Massage Guns. We’re sure you’ve seen them all over Instagram recently, with fighters working over their legs or shoulders with a machine that looks like a weird combo between a hairdryer and pneumatic drill. They rapidly pulse in and out, drumming against the muscle and causing a rippling effect to provide a type of percussive massage that’s meant to aid recovery or prepare you for a hard session. But are they just another fitness fad with limited evidence supporting their use (like an altitude training mask) or is there real science backing up their use?
In principle using a massage gun falls under the title of vibration therapy, a treatment method used by therapists which pretty much does what it says on the tin – provides vibration to the muscles to promote recovery. This can take several forms; from focused ultrasound, full body vibration plates or even massage techniques like tapotement (when a massage therapist firmly and rapidly taps your skin with the edges of their hands. Obviously massage guns fit into the tapotement end of this spectrum and provide a convenient way to get massage therapy at home and automatically.
But is there an actual benefit to a bit of vibration therapy, or are you just paying for a small machine that essentially punches you a bunch?
Well, put simply the answer is that there’s not much research that’s been done into it at this point. Research from 1998 showed that massage after exercise may help with Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS – that ache and stiffness you get in your muscles following a big workout), but they essentially concluded that further evidence was needed to say for sure. Laboratory testing in 2005 backed up the theory that massage helps with DOMS, finding a 30% improvement with a 10 minute massage 3 hours after exercise, but this study was only completed on 10 subjects (5 men and women) – a pretty small sample size to draw big conclusions from. Essentially it looks like massage is a good thing for managing DOMS and recovery (and obviously there’s loads of anecdotal evidence from so many athletes who swear by massages to recover after hard workouts) but there’s not a huge amount of research into it.
As for vibration therapy there’s some promising evidence. A 2014 study compared 5 minutes of vibration therapy to 15 minutes of massage prior to exercise, and found that both treatments reduced DOMS compared to a control group who didn’t have any treatment prior to exercise. However, this study was conducted on 45 non-athletic women, so again isn’t the biggest sample size and didn’t assess if there was a difference between gender or athletic ability. A further study in 2007 looked at the effect on muscle flexibility between tapotement massage, a different variant called ‘pettreisage’ which involves more of a rubbing action and no massage at all. Again this was a small sample (19 students, 8 female and 11 male) but the study found that massage improves muscle flexibility without impacting power generation. They concluded that massage as part of a warm up could be an alternative to the traditional static stretching approach a lot of people use.
As we said, essentially there’s limited research that’s been conducted into using massage and vibration therapy either as warm up or recovery from exercise so it’s tough to draw a definite conclusion. However, the evidence that is out there shows some promise that it is beneficial. Ultimately if you’re a fan of massage and feel it helps you recover you’re likely to enjoy a massage gun, and if you haven’t had regular massages (or the idea of a stranger touching you doesn’t sit right) then it could be a great way to get into massage in your own home.
Have you used a massage gun before? What’re your thoughts on the benefits? Let us know in the comments!
Looking to buy one?
 E. Ernst (1998), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1756095/
 Zainuddin et al (2005), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1250256/
 Imtiyaz et al (2014), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3939523/
 G. McKechnie et al (2007), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3794491/