Do massage guns really work?

It may look like a power drill at first glance, and sound like one too, but the massage gun is actually today’s buzziest muscle recovery tool.

Their popularity has been helped along by professional athletes publicly using them, as well as viral Instagram videos that show the massage gun’s rubber mallet sending a mesmerizing ripple effect across the skin’s surface.

But while the celebrity and social media cred would have many of us jumping on the bandwagon and buying massage guns for ourselves, there’s a huge barrier to entry: the price. Some massage gun, for instance can go for around $500. Which leads us to question: Are these devices really worth it?

What do massage guns do?

Massage guns offer what’s known as percussive or vibration therapy. This type of massage provides rapid bursts of pressure into the body’s muscle tissue (hence the rippling effect of massage guns) as its head oscillates back and forth. Masseurs and masseuses have traditionally used a series of light strikes from the hands or wrists to the given muscle group to get this effect. However, massage guns let athletes get the same benefits, but in the comfort of their own homes (and without needing to pay routinely for luxury spa services). And unlike myofascial massaging tools, such as foam rollers, that can yield similar results, massage guns can hyper-target a specific problem area. For those who find foam rollers uncomfortable or too manual of a process, massage guns offer a more streamlined, automatic solution.

Percussive therapy doesn’t completely eliminate muscle soreness. But what it does do is increase blood flow to a specific muscle area, which can help reduce inflammation and muscle tension and break up those pesky knots that seem to linger after a hard workout. Massage guns are also used prior to intense workouts to help warm up muscles ahead of activity.

Do massage guns actually work?

As percussive therapy becomes more popular, more studies are being released about its benefits and potential limitations. A 2014 study suggested that vibration therapy and massage (both of which are part of percussive therapy) are equally effective methods to prevent DOMS, delayed onset muscle soreness, meaning you’re less likely to feel muscle pain or tightness 24 to 72 hours after an intense workout.

Tapotement, the Swedish massage technique that employs the same principle (but without the equipment), also has been shown to improve athletes’ overall agility and performance with just five minutes of treatment.

Even though scientific signs seem to point in favor of these devices, it’s important to note that there’s not a lot of research on massage guns specifically, as well as the vibration and amplitude of percussive therapy they deliver. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence out there supporting the idea that massage guns do help.

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