Sunday 20th February, 2022

Do massage guns actually work- beyond the hype and marketing

Massage gun being used
Massage guns are heavily marketed, but do they work
The marketing

Massage guns are heavily marketed as a substitute for professional therapists, providing benefits such as sports recovery and pain relief. Further, they use a therapy called percussion which is said to enhance the effects of vibration and penetrate deeper. However, do they actually work and are they worth it?

The reality

The reality is that massage guns and percussion massage are no where near as effective as they are claimed to be. Most of the marketing is based on false claims and misrepresented science. Rather than enhance the benefits of vibration, percussion actually lessens it’s effectiveness and makes it potentially dangerous.


How percussion massage and the marketing myths came about
Massage gun safety concerns
The ergonomics of a massage gun
Overpriced “professional massagers” and a flood of cheap copies
The alternative to massage guns
Appendix: how to tell the difference between a percussion and vibration massager
Appendix two: example of a trial of Theraguns where the scientists used a damper to reduce percussion and increase vibration
Appendix three: how we have delivered effective quality massagers at very reasonable prices

How percussion massage and the marketing myths came about

Background: percussion is a modification of vibration massage

The easiest way put these myths into context is to understand how how percussion massage was developed. It is supposed to be an enhancement of vibration massage. Vibration massage is a therapy that has been around for a very long time and has a host of scientifically proven effects. As an example, we were using G5 vibration massagers in our college clinic over 30 years ago.

From vibration to jackhammering

However, a while back marketers made the claim that by driving the head of a vibration massager into the muscles like a jackhammer it would penetrate better and add the benefit of conventional massage. They called this “percussion”, and as a further marketing initiative also adopted the distinctive shape and called it a “gun”.

Professional vibration massager
Vibration massagers have been used by professionals for decades. Percussion has converted these into mini jackhammers
Percussion vs vibration massage

Why percussion is less effective and more dangerous

The problem is that in having the machines drive the heads into the muscles makes percussion massage less effective at delivering therapeutic vibrations, and a lot more dangerous.

To understand why lets use a simple analogy. Vibration therapy machines work like like the vibrating compactors used in the construction industry. These are designed to send vibrations deep into the ground while minimally disrupting the surface. You can see the vibrating pad on this professional vibration massager. By modifying vibration massagers so they drive their heads into the muscles they made their massagers more like jackhammers. Jackhammers are far more effective at causing damage, but no where near as effective at sending vibrations deep into the ground.

The marketing myths

Although not true, the story that percussion penetrates better and adds the benefits of conventional massage has been excellent for marketing. Advocates have perpetuated this story by making incorrect claims and misrepresenting science. Lets look at how this has been done.

Earthquakes can penetrate 100s of km

The false claim that percussion massagers penetrate better

Percussion massage advocates claim that by having the head physically driven into the muscle it penetrates better. This is false. Basic principles of physics show that vibrations penetrate much better than physical penetration. To put this into perspective, the heads of Theraguns penetrate 16mm, whereas a professional vibration massager will send vibrations right through your body.

Making false claims about percussion

Claiming the support of science that does not apply.

Although the makers of percussion massagers have modified their machines to make them far less effective at delivering vibration, they still claim all the benefits of therapeutic vibrations. As an example, one massage gun manufacturer has a web page entitled "5 Science backed reasons why percussive therapy is good for you”. All the scientific studies referenced are of vibration. This is like jackhammer makers claiming that they were scientifically proven for compacting, just because they vibrate.

Scientists modifying percussion massagers so they are safer

Modifying their massage guns in clinical trials

Recently there have been some clinical trials supposedly testing percussion massagers. These too have been highly misleading. Percussion advocates claim that driving their heads in like jackhammers adds therapeutic benefits. However, for the clinical trials they use special soft or damper heads on their machines so they don’t drive in like a jackhammer. It appears that either the scientists doing the tests or the manufacturers supplying their machines realise that jack hammering (percussion) is a very poor idea, so they modified the percussion massagers so they wouldn’t do any damage, and would at least do some good. This is common practice. In an appendix we show how this was done with a Theragun

The problem is that this is the headlines will say "massage gun" or "percussion massage", while the fact that the machines were modified is buried in the fine print. Meanwhile marketers use clinical trials that are irrelevant or use modified machines to convince you to buy something that is less effective and more dangerous. For more information on how massage gun marketers misrepresent science please see our article Is percussion massage (massage guns) scientific.

Massage gun safety concerns

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

Vibration massage is generally very safe, as only the therapeutic vibrations penetrate. However, the physical penetration of the heads of percussion massagers creates a great deal of danger, especially when massage guns come with hard heads and some drive these in up to 16mm (eg. Theragun). There’s potential to damage muscle tissue, plus if you are not an expert in anatomy there is the danger of hitting sensitive structures such as nerves and blood vessels.

Massage guns actually causing serious injury

Colleagues mention seeing damage caused by these instruments. This usually involves things such as the aggravation of injuries, intramuscular bleeding and the build up of scar tissue. To our knowledge there is no official reporting of these events so the extent is unknown, however one such episode was recently written up in a medical journal because the damage caused by a massage gun was so severe it became life threatening.

As reported in this medical journal (1) (quote below) a massage gun was used to relax tired muscles after cycling but afterwards there were multiple hematomas (bruises) on the person’s thighs and the damage was so severe:

  1. the breakdown of the muscles caused the release of products that were highly toxic, and
  2. there was so much internal bleeding that the woman suffered iron deficiency anaemia

Quote from report of life threatening damage caused by a massage gun

there are no published clinical or evidence-based reports on percussion guns regarding their benefits, indications, contraindications, and even side effects. The purpose of this case report is to describe the first case of rhabdomyolysis as a severe and potentially life-threatening illness following use of a percussion gun (1)

The ergonomics of a massage gun

Aiming a massage gun

Calling the machines “guns” and creating their distinctive shape has been an excellent marketing move, but the reality is that this shape is terrible with regards to ergonomics and usefulness. As you can see from this diagram, like a gun percussion massagers need to be pointed. This makes it impossible to effectively use a massage gun effectively on about one third of your body. As will be discussed later, this is what happens when a product is driven by fads and marketing. Manufacturers prioritise marketing gimmicks over functionality such as ease of use and the ability to provide quality therapy.

Using a quad head
An ergonomic handle makes it easy to use a massager effectively on all your body

For contrast: a vibration massager with an excellent ergonomic handle

Contrast this with a vibration massager with an ergonomically shaped handle that is easy to hold and you can easily use on any part of your body.

Overpriced “professional massagers” and a flood of cheap copies

Hopefully you understand now that the benefits of massager guns are not what they are cracked up to be, and there are better alternatives which we’ll discuss later. However, if you are still considering a massage gun there are two further things you need to be aware of: the inflated price of so called professional machines and the flood of poor quality ineffective copies.

Alibaba listing of massage gun
Alibaba (manufacturer's portal) has tens of thousands of listing like this. Sellers can buy massagers for under $10 and sell them to you.

The flood of poor quality ineffective copies

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, 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. So, how do you pick if a manufacturer is more concerned with gimmicks than giving you a quality therapeutic massage? Let’s see.

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.

Overpriced “professional” massagers

The German made G5 professional massagers are very expensive, but they have been building high quality therapeutic massagers used by professionals for decades. However, what do you get for a very expensive massage gun? In the following we compare ($US prices):

  1. an expensive massage gun
  2. a quality power tool (a jigsaw), and
  3. a quality vibration massager advertised by a company that supplies professionals such as chiropractors.

Straight away it should be very obvious that the massage gun is about three times more expensive than

  • the power too that would have roughly the same mechanism and would probably be stronger because it has to cut through wood, and
  • the vibration massager which would do a much better job.

It seems that for the expensive massage gun you are paying for marketing and celebrity endorsements.

Theragun PRO
Theragun PRO $599 USD
Quality DEWALT Jigsaw
Quality jigsaw from Home Depot $169 USD
Vibration massager
Well built vibration massager for only $166 USD

The alternative to massage guns: the original vibration massagers

As discussed, percussion massagers were made by taking effective proven vibration massagers and modifying them to make them dangerous and less effective. The obvious alternative is use genuine vibration massagers that have not had their effectiveness compromised. Below we’ve linked to three examples of these machines that have been used professionally, plus our guide to how to choose an effective massager. We also have an appendix showing how to tell the difference between a percussion and a vibration massager)

Our contribution: easy to use affordable vibration massagers

About 15 years ago we were looking for something that would deliver the quality vibration massager of those professional machines, but be affordable and easy to use. We couldn't find any so we've tried to do like Henry Ford did with cars: take them from being something only professionals had to something for everyone. If you are interested in how we did it please see our appendix how we have provided excellent massagers for very reasonable prices. Also, check out our personal use vibration massagers: The General Purpose Massager and the Ultimate Quad Head Massager.

Video: Dr Graeme demonstrating our massagers

Appendix one: 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.

Appendix two: example of a trial of Theraguns where the scientists used a damper to reduce percussion and increase vibration

The following is a quote from a clinical trial of the Theragun Pro. Please note that it appears that it must have been determined that it was a rediculous idea to drive a jackhammer head in 16mm so they have used a damper attachment.

The Theragun® G3 Pro (Therabody, Los Angeles, CA, USA) device was used for the experimental treatment in the PTG. The PT treatment provided by the device during this study had the following mechanical characteristics: amplitude (16 mm), torque (60 pounds), and frequency (2400 per minute). PT was applied to each participant immediately following completion of the last rep at the end of each set. PT was applied to the pectoralis major and minor, given that the standardized grip used in our study was 100% or more of the biacromial width [24], and the bench had no inclination (0) [25], with the pectoral as the muscle group with the highest activation during the BP exercise. PT was applied to the muscle in the PTG with the dampener attachment using moderate force and fast movement, gliding up and down along the muscle belly from the origin to the insertion for 15 s, ensuring constant pressure at all times, and following the direction of the muscle fibers. (3)

Appendix three: how we have delivered effective quality massagers at very reasonable prices

Originally we built our massagers for our own use and for our own patients, then this extended to supplying colleagues for themselves and their patients. The following are the main reasons we have been able to supply such excellent quality for a very reasonable prices.

Having our massager built

From the beginning we’ve used a factory that was very efficient at making good quality consumer products at very reasonable prices. We then designed simple machines purely concentrating on functionality and durability rather than gimmicks that would add costs with no benefits. We then asked the factory to build them using proper commercial grade parts like motors and bearings rather than the lower quality parts that normally go into consumer machines. This gave us an excellent quality product for a very reasonable price.

No advertising

We are happy to give colleagues sample machines to try, but have never spent a cent on advertising, let alone sponsorships and celebrity endorsements. We’ve always had extreme faith in the integrity of fellow professionals, knowing that if we provide a good solution at a fair price they will tell colleagues and recommend them to patients/clients.

No “middle men”

Our massagers go straight from the factory to the warehouses, then are sent directly to either retail customers or fellow professionals who on sell to patients or customers. We have no agents or distributors taking their cut. Also, no one gets a commission or affiliate fee for recommending them. Not only does that add to the cost and open the possibility of making recommendations not in the best interest of the recipient, but in my profession and most others it is considered illegal or unethical to take “kickbacks” for recommendations. Again we have extreme faith in the integrity of fellow professionals.


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. If you are a professional and wish to know more about this therapy, or possibly get a sample massager to trial please check out our practitioner page.


  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. 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.
  3. 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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