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The Science Behind Massage Guns: Percussive Therapy

Updated 
January 26, 2021
Written by 
Jamie

After working out, there's a feeling of pure satisfaction at accomplishing your fitness goal. You're powered by adrenaline, and happy hormones are flowing through your veins. However, after a while, you start feeling some soreness and fatigue. All of your muscles might feel like they're burning. It's also challenging to do simple tasks, especially when muscle soreness and pain lasts for 24 to 72 hours. 


This physical condition is called DOMS, or delayed onset muscle soreness. Professional athletes or not, anyone can experience it after an intense exercise session. While DOMS is considered normal, it's possible to reduce the pain and frequency by using a massage gun

Massage guns are new recovery tools in the fitness scene. It can stimulate blood circulation and relieve stress from your aching muscles. Simply put, it's a portable version of an actual massage session. It’s also practical since you don’t need to book multiple massage sessions to relieve muscle pain. 


However, is it beneficial? Or is it just a passing trend? What do experts have to say about massage guns?rr


This article shall delve into why massage guns are not just a fad. In fact, its effectiveness and safety are backed up by science. To answer your curious questions, let's get into the scientific history of massage guns and percussive therapy. 

Where did Massage Guns come from?

If you take a peek at history, using gentle vibrations for healing is not a new idea. It all goes back to percussive therapy.


Percussive therapy, also known as vibration therapy, is a massage technique targeting deep tissues through continuous pulses and vibrations. This rapid, rhythmic pressure stimulates your muscles and nerve endings. It can also reach deeper into the focused areas of your body, in contrast with a traditional massage. 


When done correctly and consistently, it provides excellent benefits. For example, percussive therapy covers physical issues such as DOMS. It also helps with mental stress, muscle trauma, and severe injuries. As shown in a 2010 crossover study, vibration therapy is often recommended for rehabilitation, centered on patients with spinal cord injuries.

The History behind Percussive Therapy

While percussive massagers are considered relatively new, their scientific background is already established. 


Percussive therapy has been around for a long time. Its original roots can be traced back to the 1800s. In that era, various forms of percussive massage were springing up into public awareness. 


A great example of such is Tapotement, created back in 1868. It's usually described as a fast, rhythmic tapping on the patient's skin. You can usually see this method in Swedish massage spas and athletic events. Expressly, it's confirmed that Tapotement helps immensely with athletic performance.


To demonstrate, ten football players agreed to take part in a 2011 quantitative study. The scientific investigation concluded that Tapotement enhanced the athletes' agility. Therefore, it led to high-performance levels. Moreover, it's found out that short, 2-minute sessions were more impactful than 5-minute massages.


However, unlike professional athletes, you can't go and book a massage appointment every time you work out. That's too expensive and time-consuming. There are also times when you're too exhausted and would rather stay at home. That's where innovation comes in.


The early concept of percussive therapy became modernized in the 1970s, as it brought in new inventions. The world's all about portable devices in this period. In particular, the first percussive massager was developed and patented in 1974. With its bulky design, it was intended to release muscle stress in chiropractic patients. 

The Science behind Percussive Therapy

Slowly but surely, percussive massagers turned out to be more convenient and cost-effective. Its design evolved to be more sleek and handy. As a result, full muscle recovery can be obtained easily with a lightweight, handheld instrument. Various scientific studies have also been conducted about this massage technique.


In a 2014 large-scale study, the effects of percussive therapy and massage were compared by scientific experts. The research consisted of 45 female subjects, divided into three groups. One for traditional massage, another for percussive therapy. The last group would experience neither of the two, for full contrast. 


Eventually, percussive therapy's effects were proven to be at par with a traditional massage. Even after 72 hours, its impact remained consistent. The research study also noted how it helps with quick muscle recovery. With this type of muscle therapy, DOMS and other related muscle pains are guaranteed to be reduced and easily prevented. 

How Massage Guns became the Modern Solution

Moving towards the 21st century, the idea of self-massage rolled in and became a lasting trend. Everyone's looking for convenience now. And really, who isn't? Instead of going to a massage therapist, we would rather get our soothing experience at home or the gym. 


This global demand was finally met when the massage gun came out in 2008. Jason Werseland, an LA-based chiropractor, figured out how to combine recovery and ease of use in one tool. As a result, massage guns are meant to be carried and used anywhere, anytime.


It became the modern therapy device that everyone's looking for. As mentioned in a 2017 analysis, percussive massage is effective post-workout. It can reduce DOMS substantially and improve muscle performance. 

What are the Benefits of Percussive Therapy through Massage Guns?

The advantages of using a percussive massager are made for anyone. It doesn't matter if you're an athlete training for the Olympics or an office desk worker busy with an 8-hour shift. Percussive therapy through massage guns can be the right fit for you. To know more here's an honest take on the pros and cons of this massage method. 

Excellent Pros of Percussive Therapy

  • It decreases muscle soreness, pain, and stiffness in an instant.
  • The repetitive pulses promote your body's blood circulation.
  • Better blood flow means oxygen and nutrients traveling quickly, leading to a faster recovery period.
  • It helps in improving the lymphatic flow, which flushes out all the toxins in your system.
  • It enhances physical mobility and muscle performance with constant use.
  • Your flexibility and range of motion can also level up.
  • If you've experienced any muscle trauma or injury, percussive therapy can help you get back on track.
  • According to an observational study in 2013, this massage method is completely safe for individuals with moderate to severe chronic conditions. Moreover, the study confirmed that their chronic symptoms could improve after three months of percussive therapy.

Potential Cons of Percussive Therapy

  • Playing doctor is never a good idea. If you have a pre-existing condition, it's best to consult your physician before trying a percussive massager. 
  • Not learning how to use the device properly might aggravate your muscle soreness instead of relieving it. Make sure to double-check your instruction manual before using  the device.
  • Depending on its design, percussive massagers might be too bulky or noisy for your liking. Before getting one, check if it's quiet, ergonomic, and fit for your needs.

How to Use a Massage Gun Effectively?

Now that you've learned how massage guns work and their scientific history, how do you use them effectively? 

Turn the Massage Gun on for Your Warm-Up

Massage guns are relatively easy to integrate into your fitness regimen. For one, it's recommended to use it before a workout as part of your warm-up routine. According to a recent 2020 study, utilizing percussive therapy before working out can lead to improved flexibility. As a positive result, there will be less risk of injuries and a better range of motion during your session.

Let Yourself Cool Down

In contrast with waking up your muscles, it can also help you relax. After your exercise, a massage gun is optimal for your cooldown. Every targeted pulse it sends out ensures that your body isn't too tight or tense. It also allows you to recover from muscle pains, ultimately preventing DOMS to persist any longer. 

Short Intervals are Better for the Long Run

The duration of your percussive therapy session also matters. As stated earlier, use the massage gun in short 2-minute intervals. Letting it pulse for more than 10 minutes will be too much for your sore muscles. In the end, you don't want to make the pain worse.

In Conclusion

Getting a massage gun can be the long-awaited solution for your muscle pain issues.. It's not only a futuristic take on percussive therapy,  it's scientifically proven to be effective. With its tried and tested perks, you can rely on this percussive invention to boost your fitness level.


Now, how to get the perfect massage gun for you?


Remember, when you're looking for the best massage gun, see if it has features suited to your needs. It's supposed to be an adaptable device, after all. For example, a massage gun can have various attachment heads, speed settings, and more. It also needs to be ergonomic for your comfort.


More importantly, check out reviews about it first. Does the massage gun brand have positive feedback? What are people saying about the quality of the device? Scan through the customer ratings and what they say about the brand. After all, their satisfaction can also be yours. 

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References:

  1. 5 Science-backed Reasons Why Percussive Therapy is Good for You - Link
  2. Understanding Post-Workout Muscle Soreness: When Is It Too Much? - Link
  3. The Science and Application of Vibration Training and Therapy - Link
  4. Do Massage Guns work? Scientific Research Summary - Link
  5. Massage Guns: Experts break down how they work and what to buy - Link
  6. To Compare the Effect of Vibration therapy and Massage in Prevention of Delayed On-set Muscle Soreness (DOMS) - Link
  7. Effects of Vibration Rolling with and without Dynamic Muscle Contraction on Ankle Range of Motion, Proprioception, Muscle Strength, and Agility in Young Adults; A Crossover Study - Link
  8. The Science of Percussive Massage Tools - Link
  9. Massage Alleviates Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness after Strenuous Exercise: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis - Link
  10. Chiropractor Massager - Link
  11. Tapotement - Link
  12. A Quantative Investigation on the Effects of Tapotement (Sports Massage) on Physical Performance (Agility T-Test) - Link
  13. Do Massage Guns Really Work? - Link
  14. Effects of whole-body vibration on blood flow and neuromuscular activity in spinal cord injury - Link
  15. Safety and Effectiveness of Vibration Massage by Deep Oscillations: A Prospective Observational Study - Link