Tuesday 4th January, 2022

Are massage guns (percussion massagers) safe?

Massage gun usage
What is the risk of driving massage gun heads in like this, and are the benefits worth it?

Massage guns (percussion massagers) are designed to drive their heads into your muscles. Most come with hard plastic heads while professional machines can drive their heads in up to 16mm. Clearly there is a risk doing this, especially when done by someone without the appropriate training. In this article we discuss what those risks are, how professionals reduce these risks, and whether there are benefits to justify them.


What do massage guns do
The risks involved
How professionals reduce these risks
What are the potential benefits for these risks
Your safer, more effective alternative

What do massage guns do

To understand these risks and benefits we need to look at why massage guns drive their heads into your muscles. Professionals have been safely using vibration massage for decades. These have a vibrating pad that sits on the surface and sends in therapeutic vibration like ultrasound (vibrations at a different frequency). Massage gun marketers have modified these machines as shown in the following diagram.

Vibration vs percussion vs conventional
  • The machine on the left is a genuine vibration massager. You can see that it has the large pad to send copious amounts of therapeutic vibrations deep into your muscles.
  • The tool on the right is a t-bar that massage therapists use to deliver deep (usually painful) pressure.
  • The machine in the middle is a massage gun, or percussion massager. It’s head goes up and down a lot further and is designed to drive into your muscles. Bascially it is a t-bar with a jack-hammer mechanism.

Straight away we can see that compared with the vibration massager the massage gun:

  1. delivers less therapeutic vibration
  2. has more potential to hurt you

Understanding that, lets look :

  • at the risks of a massage gun
  • the potential benefits for these risks

The risks involved

Dangerous use of a massage gun
Driving in heads like a jackhammer can do serious damage

Hard plastic heads

Most massage guns come with an assortment of hard plastic heads. Some of these would look at home on a jack-hammer. It is easy to see how these could easily cause damage, especially if impacting sensitive structures like nerves and blood vessels.

Driving the heads into your muscles in general

Driving massage gun heads up to 16 mm into muscles can cause damage such as bruising, aggravation of injuries and a build up of scar tissue. These sort of injuries get discussed among colleagues, but don’t warrant publishing in medical journals. However, there have been two cases where the the injuries have been so severe that they have been published.

Case one: massive internal bleeding and rhabdomyolsis

In this case a person using a massage gun to help recover after riding a bike nearly died from internal bleeding and rhabdomyolysis (the extensive damaged tissues becoming toxic) (1)⁠.

Case two: hemothorax

In this case the person using the massage gun suffered hemothorax, which is a build up of blood in the chest cavity usually associated with blunt force trauma (2)⁠.

How the professionals reduce these risks

Running the machines at lower speeds

The main benefits of vibration occur at a vibration speed of around 50 hz (cycles per second). These benefits are discussed in our article The scientifically proven effects of vibration massage- with clinical applications . However, driving something up to 16 mm into your muscles 50 times a second is an extremely dangerous thing to do, which is why Theragun are limited to 40 hz, but even this is way to fast as a survey of professional found that most use their massage guns on “slow” or “medium” (3)⁠.

Using special damper heads

Although massage gun marketers claim the virtues of driving their heads into your muscles, when they conduct clinical trials they use special soft or “damper” heads to prevent this (4,5). It is very considerate of them to do this so they do not hurt the patients in the clinical trials, but they use these results to sell you something a lot more dangerous.

What are the potential benefits for these risks

Massage gun marketers have modified the vibration massagers professionals have been using safely and effectively for decades. They claim the benefits of the vibration massagers, plus add extra benefits due to driving their heads in. Let us look at these claims.

Massage guns do not provide the significant vibration benefits.

As we have seen above massage guns deliver far less therapeutic vibrations than a genuine vibration massager. Also, as discussed in our article The scientifically proven effects of vibration massage- with clinical applications , most of the therapeutic benefits occur at a vibration frequency of 40-50 hz. We have seen that massage guns cannot safely be used at this speed. So, as well as delivering a smaller amount of vibration this vibration is outside the therapeutic frequency range. Rather than adding benefits massage guns give far less therapeutic vibration benefits that a genuine vibration massager.

Ultrasound being used
Just like ultrasound (vibration at a different frequency) it is wrong to claim that driving the head in increases penetration

Driving their heads in does not increase penetration

Massage gun marketers claim that by driving their heads into your muscles it increases penetration. While the heads drive in it is the vibration that do the work, and therapeutic vibrations penetrate much further. The easiest way to illustrate this is to use a technology most would understand: ultrasound (vibrations at a different frequency). Ultrasound can easily penetrate right through your body, such as for example when doing images of a foetus during pregnancy. You would not drive the head of an ultrasound machine into your body to increase penetration.

Driving their heads in does not add significant conventional massage

To our knowledge there is no evidence that massage guns provide any significant conventional massage. We found these videos of “gurus” demonstrating trying to achieve this. It is totally ridiculous to think the the vibrating head and the bit of rubbing they are doing is any way equivalent to therapy provided by a massage therapist.

YouTube gurus trying to get conventional massage benefits form massage guns

Are massage gun benefits worth the risk?

Rather than provide benefits to justify their risk, massage guns actually provide far less therapeutic benefits than the much safer genuine vibration massagers. The ironic thing is that marketers spend so much money on advertising, endorsements, sponsorships, commissions and so forth to convince you that these machines are a good idea that you pay a fortune for them.

Your safer, more effective alternative

As we have seen marketers have modified genuine vibration massagers to create a marketing gimmick that are less effective and potentially dangerous. You are far better off getting a genuine therapeutic vibration massager. For how to tell the difference please see our article How to choose a massager . That said, most vibration massagers are built for professionals to use on their patients rather than personal use, and most personal use machines are either massage guns or ineffective "consumer" machines. Because of this we built our own.

The General Purpose Massager

We’ve had this machine for over a decade and it’s proved to be extremely effective, economical and reliable. The only shortfall is that you are limited to massaging the region under the single head. More information about the General Purpose Massager

The Ultimate Quad Head Massager

This machine has the same ergonomic shape and effectiveness as the General Purpose Massager, but has four heads so it can massage a much larger area. More information about the Ultimate Quad Head Massager


  1. Chen J, Zhang F, Chen H, Pan H. Rhabdomyolysis After the Use of Percussion Massage Gun : A Case Report. Phys Ther. 2021 Jan 4;101(1)
  2. Masters A, Duarte R, Chiang B, Sarvottam K, Patel K. Hemothorax After Use of Percussion Massage Gun: A Case Report. 2022;A4172–A4172.
  3. Cheatham SW, Baker RT, Behm DG, Stull K, Kolber MJ. Mechanical percussion devices: A survey of practice patterns among healthcare professionals. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2021;16(3):766–77.
  4. Martin JD of H and WU of winchester. A critical evaluation of percussion muscle gun therapy as a rehabilitation tool focusing on lower limb mobility. A literature review. 2021.
  5. Garc M, Jurado-castro JM, Ben J. Acute Effects of a Percussive Massage Treatment on Movement Velocity during Resistance Training. Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Jul 21;18(15):7726.

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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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