You’re splayed out on the couch after a grueling hike/climb/workout. Your muscles are screaming for mercy.
You could try to Netflix through the pain, book a deep tissue massage for tomorrow, or reach for a recovery tool that soothes the ache ASAP and prevents soreness later.
Does that third option strike your fancy? Let’s take a look at the science of percussion therapy, plus how to properly use a massage gun.
Percussion therapy 101
What is percussion therapy?
Percussion therapy is a type of massage therapy designed to soothe sore muscles after intense workouts. It involves using a massage gun to rapidly strike muscle tissue, increasing blood flow for faster recovery, pain relief, and improved range of motion.
Does percussion therapy work?
Research is ongoing, but so far it seems like percussion therapy could help boost range of motion and prevent delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
How do you use a massage gun?
Most massage guns are designed to be held gently against your skin and moved up and down the length of a muscle for 30 seconds to 2 minutes. (This can be different for different models, though, so always follow your specific massage gun’s instructions for the best results.)
Percussion therapy (aka percussive therapy) is exactly what it sounds like: a type of rhythmic massage that pummels your soft tissue with rapid striking motions.
Why would you want to do that? It helps get your blood circulating to relieve post-workout soreness and speed up muscle recovery. Some folks also use it as a part of their exercise warmup.
Instead of a massage therapist’s hands, percussion therapy involves a massage gun. The DIY aspect has made the whole shebang wildly popular, especially in these pandemic times.
Percussion therapy is also similar to vibration therapy, which could include vibrating plates, foam rollers, or handheld devices. Massage guns take vibration to the next level by dialing up the pressure.
A DIY deep tissue massage available anytime, anywhere sounds like a dream. Research is still in progress, but so far science suggests that dreams might come true.
Here’s what we know about the benefits of massage guns.
May relieve tense, aching muscles
Shoulders knotted up after arm day? We see you.
Research hasn’t confirmed that percussion therapy can truly soothe painful post-workout stiffness. Some research way back in 1990 suggested that it didn’t speed up short-term recovery. But a much more recent 2019 study noted that percussion therapy “may be useful” against muscle fatigue.
So, what’s going on here? It seems like we still need more research to find out whether massage guns actually calm muscle inflammation or tightness. But lots of fans say it makes them feel better, so it could be worth a try.
Wanna feel better post-workout? Studies suggest that active recovery (keeping your body moving after your workout) can help you feel better and stronger after an intense workout. Among other benefits, this type of recovery promotes healthy circulation.
Massage, especially percussive massage, can also keep your blood moving. Vibration and gently pounding your muscles post-workout helps increase blood flow, which improves your muscle recovery.
Improves range of motion
Enthusiasts say their massage guns boost their range of motion. Science seems to agree.
One tiny 2020 study of 16 healthy men found that a 5-minute massage gun treatment on the calf muscle led to greater range of motion than simply resting for the same amount of time.
That’s not enough scientific evidence to say for sure, but it is promising. If you’re hoping to feel a little looser, a massage gun might be a great addition to your pre- and post-workout stretch sessions.
Might prevent DOMS
Ever felt great after a sweat sesh only to wake up sore and weak the next day? Blame delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
A 2014 study found that vibration therapy and massage are both effective at preventing DOMS. Researchers divided 45 healthy female participants into three groups:
- vibration therapy
- massage therapy
- no therapy
Those who received post-workout massages recovered their strength more quickly than the others. Those who received vibration therapy had less pain in the following days.
Since massage guns harness the power of vibration *and* massage, percussion therapy is like the ultimate form of DOMS prevention.
Helps you chill out ✌️
Post-workout tension headache? Ugh. Jelly legs after a weekend hike? Annoying AF.
Unless you find satisfaction in the muscle soreness earned through exercise, tight muscles probably make you cranky. And massage gun aficionados claim the treatment helps them relax. This super accessible form of self-massage may do the same for you.
Unfortunately, there’s no research linking percussion therapy to relaxation. This is a benefit you’ll just have to test for yourself.
You’re just five steps away from perfect form.
- Turn on the device.
- Gently hold the massage gun to the area you want to treat (shoulders, glutes, hammies, and quads are stellar places to start).
- Breathe deeply as you slowly move the massage gun up and down the muscle.
- Feel free to pause over any areas that feel tense. No need to press down on the knots — just let the device do its thing.
- Aim for 30 seconds to 2 minutes per muscle group.
Massage guns are super nifty, but they’re not meant to be used over your *entire* aching body. Never use a percussion therapy tool on:
- bruises or sprains
- open wounds or injured areas with swelling
- your spine (Use a forked attachment head for a safe middle back massage!)
- joints (like your knees, elbows, or ankles)
If you enjoy deep tissue massages on the reg, chances are you’ll love a massage gun too. Even if you don’t have a massage therapist on speed dial, a massage gun might be the tension-melting ticket for relief after an intense workout.
But there aren’t any widely established guidelines for how to use these devices. Too much pressure, poor form, or the wrong attachment head could end up hurting instead of helping your muscles.
Massage guns might also be bad news for folks who bruise easily or have a bone or joint issue. You’ll prob be better off with a gentler muscle therapy if you have any of these conditions:
- blood clotting issues
If you’re serious about dropping cash on a massage gun, it’s a good idea to chat with a doctor or physical therapist first. Discuss your workout routine, your expectations, and any possible risks before adding the device to your routine.
Percussion therapy certainly isn’t the only way to soothe aching muscles, boost your range of motion, and speed up recovery.
- Try foam rolling. Research suggests that breaking out a foam roller can soothe sore muscles and help you recover joint stability more quickly.
- Pack some protein. A 2014 research review suggests that pre-workout protein can help your body start rebuilding muscle *during* your sweat sesh. Post-exercise protein helps keep the process going.
- Wear compression clothes. Working out in compression shorts, leggings, or unitards is more than just a lewk. Science says it promotes muscle recovery!
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. H2O is crucial for feeling great during and after a workout.
- Schedule rest days. Sometimes you just need a vacay. And so do your muscles! Overtraining can impact your physical performance and may even affect your immune system.
- Percussion therapy can be beneficial for releasing or preventing workout-related muscle tension.
- Percussion therapy devices (aka massage guns) can also improve flexibility and range of motion.
- Some folks say massage guns are pretty darn relaxing.
- If you have an injury or a musculoskeletal condition, talk with your doc before incorporating percussion therapy into your recovery routine.