The Truth About Massage Guns

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What you need to know about massage guns

Five years ago, a massage gun was something you’d only use with a personal trainer. It was a tool on the sidelines or in the locker room used as part of a warm-up or cool-down.

But now, massage guns are popping up in local gyms, office cubicles and homes. They’re becoming more accessible to the average individual and no longer restricted to sports medicine specialists.

“Use of massage guns has grown in recent years and I see them used in many different settings. I think that shows how well they work,” says Nate Clark, a certified athletic trainer with St. Elizabeth Healthcare Sports Medicine. “And you don’t have to be an athlete to use one — they do a great job helping anyone recover from activity or overcome sore muscles.”

We recently sat down with Clark to hear more about this fast-growing trend and how you can use a massage gun safely at home.  

How do massage guns work?

A massage gun is a handheld device that provides percussive massage for your muscles. It vibrates to help blood, oxygen and nutrients flow into the muscles, which can promote healing and faster recovery after a workout.

Massage guns can also break up the tissue around the muscles (muscle fascia). This tissue can tighten up when it’s stressed, which can lead to muscle stiffness or soreness.

Each massage gun is different, but most have various speeds or settings that can adjust the intensity of the vibration.

Who should use a massage gun

Although massage guns were initially popular with athletes and athletic trainers, anyone with muscle soreness can benefit from a massage gun.

“If you’re working a long day on your feet and feeling stiff or sore in your legs, a massage gun can help you recover and allow you to get through the rest of the work week,” Clark says. “People who sit at a desk or work on a computer all day may also benefit from using a massage gun on their forearms, shoulders and back muscles.”

For active individuals, Clark says a massage gun can be a great alternative to a foam roller before or after a workout. Runners can also benefit from using the device for a quick muscle warm-up, which may help prevent injury during the run.

When should I use a massage gun?

Massage guns are useful both pre- and post-workout, Clark explains.

For a pre-workout routine, Clark recommends using the massage gun on a higher setting for 10-30 seconds on each muscle group. This process can help promote blood flow and wake up the muscles, improving performance and helping prevent injury.

“Some people may warm up with five minutes on the exercise bike or a quick jog — the massage gun can do that warm-up for you in a minute or so,” Clark says.

For recovery, Clark recommends using a low-intensity setting for two to three minutes on each muscle group. But you may not want to reach for the massage gun immediately after your workout.

“You don’t want to wear the muscle out completely, especially if you just finished a vigorous workout,” Clark says. “With a lot of the athletes I work with, I recommend using the massage gun the next day, starting on a low setting and lightly massaging each muscle group.”

How do I use a massage gun safely?

Before using a massage gun, it’s essential to read the manual and instructions for your specific device. Each one is different, and knowing about the various settings and features can help prevent injury. 

Speaking with your doctor, athletic trainer or physical therapist is also important. They can advise you on how to use the massage gun safely and correctly.

Massage guns should be on major muscle groups like your quads, hamstrings, calves, and upper and lower back. You should not use a massage gun on:

  • An injury, such as a strained muscle or ligament, fracture, or broken bone.
  • Abdominal areas.
  • Bony areas, such as your kneecaps, feet, or hands.
  • Bruises or wounds.
  • The face or neck.

If someone else is using the massage gun on you (like your upper back, which you may not be able to reach), be sure to communicate with that person during the massage. Tell them if the setting is too intense or painful, and make sure they avoid any bony areas.

“When I use the massage gun on athletes, I make sure to listen for patient feedback so I can adjust and avoid any discomfort,” Clark says. “The same rule applies at home.”

Clark also recommends starting slow with the massage gun and working your way up in intensity. Everyone has different tolerances and preferences for massage, so find what works best for you.

As for frequency, Clark says that if you’re using the massage gun safely, it’s okay to use it before or after every workout.  “If you follow the instructions and use it properly, you can safely use a massage gun every day,” he adds. “But listen to your body and stop if it hurts.”

What should I look for when buying a massage gun?

With massage guns’ popularity on the rise, there are dozens of options available to purchase. A quick search on Amazon shows nearly 40 different brands of massage guns.

So, how do you choose the right one for you?

“If you’re a very active individual who is planning to use it every day, you may want to spend more money on a quality, rechargeable massage gun that will last,” says Clark, who uses a Theragun massage gun with his athletes and at home.

On the other hand, a more inexpensive option would work fine for someone who only needs the massage gun occasionally. You may also consider a smaller, more portable version if you plan to use it at work.

“Before making a purchase, decide what you need the massage gun for and how often you plan to use it,” Clark adds. “Do your research on the different types of massage guns and find one that fits your specific needs.”

Learn more or make an appointment

For more information on St. Elizabeth Healthcare’s sports medicine services or to make an appointment, visits stelizabeth.com/sports or call (859) 212-5600.