Health

Percussion Massage Gun | Fad or legitimate self-treatment tool?

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The Percussion Massage Gun, in various forms, has become wildly popular in the last couple of years and have a lot of claims to how much they can do! But are they really worth the money? Do they do all that is claimed?

Gaining Popularity

Massage Guns are widely available now and used by both therapists and the general public. They are easy to use, easy to get and people often need little encouragement to get something that makes recovery easier for us. It’s easier and takes less time than foam rolling or stretching? It’s cheaper than a massage therapist in the long run? Sign me up!

Make an Informed Decision

There often isn’t much thought put into the claims that the percussion massage gun companies make or the risks of using them. We aren’t against massage guns and always encourage people to do more to look after their bodies, but we are also all about being fully informed. With a quick search, the first massage gun we selected had the below claims:

  • Accelerates warmup of muscles before exercise.
  • Regular use improves an athlete’s overall mobility and range of movement.
  • Helps to release trigger points and assists the breakup of scar tissue.
  • May help reduce common muscle and joint pain

Let’s break those down and help you figure out what is believable and what’s not (skip down below if you want to read the summary):

percussion massage gun

Accelerates warmup of muscles before exercise

Before exercise, it is definitely beneficial to do a warm-up BUT the idea behind a warm-up up is to increase muscle activation and readiness for exercise in order to improve performance and decrease injury risk.

When the mechanoreceptors in your tissue sense a quick stretch or vibration force, the muscle contracts for a short time (a bit like reflex testing). This doesn’t last long though because other receptors called the Golgi tendon organs to sense the stretch and cause the contracted muscle to relax. This reflexive inhibition means your muscles are lengthened and more relaxed – not the goal of a warm-up at all.

Regular use improves an athlete’s overall mobility and range of movement

There is no research that has looked into the long term benefit. There are short term benefits to range of motion due to muscle relaxation but once you stop using the percussion massage gun, how long do these last?

Helps to release trigger points and assists the break up of scar tissue

Using a massage gun can cause reflexive muscle inhibition and relaxation as well as increased blood flow, helping to decrease areas of muscle tension. BUT, claiming scar tissue or fascia can be broken up is very misleading.

There isn’t any research into the specific use of massage guns but in terms of massage, the research and evidence on massage breaking up scar tissue is very weak(1). That makes sense as scar tissue and connective tissue is very strong tissue made to withstand very high force.

May help reduce common muscle and joint pain

A lot of muscle pain can certainly be helped by massage and so massage guns, as long as there isn’t a recent acute muscle injury. Vibration therapy has been shown to decrease delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), similar to massage, and also eases pain AND also leads to a decrease in lactic acid in the blood(2). It isn’t the be-all and end-all but can play a part in improving performance, particularly when fast turnaround between performances is needed(3)

Summary

  • Accelerates warmup of muscles before exercise. No, it increases blood flow but likely decreases muscle activity
  • Regular use improves an athlete’s overall mobility and range of movement. Only if you keep doing it – it’s likely that the improvements you make using the percussion massage gun don’t last long when you stop using it
  • Helps to release trigger points and assists the breakup of scar tissue. It can help ease tight bits of muscles, what some people call trigger points. It won’t break up scar tissue – they simply cannot
  • May help reduce common muscle and joint pain. Yes, it can certainly help reduce muscle pain AND percussion massage guns can help speed up recovery time