In this summary we investigate the science behind the use of vibration massage. This helps us envisage uses and to develop protocols. ... Read Article
How to use your vibration massage or massage gun safely and effectively
Most people do not get any where near the benefits they should from vibrating massagers, and even hurt themselves. This is because the techniques most people (including professionals) use are adapted from conventional massage rather than those appropriate for vibration.
In this article I will briefly go over the differences between vibration massage and conventional massage, then the proper way to use your massager, including:
Vibration massage vs conventional massage
It is important to understand the differences between vibration massage and conventional massage. These will be obvious, but get ignored in most advice on massager usage.
You will likely be very familiar with this. Conventional massage uses physical pressure for it’s therapeutic effects, so involves pressure and physically rubbing.
Vibration massage involves placing a vibrating pad on the surface, allowing the vibration to penetrate. This is similar to the way ultrasound works, only the vibration frequencies are different. Vibrations in the therapeutic massage range have the effects shown in the pic.
The main differences between conventional and vibration
The usage techniques for conventional massage and vibration massage are completely different. With conventional massage you need to press in to reach the tissue you wish to massage, then possibly move the contact to create friction or a pumping action. With vibration massage is it the vibrations that penetrate and have the therapeutic effects. All you need to do is place the vibration pad over where you wish to massage, then allow the vibrations to penetrate.
Conventional massage relies on physical penetration to effect tissues. This may require painful pressure or even be impossible for some deep and hard to get to muscles. On the other hand strong therapeutic vibrations can easily penetrate very deeply without any need for the massager to press in. This is why ultrasound can penetrate right through your body.
Safety and comfort
If you have had a deep tissue conventional massage no doubt you are aware of how painful they can be, and any time one uses such pressure there is always the risk that it causes damage or injury. On the other hand with vibration massage there is no physical pressure or penetration so it is much safer.
Your types of vibrating massagers: vibration and percussion
Genuine therapeutic vibration massagers have been used by professionals for decades, however, more recently marketers have built hybrid devices (percussion massagers or massage guns) that attempt to add the benefits of conventional massage. As you will see, using genuine vibration massagers is easy, but the hybrid nature of massage guns creates issues we need to discuss.
- To add conventional massage percussion massagers drive their heads into the muscle, and this reduces the amount of therapeutic vibrations.
- As you have seen the techniques for vibration and conventional massage are completely different, so which should you use?
The trade off between vibration and conventional massage
In this section we will show you the trade off percussion massagers make, then show you what that means for you using them.
The trade off explained
This diagram shows how massage gun marketers have attempted to make a machine that combines vibration and conventional massage. On the right is a tool called a t-bar. Therapists use these in conventional massage to save their thumbs and allow deep (painful) pressure. On the left is a genuine vibration massager. It has a contact pad that enables it to send in large amounts of therapeutic vibrations. Basically, massage gun marketers have put a jackhammer mechanism behind a t-bar. Compared with a genuine vibration massager their head is goes up and down further and is designed to drive into the muscle rather than deliver therapeutic vibrations.
What is the best trade off
Some massage guns drive their heads in further than others, and most come with a variety of heads. Each offers a different trade off between conventional massage and therapeutic vibrations, so which should you use?
Proven benefits of vibration vs percussion
As discussed in our article The scientifically proven effects of vibration massage- with clinical applications and shown in the diagram above, vibrations in the therapeutic range have a a huge amount of proven benefits. These are the the scientific benefits usually mentioned by massage gun marketers when promoting the machines. On the other hand we know of no evidence that punching the head in like a jackhammer does anything worthwhile. We know that conventional massage is good, but doing it with a jackhammer is arguably more likely to hurt you.
What the scientists say about the trade off
Probably the best scientific evidence comes from the scientists who have been asked to conduct clinical trials of percussion massagers (massage guns) (1). As this except from a trial report shows they use special damper heads. These spread out the contact for greater vibration transfer, while reducing the amount the head penetrates. Clearly these scientists determined that the therapeutic benefits come from he vibrations, while driving the head into the muscle adds little and could possibly hurt the patients.
How to use these machines
Now we understand the differences between vibration, percussion and conventional massage lets look at what this means for when you use your machine. Standard disclaimer: the is not specific advice, just general information to be discussed with yur own health care professional.
Using a genuine vibration massager
Using a genuine vibration massager is very simple. For full instructions please see our article How to use a hand held massager . However, basically all you do is set the massager to the optimum therapeutic vibrations (30-55hz) then place the machine on and let the vibrations penetrate.
Using a percussion massager
Choice of heads
As we have seen above, to get the best benefits in clinical trials scientists use damper heads which spread out the contact and reduce the amount the heads penetrate. Therefore, to get the best results from a massage gun use the larger, flatter, softer heads.
Those who adapt conventional techniques will tell you to use the more “jackhammer” type heads to get better penetration. These people have not understood the following.
- It is the vibrations that have the therapeutic benefits, and these are able to easily penetrate your muscles without any pressing in.
- The scientists have determined that there is no benefit in driving the heads into he muscle.
- “Jackhammer” heads are far more likely to cause injury or harm.
The techniques to use
As you will see in this video of “Youtube gurus” showing you how to use a massage gun they are showing you to use conventional massage techniques such as pressing in and rubbing. The two main problems with this are:
- The scientists have determined that there are no worthwhile benefits driving the heads in and the bit of rubbing they are doing is practically useless.
- By moving the machine around they are not allowing the vibrations to penetrate and soak in.
Video of "YouTube gurus"
Maximise the vibration benefits
As mentioned, vibration and conventional massage use different techniques, and what works for one can be totally inappropriate for the other. The reality is that you will get very little, if any, conventional massage benefits from a percussion massager so you are best to use vibration massage techniques to maximise the therapeutic vibrations.
Safety and precautions
Genuine vibration massagers have a larger pad that doesn’t penetrate the muscle, so they are fairly safe. You should always be careful, but by being designed to drive their heads into your muscles percussion massagers or massage guns carry a far greater risk.
Places to avoid
Injured and damaged tissues
The most obvious thing to avoid is damaged tissues such as sprains, torn muscles, bruising or inflammation.
There are a lot of medical conditions that you’d avoid using a massage gun with. There’s too many to list and I’d still miss some, so when in doubt ask your heath care professional.
You massage muscles and to a lesser extent other soft tissues. There’s no benefit in massaging bone, and it could be very painful.
Front and side of neck
Whatever you do, avoid the front and side of your neck, like this clown is doing. There’s sharp projections off the vertebrae at the side, and a lot of sensitive structures towards the front.
Another thing you need to avoid is joints There’s generally no benefit in using a massage gun directly on a joint, and you will likely cause injury.
You also need to avoid what we call neurovascular bundles. This is where you have major nerves and blood vessels travelling together without much protection. Some major ones in your body are
- in your groin
- behind your knees
- in front of your elbow
- the front of your neck as already mentioned
Calf muscles (vascular)
The last major one to avoid is your calf muscles if you have prominent veins of any suspicion of something vascular going on. There’s a condition called deep vein vein thromboses where you have blood clots in your veins. If you dislodge a clot they can block the arteries to your lungs and kill you.
They are the dangerous places, to be absolutely avoided, but you should also get rid of any head that looks like it would be at home on a jackhammer. Even when used on muscles massage guns can cause serious damage. Colleagues tell me they are now seeing patients with build ups of scar tissue from using massage guns, and there’s even a report in a journal of someone nearly bleeding to death internally from massage gun injuries (2).
Irresponsible advice from massage gun marketers
Massage gun advocates make the following claims about massage gun usage. These are wrong, but more importantly they encourage users to use their machines in a way that will cause damage or injury.
The wrong advice
- Massage guns help break up or disperse fat cells
- Massage guns break up adhesions.
Hopefully by now you’ll have worked the way to make a massage gun effective is to to make it as much like a genuine vibration massager as possible. The percussion idea of driving the heads to add conventional massage is a gimmick that makes them less effective and less safe. If you have a massage gun you will need to modify it like the scientists do for the trials, but the simplest solution to just get a genuine vibration massager in the first place. For how to do this please see our article How to choose a massager . That said, genuine vibration massagers are not that common, and most are designed for professionals like myself to use on patients rather than for self use. Because of that we built our own personal use vibration massagers.
The General Purpose Massager
This is our General Purpose Massager. The business end delivers copious amounts of therapeutic vibrations. It’s got a proper ergonomically designed handle so it’s easy to use anywhere on your body, and it has very easy to use controls. The on/off switch is underneath and it has a sliding variable speed control under your thumb.
Over the years we’ve sold over 100,000 of these without any advertising, mainly though professionals like chiropractors, osteopaths and physical therapists using them and recommending them to their patients.
General Purpose Massager
The Ultimate Quad head Massager
More recently we’ve developed our quad head machine that has all the good things the General Purpose Massager has, but can do a much greater area at once and because the front part is larger and flatter you can easily use it like a cushion or chair massager.
Ultimate Quad Head Massager
- 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.
- Chen J, Zhang F, Chen H, Pan H. Rhabdomyolysis After the Use of Percussion Massage Gun : A Case Report. 2021;1–5.
We are continually adding more information on research and uses. Subscribe below to have us email them to you "hot off the press".
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
Other Articles You May Like
Traditional home massage found to be far superior to anti-inflammatory drugs for chronic upper back pain
Although anti-inflammatory drugs are heavily advertised and routinely prescribed for pain syndromes a recent clinical trial found them to... Read Article
Trigger points are those tender lumps in your muscles therapists find. They are arguably the biggest cause of musculoskeletal pain such... Read Article
There are a variety of systems of “pressure points” used for health benefits and to relieve pain. They all have their devoted advocates... Read Article
Tennis elbow is a painful and disabling condition that is said to develop through overuse, but why does it then refuse to heal and defy... Read Article
Foam rollers have become a popular way to have practically unlimited self massage. They are inexpensive and can easily be carried to... Read Article