Benefits of a Percussion Massager – Everything You Must Know About Using One

If you are a fitness fanatic or a gym buff, you may have seen a massager being used in the gym that looks like a power drill. It is called a percussion massager.

You may also have heard the buzz it has been making on social media and fitness blogs and would like to learn more about it. Perhaps you are looking for ways to relieve those stiff, sore muscles.

If you’re curious, this article will aim to tell you everything you need to know about the percussion massager and percussive massage therapy. We will cover in detail what a percussion massager is, the benefits of using a percussion massager, who should and should not use it, and essential guidelines on its use. Let’s get to it!

 

 

What is a Percussion Massage?

Percussion or percussive massage is a kind of treatment that penetrates through deep tissues by rapid, short strikes to soft muscle groups. It aims to provide relaxation and pain relief to tight and sore muscles, reduce muscle fatigue, and improve muscular function and performance.

A therapist can do this through the manual delivery of percussion strokes via quick, fast strikes from the hands and wrists. The video below shows how a therapist can deliver a percussive massage.

Percussive Massage with Martin Morrissey

The benefit of a dedicated percussion massager (also known as a percussive massage gun), is that it can be reduce the effort involved in applying a percussion massage and can also be used by an individual on their own body.

 

How Does a Percussion Massager Work?

A percussion massager is a handheld motor-powered tool that often comes with several attachments or interchangeable heads of varying sizes and firmness to address different muscle groups.

Most percussion massagers can be adjusted to various frequencies and intensities to suit the user’s needs. You might want a greater frequency if you are going to massage the bigger sets of muscles like your hamstrings and glutes and medium to lower frequency for smaller muscle sets like triceps and biceps.

The head of the massager moves in a back and forth motion. These rapid, vertical strokes from the massage head penetrate deep into the muscle. This enables the tool to target deep mechanoreceptors and create neuromuscular responses.

It targets specific trigger points, which enables it to release tight muscles and fascia (myofascial release). The fast, deep strokes also increase blood circulation to the particular area, which speeds up recovery and promotes tissue repair and growth.

Percussion Massager Infographic

 

Benefits of Using a Percussion Massager

There are a number of benefits to be had with using a percussion massager:

1. A Percussion Massager Provides Deep, Targeted Myofascial Release

A percussion massager helps relax tight muscles and thickened connective tissue (fascia). Fascia may thicken over time, which makes it less pliable. This may cause pain and discomfort. The rapid striking motion of a percussion massager provides deep, targeted myofascial release.

In simpler terms, you will most likely have sore or stiff muscles after a workout and a percussion massager will help loosen up the stiffness and relief the pain.

A vibration massager can replace foam rolling in reaching difficult to target areas. It can really help when foam rolling can’t give you the pressure you need.

2. Percussion Massagers are Portable and Easy to Use

Most percussion massagers weigh between 2 and 3 pounds. They will fit nicely in your gym bag and can be brought with you to wherever you want. An additional bonus is that it doesn’t require you to lie on the floor and saves the need of carrying a mat if you don’t need one for your workout.

3. A Percussive Massage can Improve Sleep

Massages, in general, have been proven to improve the quality and length of sleep. Muscle relaxation aids in reducing stress and anxiety, relaxing both the mind and the body, which may impact sleep quality.

A percussive massage also reduces tension and stress. Using a percussive massager properly can help downregulate the nervous system1, which produces a calming and relaxing effect, helping you wind down.

Percussion Massager for Athletes
A Percussion Massager in Action

4. A Percussive Massage Improves Venous and Lymphatic Circulation in Muscle Tissues

The quick strikes of a percussion massager stimulate your circulatory system. Improving circulation removes lactic acid build-up in the muscle, which may decrease soreness, especially after a workout. Better circulation also aids in nutrient transport and helps in the elimination of toxic wastes from muscle tissues.

5. Percussive Massage can Increase Flexibility and Range of Motion

Supple and relaxed muscles mean increased flexibility. Using a percussion massager helps stretch muscles, which improves flexibility.

Studies have shown that using percussion massagers causes an immediate increase in range of motion2 in muscles. This is very similar to conventional massage provided by therapists.

 

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6. Percussion Massager Helps Breaks Scar Tissue and Adhesions

Adhesions are fibrous tissue that forms between soft tissues such as muscle and organs due to injury or surgery. A percussion massager performs targeted myofascial release, which elongates muscle fibers and stretches fascia to break down scar tissue brought about by injury or post-surgery.

7. A Percussion Massager can Help Reduce Cellulite

Research shows that vibration massage therapy can help reduce cellulite 3 . A percussion massager‘s vibrations may help break up fat cells or cellulite found under the skin (which look like dimples), resulting in smoother skin.

8. May Prevent Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

A study found that both vibration therapy and massage are effective in preventing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)4. Both these treatments are provided by a percussion massager.

Woman using a percussion massager

 

Who Should Use a Percussion Massager?

A percussion massager is designed to be used by anybody. However, it is popular among those with very active lifestyles like marathoners and athletes.

You might say, But I am not active in sports! Don’t worry. You don’t have to be active in sports to use one. Percussive massage is for anyone who wants to prevent injury, heal old ones, relieve soreness and tightness, or just someone who wants to live a healthier lifestyle.

However, it is a good practice to ask your doctor or any professional (such as fitness coaches, movement specialists, and physical therapists) before you purchase and use one.

 

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Who Should Not Use It? Contraindications on the Use of the Massager

While it’s tempting to use the tool on the emergence of any form of muscle pain and discomfort, there are cases when it may be better to hold off on using a massage gun. The use of this tool is contraindicated against people with certain conditions.

A woman using a percussion massager

  • Muscle strains. The intensity the tool puts on the strained muscle might only cause further injury to the damaged tissue due to probable microtears. There are, however, a limited number of studies that include percussion therapy or percussive therapy as part of the treatment plan for strains.5 It is best to consult with your practitioner if you are planning to use it for strains.
  • Sprains. Sprains are torn or stretched ligaments generally caused by overstretching. Do not use the massager on sprains, especially immediately after an injury. While some allow you to use a massager over sprains while still healing, it is best to ask your practitioner what is best to do.
  • Inflammation. Do not use the tool on any inflamed area, whether to a tendon, fascia, or connective tissue.
  • Varicose veins. Do not run the tool over areas with varicose veins. These veins are fragile, which might lead to the tear of the vessel. Worse, if there is a clot in the vein, vigorous massaging of the area might cause the clot to be dislodged and cause a blockage to smaller vessels. This may cause stroke and heart attack. Similarly, if you are on blood thinners or have bleeding disorders, using the tool may lead to bruises.
  • Edema. While massage is indicated to reduce edema or swelling due to excess fluids in tissues, percussion massage is not used to treat edema.
  • Chronic conditions. It is best to ask your practitioner before using a percussive massager if you have chronic conditions, including cardiovascular problems such as hypertension, autoimmune diseases, circulatory disorders, arthritis, or other joint disorders.
  • Skin disorders. Open wounds and sores, and skin conditions that make your skin brittle are contraindicated against the use of this high-impact tool.

 

Real Life Benefits of Using a Percussion Massager

So far, you have heard from an Occupational Therapist about the benefits of using a percussion massager. We also spoke to a user who swears by his percussion massager – Gaurav, one of the editors of Helpandwellness.com. This is what he had to say about using his percussion massager almost every day:

Standing Desk and Percussion Massager – Two Unlikely Allies

As a population, we are increasingly leading sedentary lives. Sitting slouched on a computer desk for long periods of time is fairly common these days. And my life is no different. As a blogger, banging away on a keyboard for 8 to 10 hours a day is par for the course for me.

So to make my working hours more active, I invested in a standing desk. But one week into using a standing desk, I realized that it is not easy standing all day long. By the end of my workday, my calves were crying for some rest and those hamstrings were begging for mercy.

Google comes to the rescue

Like any millennial, I consulted my first port of call, Dr Google. After spending 30 minutes on the search engine, I had come to the following conclusions:

a. Using a standing desk is much better than sitting all day on a chair, however ergonomic it be

b. I need to take frequent breaks, ideally every hour by moving around and sitting down for a few minutes

c. Things will get better as my standing muscles get exercised more and more

d. A good 15-minute massage at the end of the day will take care of those sore calves and hamstrings and will have me ready to face the evening, whether it be household chores or spending some time letting my hair down with friends at the bar

Cost Effective Massage

Now everything suggested by Google was fairly easy to do except for getting a massage. How do I get a quick 15-minute massage at home?

So I decided to ask Google a new question – how to get a cost-effective massage at home?

And after wading through many product options, I was led to something called a percussion massage gun.

Massage Guns – An Easy Way to Get Deep Tissue Massage at Home

It took me another 30 minutes to finish my research on massage guns and how they are ideal for a deep tissue massage. One hour of research and the answer to my problem of having sore legs after standing all day was in front of me.

All I needed was a percussion massager (also known as a massage gun) and spend 15 minutes with it at the end of the day. An hour back I didn’t even know that this product existed. And I was now hooked. I had to get one.

My Choice – The Hydragun

Given that some time back, I did not even know that this product existed, I was surprised to find that they were selling like hot cakes online. Some of the products had thousands of very positive reviews.

I settled on the Hydragun. I liked it for its features – quiet operation and long battery life and went ahead and ordered it.

I was pleasantly surprised when it arrived in a beautiful matt finish box. Everything about the massage gun screamed luxury. From its packing to its carry case to the massager itself. I was floored.

My Experience with a Percussion Massager

As I started using my percussion massager every day, I could see that I was not as sore as I used to be at the end of the day. It allows me to spend longer hours standing, working on my laptop. Also, a good massage to the legs with it makes sure that I am relaxed and ready to face the evening head-on.

Because I spend hours every day working on my computer, I feel that getting a standing desk and a massage gun were the best decisions I made as far as my health is concerned. I only wish I knew about percussion massagers sooner.

Nevertheless, now, I can’t imagine my evenings without curling up on my couch, plugged into my favorite music, and giving my leg muscles a nice long massage with my Hydragun.

Frequently Asked Questions on the Use of Percussion Massagers

While a percussion massager is a great tool, it can cause problems if not used properly. Using it can provide benefits if you’re using it in the right place and for the right reasons. This section will give you answers to commonly asked questions such as how and when to use the massager. Also included are general guidelines that you should know before using one.

Q. How does a personal percussion massager compare to a traditional massage with a licensed massage therapist?

The benefits of using a percussion massager on oneself are cost, and the benefit of self-awareness of your body through sensation.

Massage therapy with a licensed therapist is excellent and a great way to recover, though the cost of seeing one regularly can quickly add up, whereas most percussion massagers cost within $200 and can be used repeatedly for the life of the product. 

In addition, as an individual using a massager on their own body is in control of the massage, they can quickly respond and adjust the massage according to how they feel, the regions of muscle tightness or muscle spasm they feel have the most tension, and regions of discomfort.

The cons of using a percussion massager on oneself are where licensed therapists come in. Most folks who will use a personal massager will not have professional knowledge of which soft tissue or tight muscle regions are best to target and where muscle tension and knots form and what they feel like, whereas therapists are experienced here. Professional therapists also have techniques beyond just percussion to help relieve that tension and those knots, as well as the ability to reach areas like the back that are not reachable by an individual conducting a personal massage.

A woman using a percussion massager

Q. Can I Use a Percussion Massager on Myself?

As cited in The Washington Post, Dr. Alan Novick, a physical medicine & rehabilitation specialist in Hollywood, it is best to use the tool on yourself so that you can immediately respond to your own feedback on the amount of pressure. You can quickly stop if you feel any pain or if you’ve hit a bone or nerve. It will be more difficult to reach areas around the spine, so a back massage with a percussion massager is better done by a physical therapist or peer. 

 

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Q. How Do I Use a Percussion Massager?

  1. Position it away from your body before turning it on. Turn it on and adjust the frequency and amplitude as necessary.
  2. Rest the massager over the body. Glide it slowly along the muscles.
  3. Rest the massager on the area (including the area surrounding it) that you feel needs more attention.

Q. General Guidelines on the Use of a Percussion Massager

  1. Don’t use the percussion massager on bones, joints, and nerves as this can cause aggravation and pain. It is meant to be used over muscles to reach deep tissues.
  2. Do not use it on areas with decreased sensitivity.
  3. Do not exert extra force when using it. Do not push it into the skin. Simply place it over the area and allow the heads to do the work.
  4. Avoid staying in one area for too long. Move the massager around various areas instead of keeping it in one spot for too long as this may cause bruising.
  5. Ease into it. If you are new with the massager, slowly build tolerance by starting on lighter speeds and intensities.
  6. When in doubt or unsure, ask your doctor or your physical therapist about any concerns you have!

Q. When Should I Use My Percussion Massager?

  1. Pre-workout. Using the massager can improve the muscles’ flexibility and help reduce the likelihood of acquiring an injury.
  2. During your workout. If your muscles feel a bit tight, you can use the massager in between sets for a few seconds to keep them loose.
  3. Post-workout. A percussion massager offers the best results after a workout. Use it on muscle groups that you’ve worked out on to relieve soreness and prevent DOMS.

 

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Parting Words – A New Trend in Self Massage

Using a percussion massager is fairly easy and straightforward, and it can be used not only by massage therapists on their clients, but also by individuals on themselves. Purchasing one can be enticing once you learn about its potential benefits for your health.

However, as with any other tool, it is best used with caution, proper knowledge, and approval from a health professional. You may have the best tool for a certain treatment, but without knowledge of its proper usage, you won’t be able to maximize it. Worse, you may only cause further harm to yourself than good. We hope this article has been a helpful at introducing the percussion massager and guiding you on your way to using one for yourself.

 

References

  1. https://www.cnet.com/health/how-to-use-a-theragun/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6560364/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3939523/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3939523/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3711703/
  6. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/wellness/can-a-massage-gun-fill-in-for-your-therapist-heres-what-you-need-to-know/2020/04/22/7b634b0c-8350-11ea-878a-86477a724bdb_story.html