Sunday 24th December, 2023

Are massage guns scientifically proven, or an ineffective gimmick?

Massagers with vibrating pads that sit on the surface and send vibrations deep into your muscles have been used by professionals for decades. However, more recently marketers have come up with “percussion massage” making the following changes. They claim that these increase penetration and add the benefits of conventional massage.

The changes to massagers made to massage gun makers
  1. Making the machines “hammer” rather than vibrate muscles
  2. Adding assorted “penetrating” shaped heads designed to drive into your muscles
  3. Having the distinctive “Gun shape”

It this article we look at whether these changes provide worthwhile benefits, or whether they are gimmick that reduces their effectiveness and increase the risk of these machines. In particular we will look at:

What science says about the changes
Have these affected the safety
Have the changes made them easier to use
A look at genuine vibration massagers

What science says about massage guns

Massage gun marketers tell you about the scientifically proven benefits of vibration. As discussed in The scientifically proven effects of vibration massage- with clinical applications , vibration does have these benefits . The questions we need to ask are:

  1. do massage guns deliver worthwhile amounts of these effects, and
  2. do the changes add penetration or worthwhile conventional massage benefits?

Do massage guns deliver worthwhile of therapeutic vibrations

Vibration vs percussion vs conventional

Massage guns deliver less therapeutic vibrations

Massage guns do not deliver the therapeutic vibrations a genuine vibration massager does. The easiest way to explain this is by looking at this diagram. The machine on the left is a genuine vibration massager. The tool on the right is a t-bar which massage therapists use to apply deep painful pressure. The massage gun in the middle is basically a t-bar with a jackhammer mechanism. As you can see it delivers far less therapeutic vibrations than the genuine vibration massager, while being more likely to hurt you.

Massage guns cannot practically deliver the best therapeutic frequencies

As discussed in our article The scientifically proven effects of vibration massage- with clinical applications the best therapeutic vibration frequencies are from 30-60 Hz (cycles per second) with about 50 Hz being optimum. High powered massage guns usually cannot be used at anywhere near that speed because they would be very uncomfortable or hurt you.

As an example a Theragun (high powered massage gun) drives it’s head in 16 mm. Driving something into your muscles 16 mm 50 times a second could do tremendous damage, so Theraguns have a maximum speed of 40 Hz (2), while a survey found that most professional therapists use high powered massage guns at much slower speeds (2)⁠.

Do the changes add anything worthwhile?

The main claims from massage gun marketers is that by driving the heads into the muscles this:

  1. adds the benefits of conventional massage, and
  2. penetrates better.

We will look at each of those claims, then the experiences with massage guns in actual clinical trials.

Does percussion massage add the benefit of conventional massage?

We know of no scientific evidence that percussion adds any worthwhile conventional massage benefits. The marketers say it does, but just reference the scientific effects of vibration.

Earthquake- vibrations can penetrate 10s of km

Does percussion massage penetrate further?

While the heads of massage guns penetrate it is the vibrations that have the therapeutic effects. It is a basic fact of physics that vibrations penetrate much better than physical penetration. That is why ultrasound (vibrations at a different frequency) can go right through you while the head sits on the surface. The bottom line is the vibrations from a genuine vibration massager penetrate much further than the head of a high powered massage gun.

What what the researchers think about percussion massage

The most compelling evidence that massage gun marketers are making false claims comes from the scientists they get to do clinical trials. On one hand the marketers are telling you that it is good to have heads that drive into your muscles and give you an assortment of hard plastic “jackhammer” heads. On the other hand when the scientists do clinical trials they do what they can so the heads don’t drive into the the muscle and get a bit extra vibration.

Damper head used in trial
Researchers used damper head 1. which "gives" to stop the head driving in

Example one: using a damper head

This picture from a trial report shows that the massage gun came with an assortment of plastic heads. For the trial they used head one which as you can see is designed to spread the contact over a larger area and “gives” rather than push into the muscles (3)⁠.

Holding massage gun at an angle
Not that a large ball attachment is being used, and held at an angle so the head does not drive into the muscle.

Example two: using soft ball heads at an angle

Most of the rest of the trials used the softer round heads, and as you can see from this picture taken from one of the trial reports if you hold the machine at an angle it stops the head driving into the muscle (4–9)⁠.

Misleading clinical trial results

The scientists use massage guns modified to stop driving their heads in to get some positive effects and not hurt the patients. Massage gun marketers will use these trials to tell you that percussion massage gives good results, but the reality is that the scientists did their best to undo their modifications and have them work like a genuine vibration massager.

Trial: vibration vs a Theragun

In one trail I read the researchers were clearly biased towards Theraguns. It was to compare a Theragun to vibration massage, conventional massages and foam rollers for post exercise recovery. The vibration they used was a vibrating pad rather than a proper massager, and they used it for only one minute whereas the Theragun was used for a lot longer. Even with this handicap the vibration still got better results (4)⁠. Despite this the report conclusion was basically praise for the Theragun. I’ll discuss the details in this short video.

Are massage guns safe

Genuine vibration massagers have a pad that sits on the surface and just sends in vibrations, so they are very safe. However, is modifying a massager so it hammers it’s head into your muscles safe? For this we need to look at:

  1. the hard plastic heads, and
  2. driving the heads in in general.
Using the hard plastic head of a massage gun
There can be no doubt that "jack-hammering" hard plastic heads can be dangerous

The hard plastic heads

There can be no question that driving a hard plastic head that would look at home on a jackhammer is potentially dangerous, especially if the user did not know anatomy and drove the head into something like a nerve or blood vessel

Driving the heads in general

As previously mentioned driving anything up to 16mm into your muscles very fast is a dangerous idea. There is even a journal report of a person nearly dying from internal bleeding after using a massage gun to recover after riding an exercise bike (9)⁠. In another case a massage gun user suffered hemothorax, which is a collection of blood around the lungs that usually results from blunt force trauma (10)⁠. This is why a survey found that most professionals with massage guns used them on slow or medium speed (2)⁠, which as previously mentioned makes any vibrations well outside the optimal therapeutic vibration frequencies.

Ease of use of massage guns

The pros

A few years ago the decent massagers were for professional use while the ones for personal use tended to be non-serious machines targeted more as mothers day presents (11)⁠. This is why we built our own . As a positive massage guns are portable and targeted for self use.

Cannot reach with massage gun

The cons

Like a real gun massage guns need to be pointed into the muscles to get the intended effects. However, as this diagram shows with their gimmick shape and aerosol can shaped handles you cannot do this for a lot of your body.

Are massage gun makers even trying to make serious therapeutic devices?

You need to ask the question: ”Would someone making serious therapeutic devices make one that you could not use effectively on a large part of your body”

look at genuine vibration massagers

As you have seen massage gun makers have taken genuine therapeutic devices and modified them making them less effective and dangerous. Moreover, they spend huge amounts on advertising, endorsements, commissions to persuade you that this is a good idea. That is why they are so expensive.

You will find that because they are a fad with so much (misleading) marketing promoting them most massagers available are percussion. However, there are decent genuine (unmodified) vibration massagers that will be very safe and do a great job. We’ll paste links below.

The scientifically proven effects of vibration massage- with clinical applications
How to choose a massager

The personal use vibration massagers we built because there was nothing decent on the market.


  1. Michal.L. Comparison of changes in muscle contraction speed using the " TheraGun " massage gun and sports massage. 2021.
  2. 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.
  3. Konrad A, Glashüttner C, Reiner MM, Bernsteiner D, Tilp M. The acute effects of a percussive massage treatment with a hypervolt device on plantar flexor muscles’ range of motion and performance. J Sport Sci Med. 2020;19(4):690–4.
  4. García-Sillero M, Benítez-Porres J, García-Romero J, Bonilla DA, Petro JL, Vargas-Molina S. Comparison of interventional strategies to improve recovery after eccentric exercise-induced muscle fatigue. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021;18(2):1–11.
  5. Mansuri U, Patel S. Effectiveness of Theragun and Ergonomic Advice in Patients with Low Back Pain among Bus Drivers-A Randomized Controlled Trial. Int J Sci Res 2021;10(4):50–3
  6. Godemeche N. Efficacy of localized vibration massage on the flexibility of the posterior chain muscles in active adults and athletes 2020.
  7. Ateş R, Yaşar P, Başkurt F, Başkurt Z, Ercan S. A Comparison of the Acute Effects of Percussion Massage Therapy and Static Stretching on Hamstring Elasticity. Ethiop J Health Sci. 2023;33(4):695.
  8. Seju Y, Rajput V. Efficacy of Theragun and Surge Faradic Stimulation in Subjects with Trapezitis: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Int J Sci Res . 2021;10(4):46–9.
  9. Chen J, Zhang F, Chen H, Pan H. habdomyolysis After the Use of Percussion Massage Gun : A Case Report. 2021;1–5.
  10. Masters A, Duarte R, Chiang B, Sarvottam K, Patel K. Hemothorax After Use of Percussion Massage Gun: A Case Report. 2022;A4172–A4172.
  11. McDonagh D, Wilson L, Haslam C, Weightman D. Good vibrations: Do electrical therapeutic massagers work? Ergonomics. 2005;

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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