In this article we will discuss the health and wellness benefits of regular or wellness massages that have been scientifically... Read Article
Massage guns explained: what they are and what they do
What is percussion massage
Massage guns, or percussion massagers, are hybrid machines that attempt to combine the benefits of two widely used and effective therapies: vibration massage and conventional massage. This is a great marketing gimmick, but do you really get all the benefits of both. The easiest way to explain this is by using the following diagram showing a vibration massager, a massage gun, and a conventional massage tool.
The machine on the left is a vibration massager. As you can see it has a vibration pad designed to send large amount of vibrations deep into the muscles.
Conventional massage tool
The tool on the right is a t-bar. Massage therapists use these to save their thumbs and to apply deep (painful) pressure.
As you can see massage guns are basically t-bars with a jack-hammer mechanism. Compared with the vibration massager the head of the massage gun goes up and down a lot more and is designed to drive into the muscle.
What do massage guns actually do
Now you understand what massage guns are lets look at the marketing claims vs what they actually do.
Do massage guns give the benefits of vibration?
Massage gun marketers tell about the wonderful benefits of vibrations. As discussed in our article The scientifically proven effects of vibration massage- with clinical applications , vibrations do have these benefits, but as you can see from the pic above percussion massagers only give a fraction of the therapeutic vibrations a genuine vibration massage does.
Does driving the head into the muscle increases penetration?
While percussion massagers do drive their heads into muscles it is the vibrations that have the therapeutic benefits and they penetrate much further. This is why ultrasound (which is vibrations at a different frequency) is able to go right through your body.
Does driving the head into the muscle add benefits?
While vibration has a host of proven benefits we know of no studies that show that driving the head into the muscle does any good at all. Moreover, it doesn’t even seem logical. The most widely marketed use of massage guns is post exercise recovery. After a workout your muscles will have suffered microscopic damage to their fibres. It makes no sense to pummel damaged muscles to help them heal.
Putting a jackhammer mechanism behind a t-bar makes it a lot more capable of doing damage. This is not trivial, as colleagues are telling me that they are seeing build ups of scar tissue in muscles from massage gun use, there is even a report in a journal of someone nearly dying from internal bleeding after using a massage gun to “help recovery” (2).
Rather than combine the benefits of vibration massage and conventional massage, massage guns do neither well while increasing the risk of causing injury.
What scientists think of massage guns
While massage gun marketers tell you that driving their heads into your muscles is a great idea the scientist who have been asked to conduct clinical trials on massage guns clearly don’t think so. As this excerpt from their reports shows when they did the trials they used special damper heads that stop the head driving in and increase the contact area for better vibration transfer. In other words, to get half decent results and not hurt the patients they modified their machines so they were no longer percussion and more like a vibration massager. Of course massage gun marketers will not mention this when they tell you about the results.
Some practical advice
As you have seen massage guns do not combine the benefits of vibration and conventional massage. Instead they do neither well. The irony is that massage marketers spend so much money on advertising and paying for endorsements from athletes to sell you that it is a good idea that you end up paying a lot more for something that is no where near as good. Our practical advice would be to stick to either vibration massagers or conventional massage. They are both excellent proven therapies.
Self massage options
The advantage of a massage gun is that you can use it for self massage (though in keeping with the gimmick nature of these devices they do not have a decent handle allowing you you to easily reach all of your body). Foam rollers are marketed as a way to self apply conventional massage, but as discussed in our article Can foam roller be harmful these are no where near as effective as a professional therapist. Your best option will be a genuine vibration massager. We discuss how to choose one in this article How to choose a massager
That said, genuine vibration massagers are not that common, and most are built for professional use rather than personal use. Most hand held vibrating massagers are not serious therapeutic devices, and of course massage guns don’t deliver the proper therapeutic vibrations. Because of that we built our own personal use vibration massagers.
Our 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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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)
- 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.
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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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