Chances are you’ve heard of massage guns or seen a fitness influencer using one in an Instagram post. These tools are meant to, well, massage out your muscles to aid in recovery, which sounds like a delightful way to recoup from a tough workout. But, unlike a lot of other fitness tools — like foam rollers and resistance bands, which are relatively affordable — these babies can cost up to a hundred dollars, with some high-end models running as much as $500. So are massage guns worth it? In short: If you’re big into exercising or often have sore muscles, you really might want to save up.
Massage guns, like the HyperVolt or Theragun, are a type of percussive therapy used to deliver a deep tissue massage, says Dr. Steve Hruby, DC, a doctor of chiropractic and founder of Kaizen Progressive Health. “It’s a handheld device that provides rapid, short bursts of pressure to the muscles,” he tells Bustle. It’s this quick, intense vibration that helps release muscle “knots” to reduce soreness, increase circulation, and improve your range of motion, he explains.
It’s a recovery tool an increasing number of people have been snagging for their own routines: According to an Absolute Market Insights report, the demand for massage guns has been on the rise since 2019, especially among athletes and casual gym-goers. Hruby’s take? Massage guns can be beneficial to anyone — athletes and non-athletes — who is looking for a way to reduce pain and feel more mobile overall. They even help for aches that come from sources beyond working out, such as stiffness you might feel after sitting or standing for longs periods of time.
That said, massage guns aren’t for everyone. They can be intense, tricky to use, and there are plenty of ways to get similar results for a lot less money. Here’s what to know before buying yourself a massage gun.
How To Use A Massage Gun
You can use a massage gun before a workout to loosen up your muscles or right after to relieve soreness, says Cathy Spencer-Browning, the vice president of programming and training at on-demand fitness brand MOSSA, who partners with NIMBL, a provider of massage guns. To start, apply the head of the massage gun to “trouble spots” and massage the area for five to 10 minutes. You can also hit up your percussive therapy device if you feel any muscle pain or tightness and simply want to massage it out. If you feel unsure of what to do, Spencer-Browning recommends following a guided therapy session online. It’ll also help to refer to your specific massager’s guide to figure out which setting to choose, since each device has different speeds.
While massaging, you’ll want to avoid running over boney areas, like your elbows, as well as any injuries, says Amanda Capritto, an ACE-certified personal trainer and ISSA corrective exercise specialist, who works with Garage Gym Reviews. “Be careful sweeping over scabs, too, as you might reopen the wound,” she tells Bustle. As long as you use it correctly, she says you can use a massage gun every day to keep soreness at bay.
Massage Guns Vs. Foam Rollers
If you’re wondering whether you need a massage gun if you already have a foam roller, listen up: While both offer similar benefits for your muscles, Hruby says they work in different ways. “Massage guns use percussive therapy for deep tissue massage, while foam rollers provide a gentler form of self-massage,” he says.
They also both aid in a muscle recovery technique called self-myofascial release. “This type of therapy involves manual manipulation of soft tissue, primarily fascia but also muscle, to release trigger points, loosen adhesions, and improve blood flow and mobility,” says Capritto. You could roll a sore quad or bicep muscle over a foam roller, or get in there with a massage gun. Both will do the trick.
The main difference is that the gun offers a deeper massage, which may provide quicker relief, Capritto says. And, of course, there’s size and price. If you want to bring a tool with you on the go you may find it easier to toss a massage gun in your bag (they make mini ones, after all), instead of toting around a giant foam roller. If you’re on a budget, it’s nice to know you can pick up a foam roller for less than 10 bucks. “Ultimately, the best tool for you will depend on your individual needs,” says Hruby.
Massage Guns Vs. Stretching
Can’t you just stick with good ol’ stretching? Well, there are a lot more differences when it comes to percussive therapy versus stretching. According to Capritto, the self-myofascial release that occurs with a massage gun is more about releasing tension within your connective tissue and increasing blood flow to specific areas, while stretching is more about increasing your flexibility over the long haul. Stretching lengthens the muscles, while massage kneads them. “However, both can be helpful to cool down from and warm-up for exercise,” she says. Also, of course, stretching is free.
Are Massage Guns Worth It?
According to Spencer-Browning, anyone who engages in physical activity on a regular basis could benefit from owning a massage gun. It’s a nice tool to have on hand to prime your muscles before training, she says, and to relieve any tension or soreness you experience post-workout. “If you are a fitness enthusiast or regularly participate in sports, then a massage gun can be a great investment,” Hruby adds. “They are also beneficial for those who suffer from muscle pain or stiffness.” (Looking at you, my fellow desk workers.)
There’s the price factor, which could (understandably) hold you back. But you also might want to hold off if you’re worried about overdoing it. Since it’s an intense form of massage, Hruby says it’s possible that a massage gun will cause more soreness, and could even lead to bruising. He suggests asking your doctor or physical therapist for advice before taking the leap. Otherwise, these are great devices to have on hand for a DIY muscle massage.
Imtiyaz, S. (2014). To Compare the Effect of Vibration Therapy and Massage in Prevention of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). J Clin Diagn Res. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3939523/
Konrad, A. 2020. The Acute Effects of a Percussive Massage Treatment with a Hypervolt Device on Plantar Flexor Muscles' Range of Motion and Performance. Journal of sports science & medicine.
Wiewelhove, T. 2019. A Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Foam Rolling on Performance and Recovery. Frontiers in physiology. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2019.00376.
Dr. Steve Hruby, DC, doctor of chiropractic
Cathy Spencer-Browning, vice president of programming and training at MOSSA
Amanda Capritto, ACE-certified personal trainer and ISSA corrective exercise specialist
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