The popularity of massage guns has been steadily increasing in the last few years. It’s become a favourite on social media, with many athletes and fitness influencers proclaiming them as gym bag essentials. They’ve become part of many a sports person’s recovery regimen. But what are massage guns? How do they work? Do they even really work? Here’s what you need to know.
What is a Massage gun?
Massage guns are electronic devices that typically look like power tools or handheld drills. Instead of a drill bit however, a massage gun comes with different kinds of attachment heads. These heads vary in size, shape, and firmness, depending on function. For example, most come with a ball head that’s ideal for massaging large areas of muscle. These heads are usually made of plastic, rubber or steel.
But there’s more to these devices than a futuristic look at the old art of massage therapy.
What You Need to Know
1. Massage guns use percussive therapy.
Percussive therapy provides accelerated bursts of targeted pressure into the muscle tissue. This pummeling action is the reason for the rippling effect commonly seen in social media videos. What it does is soften muscle tissue by increasing blood flow in the area where there is stiffness. The “punches” also help release the knots that cause muscle pain as well as accelerate healing and recovery.
2. Massage guns can fill in for your therapist.
A good massage gun may mirror a good massage therapist but it has definite advantages. For one, you don’t need to go out and schedule a spa session to use a massage gun and reap the benefits. That’s a plus in today’s social distancing environment.
You also don’t need another person to administer the massage for you. In fact, self-massage is encouraged. When another person is massaging you, how much pressure to apply is pretty much all guesswork, regardless of their skill and experience. Doing the massage yourself means you have a direct feedback loop and know how much force to apply to minimize pain and maximize results.
But perhaps the best thing about massage guns is they can reach deeper layers of muscles compared to human hands. And unlike a traditional massage, percussive therapy desensitizes the area surrounding the sore muscle and reduces the pain. That’s one thing even your favorite therapist cannot do.
3. Massage guns can reduce inflammation.
A pain management study published in 2012 showed that massage therapy reduced inflammation in heavily stressed muscles. There was also a reduction in the production of inflammatory cytokines in muscles with exercise-induced damage after massage therapy. Amazingly, the pain reduction mechanism is similar to that of conventional anti-inflammatory drugs.
4. Massage guns help warm up muscles for exercise.
Massage guns can be used before exercise to warm muscles up. Because percussive therapy increases blood flow to targeted muscle areas, it turns on the sympathetic nervous system. This preps the body for activity and sport.
Percussive massage therapy also relaxes the muscles, thereby improving range of motion and flexibility. This in turn lessens the risk of injuries, sprains and strains.
5. Massage guns are a fantastic after-workout and recovery tool.
The body remains in a heightened state for a time after work out. Massage therapy, and therefore a massage gun, can help relax the nervous system and shift the body into recovery mode. In fact, the same 2012 study found that massage augmented tissue repair and metabolic control. Markers of cellular stress were also reduced.
Physiotherapists all over the world have also started using percussive therapy to assist patients that are recovering from injury. Massage guns aid in internally breaking down scar tissue as well as relaxing thickened connective tissues. The improved circulation factors in the speeding up of healing time and recovery.
6. Massage guns can be used by athletes and non-athletes alike.
Massage therapy aids athletes. But the positive effects are not exclusive to them. For one, it’s been posited to positively impact mental health, regardless of fitness level. The National University of Health Sciences notes that it can:
- Improve relaxation
- Provide more efficient rest
- Alleviate symptoms of chronic illnesses
- Increase overall happiness
Massage is also known to increase concentration and provide more energy. For older people, massage therapy relieves symptoms of osteoarthritis and Alzheimer’s disease, both very common conditions associated with aging.
With massage guns, these benefits are easier to achieve. No one can doubt that not having to find a therapist to administer massage therapy is very convenient.
Massage gun speeds (how many revolutions per minute) and amplitude (how deep the attachments go) vary. The general rule of thumb is the deeper the hits, the stronger the punchy feel. Most of the massage guns in the market today have different speeds and amplitude allowing for better customization depending on the user and his needs. Of course, due diligence is still needed as pressure and pain thresholds vary.
7. More is not always better.
On that note, do know that when it comes to massage guns, more is not always better. Unlike a regular massage session, it doesn’t take an hour to get results from a massage gun. So a few things to take note of:
- Do not use a massage gun on any one spot for more than 2 minutes. And even if you do limit the use to a couple of minutes, make sure the device is not static. Keep it moving in small circles.
- If a spot gets red quickly, it means it’s already experiencing a lot of blood flow. Move to another part lest you risk more soreness and bruising.
- Do not use a massage gun on bones, joints, tendons, wounds or lesions. Massage guns are meant to be used on muscle only.
- Get a doctor’s clearance before using a massage gun, especially if you have other medical conditions.
Massage guns should not cause pain. If it’s painful, stop right away.
Massage guns are amazing tools. They’re incredibly easy to use for something that comes with so many benefits. But like any other tool, learning how to use it properly is the key to getting the most of it.