PERCUSSIVE MASSAGE

All You Need To Know

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by Matthew Henderson, MPT

Masters of Physical Therapy

Updated: Nov 9th, 2022

Jump to The Best Percussive Massage Devices

Percussive massage devices use rapid, repetitive strokes to target deep tissue. Often effective at providing pain relief, but there are also some potential drawbacks to consider. 

PROS AND CONS

PROS

When used properly percussive massage devices have the potential to reduce pain, improve flexibility, and promote mobility. Simple to use. They never get tired. And the evidence of their effectiveness is growing.

CONS

For some individuals they can be jarring and uncomfortable. Additionally, if the device is not used correctly, there is a risk of causing bruising or other injuries to the skin. Depending on the model, they can be fairly expensive.

THE EVIDENCE

EVIDENCE RATING: GOOD

While the evidence to support percussive massage devices is limited to date, early studies have been promising. One such study found significantly improved range-of-motion after using these type of devices (1). Another found the efficacy of using a percussive gun was comparable to 5-minutes of static stretching (2). Particularly promising was a case study conducted by Patel and Patel in 2020 (3), where the effect of the Theragun device on back flexibility was explored. After one week of 5-minute daily hamstring and lower back massage using the Theragun, the rating of perceived pain decreased from 8 to 2 after one week of using the device. These results suggest that the Theragun is an effective tool for improving flexibility and reducing pain perception. In addition, a comprehensive literature review concluded that percussive massage devices "may be implemented as part of a rehabilitation program post injury due to their ability to increase range of motion and reduce perceived pain and muscle soreness."(4) Anecdotally a large number of people report significant pain relief, and therapeutic massage has a good body of evidence. All things considered, we rated the current evidence supporting the use of percussive massage devices as GOOD.

REFERENCED STUDIES

1. The Acute Effects of a Percussive Massage Treatment with a Hypervolt Device on Plantar Flexor Muscles’ Range of Motion and Performance. J Sports Sci Med. 2020 Dec; 19(4): 690–694. 2. Effect of Local Vibration on Triceps Surae Flexibility Compared to Static Stretching. J Kor Phys Ther 2020;32(4):245-249 3. Patel, R., & Patel, A. (2020). Effect of theragun on the improvement of back flexibility: A case study. J Appl Dent Med Sci, 19(5), 15-6. 4. A critical evaluation of percussion muscle gun therapy as a rehabilitation tool focusing on lower limb mobility. A literature review. Jack Martin, Department of Health and Wellbeing. University of winchester

HOW TO USE

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APPLYING SAFELY

To get the most out of your device, it is important to use it correctly. First, start by applying the device to a bare or lightly clothed area. Use slow, consistent strokes, and avoid putting too much pressure on any one spot. Stay on the muscle tissue. Avoid bony areas. If you feel any nerve sensations (numbness, tingling) shift it immediately. And of course, avoid using the device over open wounds or on broken skin. We found no consensus on how often or for how long to use these devices. We did note Theragun's website states you should use it for a minimum of 15 seconds and a maximum of 2 minutes per muscle group. Repeat 2-3 times per day. We think this is reasonable guidance for now.

PRECAUTIONS

While percussive massage devices offer a variety of benefits, there are certain contraindications to their use: ​People with pacemakers or other electrical implants should not use these devices, as the vibrations can interfere with the functioning of the implant. Individuals who have bleeding disorders or are taking blood thinners should avoid using these devices, as the massage can cause bruising. People with osteoporosis or fragile bones should also use caution, as the vibrations could lead to fractures. Pregnant women should avoid using percussive massage devices, as the vibrations could be harmful to the developing fetus. We would also recommend against using these devices immediately after a significant injury. While most people can safely use these devices, it is important to consult with a healthcare provider before using one.

CONCLUSIONS

There is growing evidence that these devices can be effective at reducing pain and improving function, however, they are still fairly new. If you decide to try a percussive massage device, be sure to start on a low setting to assess how your body responds.

THE BEST

Theragun   |   Homedics   |   HyperVolt

 

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Our favorite, the HoMedics Active Fit Therapist plus, has the best blend of quality, cost, and effectiveness. This portable massager has six adjustable speeds, up to 3,000 ppm, making it perfect for a variety of needs. The ergonomic handle and LCD touch screen make it easy to use, and the rechargeable battery lasts for 4 hours. At less than a pound, it was also one of the lightest models.

 

​The six interchangeable heads include flat with large round, small round, wedge, acupressure, u-shape, and trigger point. We are surprised as the level of quality at such a reasonable price point. Highly recommend.

 

​PROS

  • Great value

  • Adjustable speeds and intensity levels

  • LCD light easy to see/use

  • Easy to use

  • Plenty of battery life

  • Multiple inter-changeable heads

  • Lightweight

 

​CONS
- Doesn't come with a carrying case
- Come with a USB-C cord but not the adapter

An excellent and well built product. The Elite is in the middle-tier of Theragun's offerings (yes they get more expensive.) We have no idea why you'd need to upgrade. Even on its lowest speed setting, the Elite was able to relieve deep tissue pain and muscle tension quickly and effectively. Very quiet.

The triangle design allows you to position your hand to easily reach back, neck and leg muscles. It comes with one battery, as opposed to the Pro's two, but you will still get enough power for 10-15 standard sessions per charge.

Let's not forget about the app. Turning on the Theragun Elite automatically connects the device via Bluetooth the the Therapy App. It's extremely useful. You can instantly pull of a preview of a specific region of the body, which shows the attachments you'll need, and an estimation of massage time. Once the area is selected, you hit the start button, and the Elite will automatically fire at the recommended PPM (Pulse Per Minute.) The app also shows the little things: a force meter showing when the appropriate amount of pressure is being applied, a few stretches to incorporate after the massage (you know we love that!), and even a recommended grip position.

You may find it hard to justify the expense of the Theragun Elite, but with it's step-by-step guidance and personalized programming, the Elite delivers on the potential to improve your range-of-motion, flexibility and reduce pain. The only reason it wasn't our top pick was the price premium was just a tad too high compared to the HoMedics option. 

PROS

  • Triangle design for easy gripping

  • Very quiet and well-built

  • User friendly app

  • Grip position recommendations

  • Personalized programming

  • Step-by-step guidance

  • Multiple heat attachments

CONS

  • A bit heavy at 2 lbs

  • Higher cost

Looking for a powerful yet portable massager that can keep up with your active lifestyle? Look no further than the EKRIN 37S Mini. This little powerhouse packs a punch, with 30% more power than comparable massagers on the market. It hints at where these devices are headed in the future. 

The variable frequency and five speed settings let you customize your massage experience, while the six attachments provide targeted relief for different areas of the body. And thanks to the ultra-quiet technology, you can enjoy your massage anywhere, anytime without disturbing those around you. Plus, the included travel case makes it easy to take your EKRIN 37S Mini on the go. This company also has a reputation for excellent customer service.

PROS

  • Compact but good power

  • Perfect for traveling

  • Easy to hold

  • Variable frequency

  • 5-speed settings

  • Six-attachments

  • Ultra-quiet

CONS

  • Not quite as powerful 

  • Cost