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Do Massage Guns work? Scientific Research Summary

Do massage gun work? Self-massage guns and vibrating massage tools are taking over the athlete warm-up and recovery world. Seemingly overnight every athlete that I work with as a Strength and Conditioning Coach now has some sort of self-massaging piece of equipment. People swear by massage gun’s ability to decrease muscle knots, improve flexibility and make the body feel better in general. But the question remains, do massage gun work? Or do massage gun companies just have great marketing teams?

Do Massage Guns ACTUALLY Work?

Scientific studies have not reached a conclusion on the question of do massage gun work nor if vibration guns or vibration therapy help you recover from exercise. However, a number of studies suggest vibration therapy/massage guns increase blood flow to muscles, increase joint range of motion and can reduce muscle soreness from exercise (DOMS). Vibrating recovery tools are, therefore, worthwhile strategies to include in your recovery program.

Do Massage Guns Help with Recovery?

Marketing of massage guns and other vibrating recovery instruments focus on their ability to help with recovery after exercise. As I’ve written about before, we actually get stronger from our workouts and training in the time between training sessions. Therefore, quicker recovery from training and more consistent training will lead to larger improvements in fitness.

Typically, our muscles are sore after workouts, and our body releases chemicals in our blood that indicate muscle damage. These chemicals are signals to the body that we need to rebuild our muscles stronger. 

Practical strategies are needed to relieve acute exercise-induced fatigue and maintain muscular performance capacity during exercise/competitive sports.

Scientific studies usually focus on muscle soreness and chemical markers of muscle damage when assessing the usefulness of recovery tools like massage guns.

So, how do massage gun work?

The Impact of Massage Guns on Muscle Soreness and Range of Motion

Massage gun on thigh muscle

The impact of vibration therapy and massage guns on muscle soreness and range of motion is well researched. The research overwhelmingly supports the effectiveness of vibration therapy and massage guns for decreasing muscle soreness after workouts and increasing range of motion at joints. 

A recent meta-analysis analyzed the results from 10 different research studies and found that muscle pain was significantly lower 24, 48, and 72 hours after exercise when people used vibration therapy to help recover. The biggest difference in muscle soreness between those that did and didn’t use vibration therapy was seen at the 48-hour mark (Lu et al., 2019).

A number of other studies have shown that localized vibration therapy, like what massage guns provide, lead to early reduction of pain after intense exercise, which may help prevent further injury in subsequent exercise (Imtiyaz et al., 2014; Iodice et al., 2019).

Vibrating massage therapy on the calves leads to improved range of motion at the ankle (which is related to the risk of knee injuries) and vibration therapy of the lower body leads to better sit and reach scores. The sit and reach test assesses hamstring and lower back flexibility. A better sit and reach score means you are at a decreased risk of lower back injury (de Benito et al., 2019). 

Overall, it is probably a good idea to incorporate vibrating massage tools in your workout recovery procedure if you want to decrease muscle soreness and DOMS, while increasing range of motion and flexibility. Chances are your muscles will feel better, recover quicker and be able to perform better in your next workout.

The Impact of Massage Guns on Muscle Damage Markers

When muscles fibers undergo strenuous contractions they get damaged. Then they release chemicals that signal to the body to send proteins to the damaged muscle to rebuild and repair. The body then rebuilds the muscle a little bit bigger and stronger than before so the muscle is less likely to get “injured” again in the next workout. Consistently breaking down and rebuilding muscle fibers underpins the principle of progressive overload and is what leads to large muscles.

A faster recovery of chemical markers of muscle damage may indicate faster muscle rebuilding, repairing and recovery after strenuous workouts.

The above mentioned meta analysis by Lu et al. found that creatine kinase (CK), a commonly studied marker of muscle damage, is decreased 24 and 48 hours when vibration therapy is used after strenuous workouts when compared to those that didn’t use vibration massage guns.

It is thought that the vibration and pressure from massage guns and vibrating foam rollers increase blood flow to the worked muscles. This increases the movement of waste products away from the muscles and brings in more nutrients, which leads to quicker recovery (de Benito et al., 2019)

A study by Fuller et al. compared vibrating massage guns to stretching and regular massage after exercise. They found that there was no added benefit of reducing muscle damage markers or markers of inflammation when using vibration therapy compared to stretching and massage (Fuller et al., 2015).

However, there aren’t many of us with full-time access (and the budget) for a full-on massage after each workout! So, really the results of the study by Fuller suggest that using a vibration gun is a great option to improve recovery after hard exercise!

Do Massage Guns Help Strength Recover after Workouts?

Do massage gun work with strength recovery?

Recovery of strength after training sessions is one of the most important aspects of training for those that lift weights. We want to be able to go into the gym and be able to lift to our potential (nearly) every day. 

Unfortunately, there are mixed results when looking at the impact of vibrating massage guns on muscle strength recovery after hard workouts. There isn’t a ton of research out there looking at localized vibration therapy like you would get with a massage gun, and strength recovery.

A couple of studies have shown that vibration therapy has no negative or positive impact on muscle strength recovery in the days following intense exercise. 

Other studies have shown that eccentric muscle strength actually decreases after you use a massage gun (Fuller et al., 2015).

On the other hand, it has also been shown that quadriceps and hamstring strength is increased 72 hours after intense exercise when people use localized vibration therapy compared to not using anything (Iodice et al., 2019).

So really, we’re not sure if massage guns help you recover strength quicker after hard workouts. Scientific research suggests massage guns may help some people but not others recover their strength quickly.

Our Favourite Massage Guns & Vibrating Mobility Tools:

The Best of the Best:

Booster Elite: There is a reason people call massage guns “BOOSTER”. BOOSTER is the go-to company for massage guns. They have 7 multiple settings, are fairly quiet and get deep into the muscles while providing extra layer of protection with the pressure sensing system. They straight up work. (And they only cost a quarter of what you paid for Theragun). Check out the price of the Booster Elite here.

Budget:

Booster Pro Massage Gun: Sometimes you just need to try things out before diving in head first. This is that option. The Booster Pro comes with 6 different heads, has a decent stroke length and has 30 different speed options. It is heavy when compare to the Booster U, but for significantly $100 less than the Booster U and it does the trick. Check out the price of the Booster Pro.

Mid-Level:

Booster Ultimate Massage Gun: This is the Goldilocks of massage guns. The Booster U Massage Gun is a great tool for the price. It comes with 7 massage heads, a long lasting battery, light and quiet. Check out the price of the Booster Ultimate here..

Super Budget Friendly:

Booster Nano: The Nano is definitely the introductory level to vibrating massage recovery. It doesn’t have the same percussion action as a true massage gun but the miniature massager can provide a vibration stimulus to sore muscles. The low price tag makes it a great introduction to recovery modalities and a great gift! Check it out on this page.

Summary:


Science is still determining how effective vibrating massage guns really are. But it seems that they help decrease muscle pain after intense exercise, increase range of motion and may decrease blood-based chemicals that indicate muscle damage and inflammation. 

At the very least, they also can help psychologically and act as a placebo. Training is a very mental battle. So, anything that can help you believe that you’ll perform better is probably worth testing out. 

References:

de Benito, A. M., Valldecabres, R., Ceca, D., Richards, J., Barrachina Igual, J., & Pablos, A. (2019). Effect of vibration vs non-vibration foam rolling techniques on flexibility, dynamic balance and perceived joint stability after fatigue. PeerJ7, e8000. https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.8000

Fuller, J. T., Thomson, R. L., Howe, P. R. C., & Buckley, J. D. (2015). Vibration Therapy Is No More Effective Than the Standard Practice of Massage and Stretching for Promoting Recovery From Muscle Damage After Eccentric Exercise: Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine25(4), 332–337. https://doi.org/10.1097/JSM.0000000000000149

Imtiyaz, S., Veqar, Z., & Shareef, M. Y. (2014). To Compare the Effect of Vibration Therapy and Massage in Prevention of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). JOURNAL OF CLINICAL AND DIAGNOSTIC RESEARCHhttps://doi.org/10.7860/JCDR/2014/7294.3971

Iodice, P., Ripari, P., & Pezzulo, G. (2019). Local high-frequency vibration therapy following eccentric exercises reduces muscle soreness perception and posture alterations in elite athletes. European Journal of Applied Physiology119(2), 539–549. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-018-4026-5

Lu, X., Wang, Y., Lu, J., You, Y., Zhang, L., Zhu, D., & Yao, F. (2019). Does vibration benefit delayed-onset muscle soreness?: A meta-analysis and systematic review. Journal of International Medical Research47(1), 3–18. https://doi.org/10.1177/0300060518814999

Romero-Moraleda, B., González-García, J., Cuéllar-Rayo, Á., Balsalobre, C., Muñoz-García, D., & Morencos, E. (2019). Effects of Vibration and Non-Vibration Foam Rolling on Recovery after Exercise with Induced Muscle Damage. Journal of Sport Sciences and Medicine18.

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