Whether you have or haven’t heard of massage guns, the key thing you should know is these smart devices can really help you with everything from muscle recovery to relaxation. However, at the same time it’s important that you use them properly to get the best results.
Here, Life Style Sports has explained everything you need to know about massage guns, to aid you if you wish to use one. As well as this, we’ve given some examples of models you might want to buy and offered some extra expertise around where and when you can and should be using them.
What is a Massage Gun
If massage guns are new to you, there’s no prizes for working out what they might be, as the name really does say it all. Massage guns are devices, shaped a bit like a handgun or a power drill, which you can use on your body to give yourself a massage in specific places. More often than not they’re wireless and have changeable attachments for the nozzle.
A massage gun won’t necessarily give you the ‘hands on’ massage you might be thinking of though, instead they give a more rigorous massage that’s done via the gun’s nozzle as it pulsates and vibrates at different speeds. This means of massage is sometimes known as ‘percussion therapy’ – some people subsequently also refer to these devices as ‘percussion therapy guns’ – and this movement is what’s meant to benefit your muscles.
If you want to see what a massage gun looks like, here are a couple of examples we have available that come in different sizes and have different speed settings and attachments:
What is Percussion Therapy?
Percussion – or ‘percussive’ – therapy is a massage involving vibration and a repetitive and rapid movement, so you can see why it applies to the action of massage guns. It’s also specifically meant to help reach deep into the tissues in your muscles, to soothe and repair them after workouts.
What a Massage Gun Does to the Body
Technically there isn’t a defined scientific breakdown of what effect using a massage gun has on the body, but there’s a lot of evidence so far to suggest that the percussive therapy it employs offers a lot of benefits.
As already mentioned, the devices can massage your muscles to aid their recovery, but this specifically is said to come from the increased blood flow that comes through your muscles as the attachment rapidly strikes the surface of your skin. Alongside this though you can get even more benefits, such as:
- Boosted mobility: if you suffer from stiffness in joints, in areas like your back or your neck, or simply in your muscles after exercising, a massage gun can help relieve the pain and get you more mobile.
- General pain relief: if you have a build-up of lactic acid after doing a work out, a massage gun can encourage your muscle fibres to push this out and get rid of these and other harmful post-exercise by-products.
- Reduced DOMS: it’s believed that percussion therapy can reduce the effect of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) if you have a session with a massage gun after you’ve done some intense or unfamiliar exercise. This is again down to increased blood flow helping repair damaged muscle fibres before the inflammation and pain kicks in.
- Feeling energised: having a pre-workout massage can help boost your circulation, in turn making you feel stimulated, energised and ready to get going.
- Improved posture: over time and with continued use alongside your exercise, you can help correct and improve your posture as you and your muscles get fitter and stronger.
How to Use a Massage Gun
- Review and choose the best attachment – different attachments offer different feelings and levels of stiffness. A simple rule of thumb here is use the softer ones for softer areas on your body, but it’s worth reviewing all of these and getting a better understanding of how they work first.
- Test the settings on your hand – you may also want to try out the different attachments and speed settings on your hand first, so you again get a better idea of the massage options.
- Focus first on areas that feel tight or that you intend to exercise – it’s a wise move to either warm up or soothe the muscles that feel a bit tight or which you know you’ll be focussing on during your workout.
- Start on a lower speed – it’s also sensible to start on the lowest rpm setting, you can then build this up as and when you get used to the changing intensity.
- Move the attachment slowly along the muscle group – no matter what speed setting you’re using, make sure you take it steady, don’t press too hard, and slowly move the head of the attachment up and down the muscle. Some people use the word ‘float’ to describe the action you should take when using the gun.
- Don’t press too hard on areas with little muscle – you also need to avoid pressing too hard on areas with fewer muscles (such as your forearms and wrists) and instead gently glide the massage gun over them.
- Spend about 60-90 seconds on each muscle group – remember not to overdo it and avoid focusing on one area for longer than 90 seconds. You also don’t need to keep going if it feels uncomfortable, you can stop whenever you want.
- Avoid bony areas – massage guns aren’t designed for joints and bones and if you accidentally cross these you’ll feel – and indeed hear – the gun juddering.
- Remember to relax – as the idea is to relieve muscle tension, do your best to relax and not tense up, as otherwise, you won’t get the full benefit from using the massage gun.
- Don’t overdo it – the last tip here is to limit your massages to 2 or 3 times a day (max) at sensible intervals. Overuse will again negate and undermine the benefits you’re meant to get from a massage gun.
Where to Use a Massage Gun
As mentioned above, while it’s important to avoid your bones, soft spots, and joints where you can, it’s worth us considering specifically where you are okay to use massage guns around your upper and lower body.
From the head to your stomach, you can use a massage gun on:
- Your neck, but never on the front part, only on the back and sides. Although you may need someone to help you do this, just make sure they take it easy on you.
- Your shoulders. A massage gun can be great for getting out shoulder tightness and knots.
- All muscle groups in your arms, just watch out for your tendons.
- Your hands, specifically on your palms on a low setting.
For your lower body you can focus on:
- Your back, but as we mentioned before, avoid around your kidneys.
- Your buttocks and hips.
- All muscle groups in your legs.
- On your feet, but gently on the soles.
Where not to Use a Massage Gun
You also need to be mindful of a number of non-bony areas on your body where you should avoid using a massage gun. The more obvious places to avoid include anywhere you have: cuts, bruises, scabs, lesions or swelling, as these can become aggravated and made worse.
In addition, in this article from Oxygen Magazine, expert Personal Trainer, Meredith Butulis, stresses the importance of focussing purely on muscle tissue when using a massage gun. However, she also identified these softer spots to avoid:
- Around the kidneys, specifically under your rib bones as there’s little protection for these organs here.
- Your bicep tendons, as putting too much pressure or vibrations on these surprisingly delicate tendons can make them inflamed or even tear them.
Alongside this, in this piece, the team at Well + Good, spoke with qualified PT, Bradley Wheeldon, who also states how you should avoid areas where you may have been previously injured or where you know you have a weakness, as this is likely to hurt and do more harm than good.
However, if you’re in any doubt about this and/or if you have an injury somewhere, it’s very important to speak with your GP or a qualified medical expert before you use a massage gun. If you’re pregnant you also need to get approval from your doctor and/or physio before using one.
When to Use a Massage Gun
The beauty of a massage gun is that it’s also something you can use if you simply want to relieve some stress or tension, perhaps after a long day at work. But in relation to a workout, there are specific times you can utilise them that will support both the quality of your exercise and your recovery. These are:
Muscle Activation – Pre-workout
By massaging the muscles you intend to exercise before you begin a session, you’ll get the blood flowing through and will get your body primed and ready for action. However, don’t overdo it, take it steady and use a lower setting on your massage gun, it is a pre-workout after all.
Muscle Reactivation – Intra-workout
You can also use a massage gun between your sets to help ‘reactivate’ your muscles. This, combined with a bit of stretching can be a great way to warm a muscle group back up before you begin working them again. You only need to use the gun briefly though (around 15-20 seconds per muscle) and use a medium speed setting; the aim is to wake your muscles up and give them a boost, not relax them.
Muscle Recovery – Post-workout
When you’ve finished and had a cool-down session, you can use a massage gun to aid your muscles and help prevent injury. Focus on any tense areas first and give them a firm and deep massage for up to 90 seconds. This will help the muscles move from a heightened state to a more relaxed one.
How Often Can You Use a Massage Gun?
We’ve already given some recommendations on massage intensity and length, but it’s also good to get a general idea of how often you should be using a massage gun. Below we’ve broken this down into two of the most-commonly asked question around this subject:
How Many Times Per Week Should you Use a Massage Gun?
This article from Garage Gym Reviews discussed this topic with a qualified chiropractor, Steve Hruby, and body performance and injury expert, Dr Rami Hashish, and they were in agreement that massage guns are okay to use on a daily basis, but ‘to play it safe’ you should initially limit this to ‘two to three times per week’. After a while you can start to increase this amount.
How Long Should You Use a Massage Gun for?
Alongside the above, Dr. Hashish echoed some of the timings we’ve already covered – such as shorter massage sessions for some muscle groups and longer ones post workout – but he also added that the “ideal application time can be contingent upon a variety of factors, including age, physical fitness level, and underlying health conditions”.
With this, he also recommended that you should seek guidance from your doctor or physio if you want to find out and determine an application time that’s ideally suited to you and your body.
When to Stop Using a Massage Gun
To build on those above points, listening to your body is another key aspect and ultimately if it begins to feel uncomfortable when using a massage gun, you need to stop, otherwise, you could injure yourself or damage your muscles and tendons.
There are also some symptoms you should watch out for that are an indication you need to stop using your massage gun, or at least have a break from using it. These include:
- Feeling pain in areas close to where you’re massaging.
- Red marks, irritation, or blemishes appearing on the skin.
- You don’t feel any difference or improvements to your muscles (after a while).
To return to a key point, if you do experience any of these issues or you simply have concerns about using your massage gun, you must speak to your doctor or physio and get their expert guidance on safe usage. This way you’ll know you’re going to make the most of your new device and you’ll be able maximise the benefits you can get from it.