Massage guns……yay or nay???
There are various fads that come and go in the health and fitness industry. One of the newer ones is the use of massage guns for self treatment. These bits of kits can range in price from £50 right up to the hundreds of pounds. Some even name themselves ‘physio’ guns. I thought it would be useful for us to do a short piece just to give you some basic info before you rush out and spend your hard earned cash. Over to Andy 🙂
Hello everyone Andy here, today I am writing about the effectiveness of massage guns and whether or not they are a good option for individuals in a variety of scenarios.
Prior to today my knowledge of massage guns, their purpose and their effects was quite surface level. I have had some limited experience of personal use as I have some friends who use them but I have never used them on patients or advised patients to use them. In recent months, Kerstine and I have had a significant number of patients ask whether or not using them was a good option so I wanted to have a look at some available evidence to come to a more informed judgement.
Having spent some more time reading into them this week a basic definition is that they are handheld devices which vibrate at high frequencies and when put in contact with an area of muscle soreness, people claim their use can help to alleviate such symptoms. I think it’s quite clear that public opinion on their effectiveness is quite split. Due to the fairly modern nature of massage guns and the short amount of time which has elapsed since their spike in popularity, there is a pretty limited amount of high quality research to either back up or break down the supposed positive effects.
Therabody are a leading company in the field of ‘percussive therapy’ and their Theragun products are widely regarded as the best massage gun devices. Therabody have also now collaborated with huge sports figures such as Cristiano Ronaldo and James Harden to market their products which has naturally helped to boost their popularity and usage on a global scale. Their supposed best models cost upward of £300 and on their website they describe their ‘pro’ model as being:
‘The deep muscle treatment pros trust with the durability and features they rely on. Enhance muscle recovery, release stress and tension, and soothe discomfort with the smart percussive therapy device in a league of its own’.
But what does the research say about the use of massage guns and their overall effectiveness? Firstly, from a physio/injury rehabilitation point of view there is little to no high quality evidence to suggest that the use of massage guns can help with the healing process for damaged or injured tissue. Therefore, at this point it would not be appropriate for a medical professional to suggest the use of such tools for this purpose. Some papers such as Martin, (2021) suggest that muscle guns might be used during injury rehabilitation due to their ability to increase range of motion and decrease muscle soreness, but this suggestion seems to have been made with no real consideration for the possible effect on the previously/currently injured tissue and clearly this would need to be understood before making such a suggestion.
However, a number of research papers have found similar positive physiological effects when using massage guns, primarily: increased range of motion (ROM) and reduced feelings of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). See below:
Literature review which reviewed the findings of 39 studies on the use of muscle gun therapy as a rehabilitation technique focussing on lower limb
Key findings – Muscle guns should be used in warm ups as they can reduce muscle soreness and increase ROM. Also makes a slightly random comment that this means they should be used during injury rehabilitation.
Konrad et al, 2020
RCT looking at the effect of massage gun on plantar flexor muscles
Key findings – Similar to a conventional massage by a therapist, ROM can be increased by a handheld percussive massage treatment without having an effect on muscle strength.
Cullen, Casazza and Davis, 2021
Literature review comparing effectiveness of different passive recovery techniques
Key findings – More research needed for Percussive Therapy
Trainer et al, 2022
Cross-sectional lab study looking at effect of percussive therapy on shoulder function
Key findings – Some people had positive effects (increased ROM, reduced muscle soreness) and some had negative (increased muscle soreness). The positive effects were greater than the negative?
Sillero et al, 2021
RCT analysing use of massage guns and fatigue during bench press
Key findings – Use of massage gun delayed the onset of fatigue
My conclusion based on personal experience and reading of literature is that as long as a massage gun is being used on healthy muscle/fascia, it can have positive effects in reducing DOMS and increasing short term ROM with very little risk in a very similar way to conventional recovery methods like sports massage.
However, there is no credible research to suggest that they can help with healing and in fact I think an important consideration has to be whether you’re using the device on muscle soreness or actual injured tissue. Therefore it is probably best to use them in a preventative/prehab/warm up capacity (you can also do this using a hand/foam roller) rather than as a treatment modality on sore muscles, especially without the assessment of a trained therapist. If you arent sure if your pain is from an injury or simply muscle soreness then here at KHPhysiotherapy we can assess and advise.