Are Massage Guns Worth the Hype?

 FM Photos and Graphics

Massage guns have been gaining popularity over the last few years. Often marketed to high-performance athletes with an even higher price tag, they claim to be game-changing for post workout recovery. When hot ticket items like this come along, it is understandable to question the authenticity of their claims.

Are massage guns truly as effective as advertised? We spoke with ORA Sports Medicine Physician, Dr. J.C. Clark, to see if they live up to the sports media hype.

What is a massage gun?

Occasionally referred to as percussive massage therapy, massage guns pound your muscles in rapid succession. They work by applying quick, repetitive pressure directly to your aching muscles to boost blood flow. Marketing claims suggest that these high-frequency tools aid in workout recovery, improve your athletic performance, and reduce aches and pains brought on by exercise.

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Dr. J.C. Clark, ORA Orthopedics

Dr. Clark says that while percussive massages may offer similar benefits, whether massage guns aid in a shortened recovery time and improved performance is really unproven.

“Several athletic companies have claimed that massage guns speed up recovery times. However, since there have only been a handful of small studies, there is limited research available to back up those large claims.”

Massage and Vibration Therapy

While evidence to confirm the link between massage guns and reduced recovery time is minimal, Dr. Clark shares that there is research available to back up percussive massage treatments.

“Massage guns use a similar principle to other recovery methods. Research that supports the methods of percussive therapy are standard massage techniques and even vibration therapy.”

Dr. Clark says that massages can “reduce tension, impact flexibility, increase blood flow, and decrease muscle stiffness.” Similarly, vibration therapy can have the same effect as a standard massage by limiting onset muscle soreness or tightness through vibration or percussion.

“With these practices in mind, massage tools could achieve similar results to a standard massage or vibration therapy if they are used correctly, but whether they provide better results comes down to personal preference.”

Can you receive similar results with something less expensive, like a foam roller?

Like massage guns, research available for foam rollers is also minimal. However, Dr. Clark agrees that they would likely yield a similar result in your recovery time after a workout.

“Massage guns work in the same sense that foam rolling does,” he says. “It is another method of tissue mobilization that provides the benefit of loosening up your muscles. In theory, they both provide relief and a short-term improvement in flexibility.”

He says that gentle to average pressure applied with a foam roller can help tight or sore areas of the body relax. While percussive therapies, like massage guns, target hard-to-reach areas of your body, like your chest, biceps, or lower back.

FM Photos and Graphics Foam roller

What is the right tool for me?

Dr. Clark suggests that athletes do what is best for them, but to remember that other recovery alternatives are available that provide similar benefits.

“A few studies suggest percussive therapy may reduce or even prevent muscle soreness, while others suggest regular massage and stretching yield the same outcomes. If you want a massage gun and are planning to use it safely, there should be no harm in adding it to your recovery regimen.”

Most massage guns are recommended to be used within 48 hours following workout to help reduce soreness and shorten recovery. If using a massage tool causes you discomfort, you should stop or consult with your physician before continuing to use it.

If your muscle pain persists, it might be in your best interest to look beyond a massage gun. At ORA, our Sports Medicine Center of Excellence helps athletes of all performance levels return to their active lifestyles following an injury. Contact us today to schedule an appointment at one of our locations in the Quad Cities or learn more about our doctors and services.