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 choose the best settings for your vibrating massager
Most people think the setting of a massager is a simple matter of choosing the intensity you like, but the effects of the vibrations can change dramatically depending on their frequency or “speed”. For example one “speed” may relax your muscles while a different “speed” will cause them to tighten. In this article we will show you which setting to use to get the best effects.
- Professional grade vibration massagers
- “Consumer” grade massagers and massage guns
- Powerful massage guns
What determines the effect of the vibrations
Although massage gun marketers ( wrongly) claim that their machines add the benefits of conventional massage the overwhelming benefits from a vibrating massager come from the vibrations. We discuss these in detail in our article The scientifically proven effects of vibration massage- with clinical applications .
There are two things that determine the benefits you will receive from vibrations:
- the frequency of the vibrations, and
- the amount of vibrations.
The frequency of the vibrations
The frequency determines what the vibrations will do, and they’re measured in Hz which is cycles per second, but a lot of machines give their specs as rpm which is per minute. As an example of the therapeutic benefits, 50 Hz will give you a big increase in blood flow which will last for a fair while, while 30 Hz will give you a smaller increase which only lasts a short time, so 50 Hz is much better for circulation (1). If we look at going faster, 50 Hz will relax a muscle, but 100 Hz will cause it to tighten (2).
The best therapeutic frequency range
In general you’ll get the best benefits using your massager at about 50 Hz, while anything from 40-60 will be pretty good. That is about 2400-3600 rpm, with the ideal about 3000.
The amount of vibrations
The other thing that determines the benefit is of course the amount of vibration. Within reason it’s the more vibrations the better, which is why professional machines feel “stronger” than most “consumer” machines.
Specific advice for different types of machines
Lets look at applying this to various types of massagers.
Professional grade vibration massagers
Professional grade vibration massagers are designed to give copious amounts of therapeutic vibrations over the therapeutic frequency ranges.
USING A PROFESSIONAL GRADE MACHINE
Work out the the optimum setting
Work out the setting that gives close to the ideal 50 Hz (3000 rpm). To do that you look at the specifications for the maximum speed, then work out what percentage you need.
- eg. if your machine has a maximum speed of 4000 rpm, 3000 rpm will be about 75% of full power.
Use as close to this speed as possible
The best benefits will be at about this speed. However, the vibrations from professional machines can be intense and strong so if you are not be able to easily tolerate this use as close to this speed as you can easily tolerate. Alternatively, in the first example (below) we discuss how to use a special head to reduce intensity and allow a more optimum speed.
Example: Our General Purpose Massager
Our General Purpose Massager is a professional strength unit, but has an ergonomically designed handle and simple controls to allow self use by patients. It’s speed range is approximately 20-60 Hz, which means the ideal speed range is approximately 80-90% of full power.
For more info: General Purpose Massager
Special head that allows increased speed
The General Purpose Massager comes with a special flat head with multiple projections. People wrongly think that this is to press in and increase penetration. What it actually does is reduce the contact area, reducing the amount of vibration transferred. What this means is that you will be able to tolerate higher speeds. For example if you can only tolerate 2000 rpm with the flat head you may be able to tolerate 3000 rpm with the multi-projections head. You will get less vibrations, but they will be at the more beneficial frequency.
Example: Large area vibration massagers
Some professional machines are designed to do larger areas. As shown in this pic they tend to have large plates that either goes up and down, or rocks side to side. Newton’s law of physics state that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, so these machines can vibrate considerably, making them uncomfortable to hold. Because of this some manufacturers actually limit these machines to less than 2000 rpm.
Our large area massager
Our Ultimate Quad Head massager overcomes this by having four separate heads working so there is always two going up while two go down. This cancels out a lot of the vibrations within the machine making it quite comfortable to hold. With our first production we actually ran them to a maximum of 3400 rpm, but subsequently reduced that to the ideal 3000 rpm so it was easier on the more complex mechanism.
For more info: Ultimate Quad Head Massager
“Consumer” massagers and massage guns
Most “consumer” massagers and massage guns have a top speed of about 3000 rpm, but do not deliver the quantity of vibrations a professional machine does.
Example consumer grade massager
As an example our factory sent us a sample of a very well known brand of massager. Like most, this came with a collection of cheap plastic gimmick heads so we glued on a flat head from a General Purpose Massager to test it. By comparison with the professional machine the vibrations felt very week. You felt like you needed to push in a bit to help it.
Examining this machine we found that it had a low power motor, and the head only went up and down a very small amount which “buzzed” the surface but did not transmit significant amounts of vibration.
Using a "consumer" grade massager or massage gun
Use a larger, flatter head
A larger flatter head will increase vibration transfer, while as discussed in our article How to use your maassager or massage gun driving the head into the muscle adds little, if any, benefit and increase risk of hurting you. We recommend that you do not use any head that would look at home on an jack-hammer.
Use maximum or near maximum speed
The maximum speed of these types of machine is usually around 3000 rpm which is the best therapeutic speed, and because of their low vibration output they are usually easily tolerated. To get the maximum therapeutic benefits you would usually use these machines at maximum power, or very close to it.
Powerful massage guns
“Professional” massage guns are able to drive their heads into your muscles up to 16mm. This is a big problem because you can do tremendous damage driving something into your muscles 16mm 50 times a second. A report in a scientific journal discusses a case where someone nearly died from internal bleeding following using a massage gun (3).
The difference between massage guns and professional vibration massagers
Massage guns are percussion massage machines which means their heads punch or hammer into the muscles. As discussed in our article Do massage guns actually work this is a gimmick with no proven benefit. Vibration massagers are instead designed to send therapeutic vibrations into the muscles.
What a colleague found using a Theragun
A colleague told me that she had brought a Theragun, which is a powerful machine capable of driving it’s head in 16mm. She could only use it on low speed because going faster would hurt her patients. I do not know what low speed is for a Theragun, but lets say it is about 10 Hz. This is way outside the useful therapeutic vibration range so would have little benefit. The ironic thing is you would probably get more benefits from a cheap consumer massager that you were able to run in the useful therapeutic range.
Using a powerful massage gun
The best way to benefit from a powerful massage gun is to sell it and buy something appropriate. Your alternative is to do what scientists do when they have been asked to do clinical trials on massage guns. As shown in this excerpt from a trial report they attach special damper heads that stop their head driving in and spreads the contact for better vibration transfer (4).
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.
- Maloney-Hinds C, Petrofsky JS, Zimmerman G. The effect of 30 Hz vs. 50 Hz passive vibration and duration of vibration on skin blood flow in the arm. Med Sci Monit 2008;14(3):CR112-6.
- Poenaru D, Cinteza D, Petrusca I, Cioc L, Dumitrascu D. Local Application of Vibration in Motor Rehabilitation - Scientific and Practical Considerations. Maedica (Buchar) 2016;11(3):227–31.
- Chen J, Zhang F, Chen H, Pan H. Rhabdomyolysis After the Use of Percussion Massage Gun : A Case Report. 2021;1–5.
- Garc M, Jurado-castro JM, Ben J. Acute Effects of a Percussive Massage Treatment on Movement Velocity during Resistance Training 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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