Are Massage Guns Legit? Cutting Through the Hype

Body aches and pains are a problem for many people, regardless of age. The aches could be from exercise as easily as it can be the result of regular everyday activities (text neck, anyone?) One fantastic way to ease the pain is through massage therapy.

Massage involves the manipulation of soft body tissues and has been practised around the world throughout history. It’s one of the earliest tools humans used for pain relief and has been proven to be beneficial in a wide range of conditions including arthritis, depression, autism, HIV, and cancer.

The many positive effects of massage therapy have led to massive growth in the massage industry. And because we are living in this technologically-advanced age, is it really any surprise that massage has gotten the “millennial upgrade” by way of massage guns?

What is a massage gun though? Is it legit? Is it another hyped-up fitness fad?

If you’re looking to get a massage gun in Australia, there are several brands out in the market right now. But are they even worth it and which is the best?

As the owner and founder of Human Fitness, a fitness facility that incorporates a broad range of fitness methods including CrossFit, my body has endured years of high stress and large volume. Not only that, a near life-threatening accident and long recovery, my body has certainly been through a lot. Of my extensive research and trial in aiding my recovery, the Hydragun has come out on top as the GOLD standard in massage guns. With a niggling knee issue recently after a heavy squat program, the Hydragun was the perfect recovery tool to get me back on track. I couldn’t have done my recovery without it.

Below we discuss the main benefits and aims of massage therapy…

#1 – Increase blood flow

The technology behind message guns is called “percussive therapy.” You may also see it referred to as percussion therapy or vibration therapy.

Now, first things first – percussion and vibration are two different things.

Vibration – shaking movements primarily meant to stimulate.

Percussion – pounding blows to the tissue of varying degrees of force, meant to penetrate deeply without bruising

While both result in increased temperature to the target area and thus produce higher temperatures that indicate increased blood flow, percussive therapy has the advantage of penetrating the muscles deeper. Why is this important?

Improved blood flow means better stimulation. It also means more oxygen- and nutrient-carrying blood reaches the muscles. This helps in recovery and repair.

There are many ways to increase blood flow, from compression garments to hot and cold packs to simply moving around. A massage gun simulates movement in target areas through the punching motions of its attachment head. It also does it in less amount of time as a typical session shouldn’t take longer than a couple of minutes per target area.

So true or false: Massage guns help increase blood flow? TRUE.

#2 – Remove lactic acid build-up

Intense exercise and physical activity can result in lactic acid build up.

When you exercise, your body will use ATP for energy. Unfortunately, it only takes around 15 seconds of exercise to deplete the body’s stored ATP. When this happens, the body will shift to using glucose for fuel in a process called glycolysis.

Because exercise also increases the body’s demand for oxygen, there may not be enough to complete glycolysis. This results in the creation of lactic acid which can accumulate and cause pain and a burning sensation in the muscles.

There is a long-held belief that massage helps in removing lactic acid and other toxins from the muscles. However, one limited study showed that contrary to belief, post-exercise massage does not help in lactic acid removal. In fact, lactic acid may not even be the bad guy in this scenario anyway.

True or false: Massage guns help remove lactic acid build-up? FALSE.

#3 – Reduce the effect of DOMS

Whether you’re an experienced athlete, a casual gym-goer or simply embarking on a lifestyle change journey, physical activity will stress your muscles and cause micro-tears in your muscle tissues. The effect is discomfort that increases within a 48-hour period after exercise. When inflammation also occurs, the discomfort can turn to pain. This is what’s commonly known as DOMS, or delayed onset muscle soreness.

Research has shown that massage is effective in restoring strength in these cases. But more importantly, the same study proved that vibration therapy can decrease the level of LDH (an enzyme present where there is tissue damage) and thus reduce soreness and pain within the same 48-hour window.

True or False: Massage guns reduce the effect of DOMS? TRUE.

#4 – Simulate the benefits of stretching

Stretching has many awesome benefits. It helps improve circulation, increase flexibility, and relieve tightness and tension. When muscles are tight, it can lead to imbalances and a higher risk of injury.

Massage meanwhile, helps by increasing blood flow and:

  • helps boost healing in strained muscles
  • reduces swelling
  • relieves muscle stiffness
  • reduces stress, fatigue, and anxiety

They seem the same, yes, but their purposes are different. Simply put, massage receives while stretching takes. What does that mean?

When undergoing massage therapy, the aim is relaxation and pain relief. It’s done to ease the knots and the kinks. It’s meant to loosen muscles and facilitate recovery. Stretching is the exact opposite. It’s more active. It engages the body as it works to elongate muscles and make them more pliant. It’s done not to relieve pain but to reduce injury risk.

So, true or false: Massage guns simulate stretching? FALSE.

What a massage gun does instead, is complement stretching activities. Regular massage helps in releasing trigger points and muscle spasms thus making stretching easier and more effective. And because they’re highly portable, convenient devices, massage guns will allow you to get the same benefits without the hassle of booking an appointment with a masseuse.

The Final Word – Are Massage Guns Legit?

A massage gun is not just another fitness trend. Many different studies have concluded that massage is beneficial for athletes and non-athletes alike. Massage guns, using percussive therapy to deliver deep tissue massage, reproduces that same effect.

However, not all massage guns are made equal. Factors like materials used and specifications result in a huge variance not just in price point but also in quality. What features should you look for in a good quality massage gun?

  • Amplitude – or how deep the heads hit. Anything less than 11mm might feel more like vibrations rather than percussion.
  • Stall force – or how much force can be applied before the device stops working. A higher stall force allows you to put more pressure and reach deeper areas. A good benchmark is around 30lbs.
  • RPM – or how many times the massage gun head can hit the target area every minute. Higher rpm generally means more intense stimulation.

There are also secondary factors like speed settings and the number of exchangeable attachment heads that allow for customization.

Be wary of a massage gun that makes unfounded claims to sell itself. These devices won’t completely eliminate muscle soreness. But, good quality ones will help reduce muscle tension, pain and inflammation and help you recover faster after intense workouts and physical activities.

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