Do Massage Guns Work?
Massage guns are incredibly effective. In my experience, the only better massage you'll get is from a good massage therapist. Massage guns are now used by thousands of athletes, weekend warriors, and nonathletes. MMA fighters, powerlifters, bodybuilders, yoga practitioners, swimmers, CrossFit enthusiasts... anyone can use a massage gun.
Massage guns are considered a percussive therapy, which increases blood flow to muscles and reduces inflammation. There aren't any studies on the effectiveness of massage guns, but there are studies on percussive massage therapy. A study published in the National Institutes of Health concluded that vibration therapy is effective in the prevention of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). It reduces pain and the buildup of lactic acid dehydrogenase (LDH), whose levels rise in response to cell damage. The bottom line: massage guns reduce muscle tension, increase circulation, and reduce muscle soreness.
Massage Guns vs. Traditional Massage
The main benefits of using a massage gun compared to getting a massage are cost and convenience.
Getting a massage from a licensed massage therapist normally costs around $50/hour, and if you live 10 minutes away from the massage clinic, and you get an hour massage, it will take an hour and a half of your time. For a couple of years I was getting one massage every 2 weeks, which was taking about 3 hours per month out of my schedule.
The average cost of a massage gun is around $200, and considering that you can get thousands of massages from your massage gun, the cost of the massage gun is way cheaper.
Since I started testing massage guns, I only get professional massages occasionally when I have an area that I can't fix myself. I've saved lots of time and money using the gun. I can use the gun while watching TV, and if I have an area that's hard to reach, I ask my wife to use it on me. She's a massage therapist, but asking her to give me a massage after she's worked all day is a big ask. But for her to use the gun, all she has to do is hold it.
How to Use a Massage Gun
Massage guns are simple to use. Most have a pretty simple process to follow: turn the power on, then a second button will make the gun active. Then increase the power as needed.
You can experiment with the different attachments, just understand that the smaller the tip, the deeper the penetration and the more pressure you're going to get. If you're really sore, you may not want to use the very first attachment on full power; the flat top may be better, or the half ball, or the full ball. The only attachment that requires explanation is the forked tip, which is designed to be used for the muscles along the spine.
Massage guns can also be used with massage oil or CBD oil. In traditional massage oil is used to prevent pulling of the skin because many times the massage therapist is pressing down with their hand or elbow, then driving their hand or elbow across a muscle. With a massage gun, there's no pulling, it's percussive so it doesn't irritate the skin. But there's a long tradition of using essential oils for relaxation and other purposes. If you plan on using oil with your massage gun, make sure you're using a plastic or metal attachment as soft plastic attachments may absorb the oil.
Using a massage gun should be safe for most users. If you have any health issues, you should talk to your doctor to make sure it won't cause you any problems.
With that being said, there are a couple of areas that you may want to be careful with, the first being the spine. If you go to a chiropractor and they use an activator (it looks like a gun and chiropractors use them to push vertebrae into place), you understand that it doesn't take a lot of pressure to affect your spine. So don't use it on or very close to your spine, and that includes the upper part of your spine - your C1 and C2 vertebrae.
Percussive therapy is to be used on muscles and not organs, so don't use it on your stomach, head, or heart. A general rule is to start slow with light pressure, and gradually add pressure if helpful. If you ever feel uncomfortable using a massage gun, stop.
When and How Often to Use Your Gun
The general rule for using a massage gun is the same for foam rolling: you can use it before, during, and after. It will improve circulation to an area, so using it before a workout may help prevent injuries.
Many massage gun owners use them when they have an extended period to really dig into a problem area. For many people, it relaxes them before bed. You may find that if you have a muscle spasm that won't release, you may want to use the gun on that area more than once per day. Almost all massage guns come with a carrying case so you can use it when you're not at home. And they're not heavy so they're easy to travel with.
Criteria for Evaluating Massage Guns
If you start shopping for massage guns, you'll notice that the majority of massage guns are very similar. Many even have a glowing ring that tells you if the gun is on, such as the one pictured below.
The reason why is that most of these guns are produced from the same area in China. Retailers can order a quantity of 100 or more and get a volume discount, and with that purchase, the factory in China will print a brand name on the side (you can see that mine is blank because I don't want to get into the massage gun business). The good news is that this design works very well. Most of these guns are very effective, have good battery life, and will last for quite a while. You might have customer service issues if your gun stops working.
I started my massage gun research by buying 3 different guns from 3 different Chinese companies. The guns all worked very well, and very similar. You could have put each of them at high speed and if blindfolded, I couldn't tell the difference between the 3. One of the guns stopped working after a day. Communicating with the supplier in China wasn't horrible, they sent me out a new battery free of charge that took a few weeks to arrive. If you have a customer service issue with any of the many sellers on Amazon, it could be hit or miss for getting your problem resolved easily.
For this reason, we've chosen to recommend more established companies for our top choices. In addition to having excellent products, we've chosen companies that have excellent ratings in customer service.
Regarding the criteria we used to evaluate the guns we tested, our top choices scored high in the following areas:
- Quietness: Since you'll most likely be using this while watching TV and often will be in the room with other people, you don't want to annoy everyone with a really loud gun. Massage guns don't have to be loud to deliver enough percussive pressure.
- Pressure: If your gun can't do the job, you'll waste your money. You need to get enough pressure to release muscle cramps and spasms.
- Battery life: It's annoying to have to recharge your gun every hour, or for it to die when you need it.
- Comfort: You're more likely to use your gun if it feels good in your hands, and it's easy to use.
- Accessories: A lot of massage gun owners tend to have one attachment that they like, but another member of your family may like a different attachment. It's nice to have options.
- Reputation of company/customer service score: As mentioned above, anything with a motor, even from a good company, could have issues. Working with a reputable company can make all the difference between having a good and terrible experience.
Best Massage Guns
Ekrin Athletics offers 3 models, and the B37 is the best combination of features at a good price.
- It has 5 speeds, ranging from 28 lbs. of force to 56 lbs. of force.
- It measures 35-55 decibels, which at the lowest pressure is as loud as a suburban area at night; at the high speed, as loud as a refrigerator.
- It has 4 attachments (flat, bullet, round, and fork).
- The battery life is 8 hours of use, which is excellent.
- It weighs 2.2 lbs.
- Has a 10-minute stop function to prevent overheating, and includes a travel case.
- I like the 15 degree angled head, it makes it easier to use than the traditional gun.
- The B37 has a lifetime warranty.
If you're looking for more a few more special features (30% more power, 6 total attachments, locking massage heads so the attachments don't pop off, and a reactive force sensor), and you don't mind spending around $100 more, then the B37S is a great choice.
There's a reason that this traditional design is the most popular. This gun is a beast for the price for several reasons:
- 30-speed settings with a maximum of 3200 rpms.
- 35-50 decibels for quiet use.
- Can be used continuously for 4-6 hours and only takes 1.5-2 hours to fully charge.
- 2.2 lbs total weight (3.3 with case).
- 8 massage heads.
- 6-8 hour battery life, depending on what sped you use it on. Using it 10-15 minutes per day, you'll only need to charge it once per month.
- Includes carrying case.
- Comfortable grip and easy to use LCD touch screen.
- Vented-top cooling system works well as the gun doesn't overheat.
What makes this gun unique is the option to add heat to your massage. In addition this massage gun features:
- 12 speeds & 3200 rpms.
- 35-65 decibels for relatively quiet use.
- 6 massage heads.
- LED touch screen.
- 6 interchangeable heads with one head for heat.
- One charge lasts for 12 hours and a full charge takes 2.5 hours.
- PU material carrying case.
- Only weighs 2.2 lbs.
The Theragun Mini is from one of the leaders in the massage gun space, Therabody. This gun comes with a compact soft case and is perfect to keep to use while on the go:
- Weighs only 1.43 lbs
- 6 in x 5.3 in x 2.225 in.
- 150-minute battery life and 80 minute charge time.
- 3 speeds: 1750 PPM (percussion per minute), 210 PPM, and 2400 PPM.
- QX35 Motor with QuietForce technology.
- 30-day money-back guarantee.
- 1-year warranty.
- Highly reputable and passionate company whose focus is massage guns.