We’re all aware of the benefits of a good therapeutic massage from a trained massage therapist – it’s a great way to iron out the kinks, unknot the knots, relax sore muscles and generally ease away the tensions of the day. However, professional massages don’t come cheap, and you may not always be able to book one when you need it.
Enter the massage gun – a massage tool that is designed to be used by anyone, works better than hands alone and, when used correctly, can give you a more effective massage. It’s perfect for loosening tight muscles, especially large muscle groups, increasing blood flow, helping to ease soreness and pain and giving your muscles a boost.
But how do massage guns work, what are the benefits of using one, and who should use them? We take a look at the five most important things that you should know about massage guns.
How Massage Guns Work
A massage gun is used to provide vibrational massage or percussion therapy by impacting the body in an oscillating motion – usually in a straight up and down direction – a little like a mini jackhammer. It can be used at varying levels of intensity, ranging from very low frequency to high-intensity settings depending on the effect you want to achieve. The gun is usually powered by a rechargeable battery and comes with a variety of attachments.
For recovery work, low-frequency settings are advised, while higher-intensity settings are recommended for muscular activation.
While it’s not entirely clear how massage guns work on the body, it is believed that the ‘thumping’ action stimulates the Golgi tendon organ (GTO) a structure within the muscle that inhibits contraction, thus helping the muscle to relax. The massage action may also override the pain you feel in sore muscles by blocking the pain ‘gates’ of the nervous system. However, the main effect is probably neural, as the continuous manipulation of the muscle allows your brain to focus on the tension and then let it go.
What do We Mean by Vibration and Percussion?
You may be already familiar with vibration therapy if you have used a vibrating platform or vibrating foam roller. The small back and forth oscillations pulsate within the muscles and tissues and help them to relax. Many of the first massage guns to hit the market worked in this manner – sending vibrations through the muscle to stimulate blood flow and encourage it to loosen up. As technology advanced, the guns used percussion to penetrate further into the muscle to offer deeper, more intense stimulation. This high intensity pumping action results in a significant reduction in recovery time, pain and inflammation.
The Uses and Benefits of Using a Massage Gun
Massage guns have four main uses:
Muscular Recovery – the most common reason for using a gun as it helps to reduce the delayed onset muscular soreness (DOMS) experienced after a hard workout. Massage guns are known to stimulate and increase blood flow to deliver nutrients to the muscle, make the tissue more pliant, and remove any pooled blood. This may not only help to prevent DOMS from occurring but can reduce pain and lower the lactate levels in the body. They also stimulate the natural hormones and proteins to repair muscle fibers so that they grow larger and stronger.
Used directly after a workout, it may also help to remove waste products associated with high-intensity exercise that causes the burning sensation in the muscles.
Pain Reduction – it’s believed that the impact provided by the gun closes the nerve ‘gates’ and prevents the pain sensation from travelling through the nervous system to the brain thus lowering pain levels. Stubborn or chronic inflammation, aches and pains are reduced by the constant delivery of high-powered pressure.
Muscular Activation – many people find that the use of a massage gun before exercise helps to get the muscles ready for action and reduce the likelihood of injury, especially when it is used at higher intensities.
Stress Reduction – just like a hands-on massage, a massage gun can be used to reduce stress and muscular tension helping to release endorphins, increase serotonin and lessen anxiety. It’s a portable, convenient option that doesn’t require a visit to a massage therapist.
Who Should Use a Massage Gun?
In recent years, massage guns have become extremely popular, particularly in the fitness world – so it’s no wonder that athletes are investing in the tool for use as part of their warm-up and cool down routines. The convenience of the massage gun also makes it a great option for anyone with muscular aches and pains and to soothe and treat tendonitis, repetitive strain injuries, muscle cramps, inflammation of the muscles and to unknot those dreaded knots.
The Best Ways to Use a Massage Gun and Things to Avoid
Unlike traditional hands-on massage, beneficial effects can be gained within a few minutes even when working on large muscle groups such as the quads. Therefore, less is more when using a massage gun. If you over-stimulate the muscle, you risk pushing fluid into the muscle without allowing it to flow back out again. For this reason, you should keep the gun on a low intensity setting until you get used to the pressure. It may also be beneficial to alternate sessions with the gun with foam rolling.
There is also a temptation to overuse a massage gun or focus it on one area for too long. Just remember that, unlike a trained massage therapist, the gun can’t differentiate between muscles, fascia and bone or tell whether a muscle is tight. Therefore, you should always go slowly and avoid any excessively painful areas.
Investing in a massage gun may be a good idea if you’re looking for a convenient and portable way to reduce muscular pain and ease stress and muscular tension, especially if you train hard and want to speed up your recovery and reduce muscle soreness. It’s also a good option for athletes who want to incorporate massage into their warm-up and cool-down routines to encourage activation of the muscles and nervous system.