the difference? There is some crossover between the two types of machine, but there are certain characteristics to look for.

The shape of the heads

The most obvious is the shape of the heads. Again, if you think jackhammer vs compactor your percussion massagers are going to have heads that look like they’re for driving in, while vibration massagers will tend to have flatter heads designed for vibration transfer.

Percussion vs vibration massage: amplitude

The amplitude of the head movement

The next thing to look at is the amplitude, which is how far the head goes up and down. You can easily see this if you look at the head side on while it’s running. A good vibration massager will have an amplitude of about 3-5 mm, while a percussion massager will have more. Looking at our jackhammer and compactor again, a jackhammer head might go up and down a few cm to drive the head in, but if the big flat plate on the compactor went up and down that far it would just bounce around uncontrollably.

Other machines

In giving that info, you will find massage guns with jackhammer heads that only go up and down a few mm. They aren’t vibration massagers, but rather cheap knock offs. Think of buying a cheap and nasty jackhammer that you take home and is not much more effective than a wood pecker. You’ll also find massagers that only vibrate up and down a mm or two. That’s not enough to impart decent vibration so they’re just buzzy toys.

Getting a good massager

I hope you’ve worked out by now that percussion massagers are basically a fad, and it’s vibration massagers that actually give the benefits. There’s a few good vibration massagers around. Our General Purpose Massager is a good example. It’s well built, got a proper handle so you can use it anywhere on your body, and like a good vibration massager should you put it on your body, there’s no “digging in”, but you feel the vibration going right through your body. They’re available from our website and from clinics across Australia, New Zealand and the UK. We usually send to Europe as well. Check out our website, but as I do this his article until some post brexit stuff gets sorted out it’s practically impossible to send parcels to the EU.

Professionals

Most of our massagers are sold through professional clinics where where the professionals use them themselves and recommend them to patients or clients. 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.

Appendix One: 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

Appendix Two: The scientifically proven benefits of vibration massage

  • Relaxes muscles
  • Increases blood flow
  • Reduces pain
  • Causes "stretching" of muscles
  • Reduced post exercise soreness (DOMS) and speeds recovery
  • Assists healing
  • Increases performance of muscles

References

Poenaru D, Cinteza D, Petrusca I, Cioc L, Dumitrascu D. Local Application of Vibration in Motor Rehabilitation - Scientific and Practical Considerations. Maedica (Buchar)2016;11(3):227–31.
2. Zuil-Escobar JC, Martínez-Cepa CB, Martín-Urrialde JA, Gómez-Conesa A, Shin C, Oh H, et al. Muscles Recruitment Pattern in People with and Without Active Upper Trapezius Myofascial Trigger Points in the Standing Posture. J Phys Ther Sci 2018;13(1):1–9.
3. BIERMAN W. INFLUENCE OF CYCLOID VIBRATION MASSAGE ON TRUNK FLEXION. Am J Phys Med Rehabil. 2006;
4. Hinman MR, Lundy R, Perry E, Robbins K, Viertel L. Comparative effect of ultrasound and deep oscillation on the extensibility of hamstring muscles. J Athl Med. 2013;
5. SANDS WA, MCNEAL JR, STONE MH, RUSSELL EM, JEMNI M. Flexibility Enhancement with Vibration. Med Sci Sport Exerc. 2006;38(4):720–5.
6. Kim J-Y, Kang D-H, Lee J-H, O S-M, Jeon J-K. The effects of pre-exercise vibration stimulation on the exercise-induced muscle damage. J Phys Ther Sci. 2017;29(1):119–22.
7. 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;
8. Bakhtiary AH, Safavi-Farokhi Z, Aminian-Far A. Influence of vibration on delayed onset of muscle soreness following eccentric exercise. Br J Sports Med. 2007;
9. Kamandani R, Ghazalian F, Ebrahim K, Ghassembaglou N, Shiri Piraghaj M, Khorram A. The Effect of Acute Vibration Training on Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness in Young Non-Athlete Women. Heal Scope. 2015;
10. Broadbent S, Rousseau JJ, Thorp RM, Choate SL, Jackson FS, Rowlands DS. Vibration therapy reduces plasma IL6 and muscle soreness after downhill running. Br J Sports Med. 2010;44(12):888–94.
11. Lau WY, Nosaka K. Effect of vibration treatment on symptoms associated with eccentric exercise-induced muscle damage. Am J Phys Med Rehabil. 2011;
12. Veqar Z, Imtiyaz S. Vibration therapy in management of delayed onset muscle soreness. J Clin Diagnostic Res. 2014;8(6):10–3.
13. Inaba R, Furuno T, Okada A. Effects of low- and high-frequency local vibration on the occurrence of intimal thickening of the peripheral arteries of rats. Scand J Work Environ Heal. 1988;14(5):312–6.
14. Germann D, El Bouse A, Shnier J, Abdelkader N, Kazemi M, Germann D, et al. Effects of local vibration therapy on various performance parameters: a narrative literature review. J Can Chiropr Assoc. 2018;62(3).
15. Gentili S, Uccioli L, Mugnaini S, Lella D, Richetta M, Magrini A. EFFECTS OF LOCAL VIBRATION THERAPY ON LOWER LIMB ’ S SENSORIMOTOR CONTROL IN WORKERS SUFFERING FROM DIABETIC FOOT – STATE OF ARTS AND STUDY ON A NEW PREVENTION AND THERAPEUTIC SYSTEM .
16. Weinheimer-Haus EM, Judex S, Ennis WJ, Koh TJ. Low-intensity vibration improves angiogenesis and wound healing in diabetic mice. PLoS One. 2014;9(3):3–10.
17. MEI R, XU Y, LI Q. Experimental Study on Mechanical Vibration Massage for Treatment of Brachial Plexus Injury in Rats. J Tradit Chinese Med. 2010;
18. Corbiere TF, Weinheimer-Haus EM, Judex S, Koh TJ. Low-intensity vibration improves muscle healing in a mouse model of laceration injury. J Funct Morphol Kinesiol. 2018;3(1):1–14.
19. Sari Y, Saryono S, Sutrisna E, Hartono H. A Comparative Study of the Effects of Vibration and Electrical Stimulation Therapies on the Acceleration of Wound Healing in Diabetic Ulcers.. J Ners. 2017;
20. Lohman EB, Petrofsky JS, Maloney-Hinds C, Betts-Schwab H, Thorpe D. The effect of whole body vibration on lower extremity skin blood flow in normal subjects. Med Sci Monit. 2007;
21. Maloney-Hinds C, Petrofsky JS, Zimmerman G. . Med Sci Monit [Internet]. 2008;14(3):CR112-6. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18301353
22. Nakagami G, Sanada H, Matsui N, Kitagawa A, Yokogawa H, Sekiya N, et al. Effect of vibration on skin blood flow in an in vivo microcirculatory model. Biosci Trends. 2007;1(3):161–6.
23. Rabini A, De Sire A, Marzetti E, Gimigliano R, Ferriero G, Piazzini DB, et al. Effects of focal muscle vibration on physical functioning in patients with knee osteoarthritis: a randomized controlled trial. Eur J Phys Rehabil Med. 2015;
24. Noma T, Matsumoto S, Etoh S, Shimodozono M, kawahira K. Anti-spastic effects of the direct application of vibratory stimuli to the spastic muscles of hemiplegic limbs in post-stroke patients. Brain Inj. 2009;23(7–8):623–31.
25. Bakhtiary AH, Fatemi E, Khalili MA, Ghorbani R. Localised application of vibration improves passive knee extension in women with apparent reduced hamstring extensibility: A randomised trial. J Physiother. 2011;
26. Atha J, Ph D, Wheatley DW, Sc B. JOINT MOBILITY CHANGES DUE TO LOW FREQUENCY VIBRATION AND STRETCHING EXERCISE Br. J. Sports Med. 1974;26–35.
27. Svinkin MR. Minimizing Construction Vibration Effects. Pract Period Struct Des Constr. 2004;9(2):108–15.
28. Chamberlain GJ. Cyriax’s friction massage: A review. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 1982;4(1):16–22.

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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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