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

If you are a fitness fanatic or a gym buff, you’ve probably seen a massager in the gym that looked like a power drill. It is called a percussion massager.

You’ve probably heard the buzz it has been making on social media and fitness blogs and wanted to learn more about it. Or maybe, you’re merely looking for ways to relieve those stiff, sore muscles.

If you’re curious, this article will tell you everything you need to know about a percussion massager. 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 on 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

A more popular choice for percussion massage, though, is to use a percussion massager, also known as a massage gun.

What does a Percussion Massager (Massage Gun) Do?

A percussion massager is a handheld motor-powered tool that 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 amplitudes 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 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 many reasons why you should use a percussion massager. Here are some of the benefits of using one:

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 English, you will most likely have sore or stiff muscles after a workout and a percussion massager will help loosen up the stiffness.

A percussion massager can replace foam rollers in reaching difficult to target areas. It can really help when foam rollers 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 go with you, where you want. An additional bonus – 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 percussion massager properly can help downregulate the nervous system1, which produces a calming and relaxing effect, helping you overall 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.

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 breakdown scar tissue brought about by injury or post-surgery.

7. A Percussion Massager can Help Reduce Cellulite

Research shows that vibration therapy can help reduce cellulite3. 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 (DOMS)

A study found that both vibration therapy and massage are effective in preventing DOMS4. 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.

Who Can’t Use It? Contraindications on the Use of the Massager

While it’s tempting to use the tool on the emergence of any form of discomfort and pain, there are cases when you shouldn’t use 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 vibration 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 massager if you have chronic conditions. These include cardiovascular problems such as hypertension, autoimmune diseases, circulatory disorders, arthritis, 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, 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 is good if you’re using it in the right place. 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.

A woman using a percussion massager

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 to have feedback on the amount of pressure. You can quickly stop once you feel any pain or if you’ve hit a nerve.

How Do I Use a Percussion Massager?

  1. Place 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.

General Guidelines on the Use of a Percussion Massager

  1. Don’t use the percussion massager on bones, joints, and nerves. 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 add pressure 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 staying 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!

When do I Use a 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.

Percussion Massagers – Parting Words

Using a percussion massager is pretty easy and straightforward. Purchasing one is very enticing especially once you know its benefits for your health. However, as with any other tool, it is best used with caution, proper knowledge, and consent from a health professional.

You may have the best tool, 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.

 

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
About Rachel Ann

Rachel Ann Tee-Melegrito is a licensed Occupational Therapist in the Philippines and in the United States. She has a Masters in Education with a major in Child Development and Education. She currently teaches at one of the top 4 universities in the Philippines. An INFJ-T, Rachel is introverted yet idealistic, a perfectionist yet also a sensitive, empathetic person. She is a creative individual who loves learning, reading, designing, and writing. She lives in the Philippines with Kenn, her husband, Cali, their daughter, and Pepper, their Mini Schnauzer.