Saturday 18th September, 2021

Do massage guns work ?

Woman using a massage gun
Massage guns promise therapeutic vibration massage, but often fail to deliver

Vibration massage is an excellent therapy. However, too many massage guns fail to deliver this because:

  • they use percussion which is less effective and potentially more harmful than vibration,
  • their handles do not allow you to effectively reach about 1/3 of your body, and
  • with massage guns becoming a fad the market is flooded with poorly built ineffective machines.

Futher, the value of the premium massage guns is questionable because they are horrendously expensive when compared with quality power tools that have roughly similar mechanisms. In this article we will discuss these issues, then how you may use a genuine vibration massager that gives those benefits massage guns promise.

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

The scientifically proven benefits of vibration vs percussion
Comparing the penetration of vibration and percussion massagers
Comparing the safety of vibration and percussion massagers
You cannot self massage a lot of your body with a massage gun
The flood of poorly designed percussion massagers/massage guns
Table: Comparison of percussion and vibration massage
Are massage guns worth it?
The alternative: a genuine vibration massager
Further information
Professionals
References

The scientifically proven benefits of vibration vs percussion

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

The therapeutic benefits of 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

The therapeutic benefits of 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 claims about the penetration of percussion massagers

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

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 on the 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.

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

Are massage guns worth it?

We've see that the therapeutic benefits from massage guns are probably not worth it, but what about the value you get from the actual hardware. To do this I've compared USA prices for a top model Theragun and a top quality jigsaw from Home Depot. The Jigsaw is probably a bit stronger built, but the Theragun has a few cheap to make rubber and plastic heads. Lets look at the pricing:

  • DEWALT 20-Volt MAX XR Cordless Brushless Jigsaw $169 USD
  • Theragun PRO $599 USD
Quality DEWALT Jigsaw
Quality jigsaw from Home Depot $169 USD
Theragun PRO
Theragun PRO $599 USD

The alternative: get a genuine vibration massager

We've seen that massage guns claim to deliver therapeutic vibration massage but too often fail to deliver. Why not buy a genuine vibration massager instead. We make an excellent personal use vibration massager but I want to show you without using ours that if you look you can find decent well priced vibration massagers. We found this one at a North American Chiropractic supply place for only $166 USD. It would do a much better job than the Theragun and you could buy three of them for the same price.

Vibration massager
Well built vibration massager for only $166 USD

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 of our geniune 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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