Do massage guns work? An expert guide

How to use massage guns effectively to enhance muscle recovery and relieve joint pain.

Whether you’re an athlete in a new training block or you just want relief from nagging joint pain, reducing muscle soreness and stiffness is probably at the top of your list.

Massage guns are a popular tool that delivers on that promise, offering at-home percussive therapy akin to a deep tissue massage.

Here, you’ll learn the health benefits of massage guns, the science behind percussive therapy, and how to use this tool to maximize your recovery efforts.

What are massage guns?

Massage guns are portable handheld devices that deliver rapid, targeted pulses to soft tissue. “A form of percussive therapy, you can use a massage gun on virtually every muscle group,” says Dr. Julia Morgan, a Doctor of Chiropractic. “It’s a great tool for anyone seeking relief from muscle tension and sore muscles.”

It’s a great tool for anyone seeking relief from muscle tension and sore muscles.
Dr. Julia Morgan

Massage guns are fully customizable to your needs by changing the pulse intensity and various head attachments, explains Morgan. While you may want to grind out a day’s worth of tension in your upper traps after a long day with a high pulse frequency, you may need to take a gentler approach for the sensitive gastrocnemius (calf) muscle.

Hyperice Hypervolt 2 Massage gun

Massage guns like the Hyperice Hypervolt 2 offer a form of percussive therapy.

The devices offer the benefits of a gentle and relaxing deep-tissue massage without the trip to the spa. Massage guns play a key role in your warm-up and recovery routine and, thus, have gained popularity among athletes, fitness enthusiasts, and anyone experiencing muscle tightness or stiffness.

What is percussive therapy?

Massage guns use rhythmic pressure like a percussive massage. The device head moves quickly and forcefully, applying pressure directly to your muscle and connective tissue. Think of it as drumming your muscles with a consistent beat, either faster, slower, harder, or softer, until they relax.

“Percussive therapy works by activating the mechanoreceptors under the skin that perceive high-frequency vibration,” explains Morgan, “The rapid, repetitive pressure and vibration therapy help desensitize the area and reduce localized pain.”

With the increased blood flow from the pulsing vibration, you gain more pliability in your muscles and range of motion in the joints. You’ll also expedite post-workout muscle waste removal, so your muscle fibers will return to their resting state faster, aiding in the prevention of delayed-onset muscle soreness in the coming days.

The Science-Backed Benefits of Using Massage Guns

Increased blood circulation

Research suggests that the increased blood flow to the area with a percussion massage gun promotes metabolic activity within the muscle tissue, improving oxygen saturation and increasing temperature.

Morgan explains that the increased circulation makes this tool a great addition to someone’s warm-up routine compared to other recovery modalities. “Hyperice’s Hypervolt GO takes the portability to another level so you can curate an effective warm-up from anywhere.”

Hypervolt Go 2
Hypervolt Go 2
Portable percussion massager. Lightweight, versatile, and sleekly designed, to offer relief on-the-go.

Pain relief and reduced muscle soreness

A key component of an overall recovery strategy, massage guns effectively decrease delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) or the dull muscle pain or joint pain you feel in the days following a challenging workout.

With the increased blood flow coupled with the activation of mechanoreceptors under the skin, your nervous system gets the signal to increase your pain threshold and decrease your perception of pain, tightness, or stiffness.

Thus, you experience less pain after an intense workout and can readily return to your physical activity routine — one of the best ways to relieve DOMS is to keep moving.

Enhanced range of motion and flexibility

In a recent systematic review, researchers found that massage guns improved several joints’ overall flexibility and range of motion. Massage guns help relax stiff muscles, making them more pliable to stretch and improving joint mobility.

The added mobility and flexibility make everyday tasks easier, enhancing your quality of life. It also means your muscles are activated over a larger range of motion during your workout, increasing overall muscle strength, power, and athletic performance.

How to Use Massage Guns Effectivel

Best practices for usage

You can use a massage gun in various ways to accomplish different goals. Here are some common uses of a massage gun to promote muscle activation and recovery:

  • As part of your warm-up to prepare and activate your muscles for movement.
  • Following a workout in your cool-down to reduce muscle soreness for days to come.
  • If you wake up feeling stiff in the morning and want to increase your joint range of motion.
  • In the evening, to promote deeper relaxation and better sleep.

Each person’s massage gun routine will look different depending on their comfort level, level of muscle tension, and experience using the device. Follow these tips for using a massage gun effectively:

  • Identify a muscle that feels tight and apply light pressure over the entire area with a low speed setting or low amplitude.
  • Slowly add pressure or speed when you find areas of tight muscles or trigger points. Focus on these areas for 15 to 30 seconds before moving on.
  • Adjust speed and pressure based on your comfort level.
  • Use daily or multiple times daily, depending on your muscle tension or workout program. Experts suggest avoiding targeting the same muscle for over 2 minutes in a session.

Common mistakes to avoid

You should only use massage guns on healthy, soft tissue. Avoid using percussive therapy over bony tissue (like directly over your spine or knee joint).

If you are experiencing an injury, consult a physical therapist or your healthcare provider about whether a massage gun should be part of your treatment plan. Massage guns could potentially increase inflammation and pain in the area if the tissue is still healing.

If your workout specifically targets jump performance, strategize your use of a massage gun. Jump performance relies on the elastic energy stored in a stiff tendon. One small study on athletes found that reducing stiffness in the Achilles tendon with a massage gun resulted in lower and slower jumps five minutes after using the tool.

In this case, you can opt to use a massage gun for a short amount of time on the Achilles directly before the workout or do your massage gun routine early in your warm-up to allow natural tendon properties to return.

The difference between massage guns, traditional massage, foam Rollers, and other muscle recovery options

Like other recovery options, massage guns apply pressure to relieve muscle tension without adversely affecting performance, explains Morgan. “Foam rolling and static stretching before a workout may decrease muscular strength and max power, making a massage gun a better pre-workout option.”

One study comparing popular muscle recovery strategies found that using a massage gun restored muscle compliance and reduced stiffness, equal to that of traditional massage therapy. The researchers also found massage guns were more effective and time-saving than a vibrating platform or foam rolling, which target more blood flow and myofascial release, respectively.

Ultimately, it’s up to you which recovery tool best fits your needs and preferences. A massage gun is a highly accessible option with science-backed benefits for muscle recovery in potentially less time than other recovery strategies.