Do Massage Guns Really Work?
by Sam Yim SPT
Percussion massage guns have grown in popularity within the past couple years and sponsor many pro athletes such as Patrick Mahomes and Russell Westbrook. The price point ranges from $50 for lower end models to upwards of $700 for the most expensive models. The question is, are massage guns really worth the investment? Massage gun companies state that their devices can relieve pain, increase range of motion, and decrease symptoms of soreness or stiffness. The companies also market their massage guns as ways to improve recovery time post workout and to decrease warm-up times so individuals can start their workouts faster. We’ll dive in and see if these claims are supported by the current literature.
Range of Motion and Strength
In an article published in 2020, researchers analyzed whether massage guns could actually improve range of motion as they advertise. This study took 16 adult males and split them into two groups. One group received a 10-minute warm-up on the bike with 5 minutes of treatment using a massage gun. The control group received just a 10-minute warm-up on the bike with no massage gun treatment. The treatment area of focus were the plantar flexors, which are a group of muscles in the calf that aid with pushing off the ground. The results demonstrated a 5.4 degree increase in plantar flexion with the massage gun group and no increase in range of motion in the control group.
The researchers of the above study found no difference in strength between the massage gun group and the control group. These results are supported by a study done in 2019 that delved into the effects of massage guns on vertical jump height. The researchers found that use of a massage gun did not improve physical performance measured by vertical jump height compared to general rest.
The claim to fame of massage guns is their ability to decrease soreness, pain, and to facilitate recovery. Researchers put this idea to the test and assessed whether or not massage guns were just as good or better than traditional massage therapy in preventing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). The preliminary research identified that vibration therapy for 5 minutes displayed reduced DOMS equal to that of traditional massage therapy 24 hours, 48 hours, and 72 hours post exercise. Vibration therapy additionally resulted in a decreased accumulation of lactate 48 hours post exercise and reduced subjective pain levels.
There are some risks that one should consider before purchasing and using a massage gun. The main risks include causing increased soreness, bruising, and potential muscle damage. Recently there was a reported case where an individual utilized a massage gun post exercise and developed rhabdomyolysis, which is breakdown of muscle tissue. Rhabdomyolysis can be a potentially life-threatening condition if not treated appropriately. The individual in this case study did not participate in any overly strenuous exercise, just daily cycling and had no prior history of illness. The researchers attributed the cause of this case to be due to trauma from prolonged sessions of using the massage gun (greater than 10 minutes).
The current literature is not conclusive on whether or not massage guns provide the benefits that their companies say they do. Preliminary research shows that there could be some potential benefits to using massage guns such as improved range of motion, decreased subjective pain levels, and improved recovery time. However, all of the current research utilizes small sample sizes, young age groups, and minimal research is focused on the potential drawbacks of massage guns. The research also does not show the use of massage guns being any more effective compared to traditional massage techniques. Continued research with increased sample sizes are required to definitively determine the benefits, contraindications, and adverse risks associated with the use of massage guns. If you have a massage gun or are going to try one, start slowly and gradually increase the intensity and frequency of usage. If you notice abnormal aches or pain consult with your physical therapist or another medical professional.
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 Sports Sci Med. 2020;19(4):690-694. Published 2020 Nov 19.
Kujala R., Davis C., Young L. (2019) The effect of handheld percussion treatment on vertical jump height. International Journal of Exercise Science: Conference Proceedings 8(7). 75.
Imtiyaz S, Veqar Z, Shareef MY. To Compare the Effect of Vibration Therapy and Massage in Prevention of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research : JCDR. 2014 Jan;8(1):133-136. DOI: 10.7860/jcdr/2014/7294.3971.
Chen J, Zhang F, Chen H, Pan H. Rhabdomyolysis After the Use of Percussion Massage Gun: A Case Report. Phys Ther. 2021;101(1):pzaa199. doi:10.1093/ptj/pzaa199