Massage Guns: Do They Live Up To The Hype?
Ever Wondered Why There’s So Much Hype Surrounding Massage Guns? How are massage guns used for rehabilitation and performance following injury?
Over the past 2-4 years, massage guns have risen in popularity, partly due to huge marketing campaigns from many hundreds of companies that have brought them to market and partly due to the global pandemic kickstarting people's fitness regimes that were stuck at home and wanted to begin new exercise regimes. For many, exercise regimes ramped up quickly in intensity, but as the majority of 'close contact' services were unavailable, seeing an injury professional was incredibly difficult. This is where the massage guns relished! They gave the active person what they wanted, temporary 'muscle pain relief' on demand, but as we fast forward to today, more research has been conducted and we now have a better understanding of the potential benefits of owning a massage gun.
What are the claimed benefits?
There are lots of claimed benefits across the massage gun industry. Bear in mind some companies invented their own technology and marketed the product as an addition to their other existing healthcare business products. At this time, there would have been a lot of market research and product development to build the products for a specific reason, optimising the percussion intensities and modes on the products etc. These devices were typically the more expensive massage gun options; whereas the massage guns that have since become widely available at a fraction of the cost on many websites are imitation products. Whilst there may not be much difference between the innovators' and the imitators' products, the marketing messages have varied a lot! Typically the imitators throw around wild and farfetched benefits just to get the sales in which has ultimately led to confusion and misinformation around these devices. So what are the genuine benefits of using a massage gun and what has been discovered so far?
Acute Range of motion improvements
In a study by Konrad et al. 2022, the researchers compared the effects of 5 minutes of usage with a massage gun on the calf muscles and compared it to a control group. The study found that using the massage gun brought on a temporary increase in range of motion without any changes to muscle strength. (Hint-If you want the same benefits, they spent the first two minutes 30 seconds on the inside of the calf- the medial gastrocnemius head, followed by 2 minutes 30 seconds on the outer calf- the lateral gastrocnemius head).
Reduced Perception of pain
Percussion therapy can desensitise the nervous system. As with many other therapies that involve touch, the massage guns percussion mechanism can desensitise the nervous system, which can mainly be explained by a reduction in pain perception (Cheatham et al., 2019)
There are lots of other claims made by massage gun companies, but none of which have much substance or evidence, therefore I haven't given these a mention. So let's look at some positives and potential negatives of using a massage gun.
1: Quick way of increasing range of motion, without loss of strength.
2: Can reduce the perception of pain.
3: Easy to use, point and press on the sore muscles.
1: It's difficult to regulate pressure and anatomy knowledge is crucial to get the most from these devices.
2: The benefit of seeing a therapist isn't always their hands on skills, but their knowledge of where to target, the settings to use these devices in, and the timing of when to implement different therapies. Not every injury or situation requires percussion therapy, therefore in the wrong hands, massage guns can cause more problems than they can fix.
3: We don't know how long the range of motion benefits last, most research suggests that it is acute in duration.
Is it worth owning a massage gun?
By now, you may be wondering if it's worth buying a massage gun or maybe if it's worth dusting yours off and putting it on charge after months without use (if you bought one during the hype) As with most therapy and performance tools, everything has its place. Some are crucial and others are best off in the bin. A massage gun does not belong in the bin but it may not be the super multiuse tool you thought it was when you purchased it.
It is worthwhile having one if you are athletic (after all, the studies mentioned in this article have only focussed on collegiate aged athletes), train 3-4 x per week, and take your exercise seriously, but I would not recommend using it as a substitute for seeing a sports therapist or injury professional when you get an injury as knowledge is far more valuable than any therapeutic tool by itself.
The massage gun is a nice addition to any other therapy related tools you may have, but it should not be a replacement.
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