Are Massage Guns Worth the Hype?

Chances are you've heard of massage guns or seen fitness influencers using them in Instagram posts. These tools are designed to massage your muscles to aid recovery, which sounds like an enjoyable way to recover from a tough workout. But unlike many other fitness tools, such as relatively inexpensive foam rollers and resistance bands, these baby products can cost upwards of $100, with some high-end models costing as much as $500. So is a massage gun worth buying? In short: If you're an avid exerciser or suffer from constant muscle soreness, you probably really need to save some money.

Massage guns like the HyperVolt or Theragun are a type of percussion therapy used to provide deep tissue massage, says Dr. Steve Hruby, a chiropractor and founder of Kaizen Progressive Health. "It's a handheld device that delivers quick, brief bursts of pressure to the muscles," he tells Bustle. It's this fast, intense vibration that helps release muscle "knots," which reduces soreness, increases circulation and improves range of motion, he explains.

It's a recovery tool that more and more people are using in their daily lives: Demand for massage guns has been on the rise since 2019, especially among athletes and casual fitness hobbies, according to a report from Absolute Market Insights among those. Hruby’s take? Massage guns are great for anyone (athletes and non-athletes alike) who is looking for a way to relieve pain and feel more flexible overall. They can even help relieve pain outside of exercise, such as stiffness you may feel after sitting or standing for long periods of time.

That said, massage guns aren’t for everyone. They can be intense and tricky to use, and there are plenty of ways to get similar results for less money. Here’s what you need to know before buying yourself a massage gun.

How to use a massage gun

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You can use a massage gun to relax your muscles before a workout or immediately after to relieve soreness, says Cathy Spencer-Browning, vice president of programs and training at on-demand fitness brand MOSSA. Massage gun. First, place the massage tip on the "problem area" and massage the area for 5 to 10 minutes. You can also activate the percussion therapy device if you have muscle pain or tension and just want a massage. If you're not sure what to do, Spencer-Browning recommends taking an online guided therapy session. Since each device has different speeds, it will also be helpful to refer to the guide for your specific massager to determine which setting to choose.

Amanda Capritto, an ACE Certified Personal Trainer and ISSA Corrective Exercise Specialist at Garage Gym Reviews, says you'll want to avoid running on bony areas like your elbows when getting a massage and avoid injury. "Also be careful when cleaning scabs, as you may reopen the wound," she tells Busy. As long as you use it correctly, you can use a massage gun every day to relieve soreness, she says.

Massage gun comparison. foam roller

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If you're wondering whether you need a massage gun if you already have a foam roller, listen up: While both have similar benefits for your muscles, Hruby says they work in different ways. "Massage guns use percussion therapy for deep tissue massage, while foam rollers provide a gentler form of self-massage," he says.

They also aid in a muscle recovery technique called self-myofascial release. "This type of treatment involves manual manipulation of soft tissue, primarily fascia, but also muscles to release trigger points, loosen adhesions, and improve blood flow and mobility," Caprito says. You can foam roll your sore quads or biceps, or get in there with a massage gun. Both will succeed.

Caprito says the main difference is that the gun provides a deeper massage, which may provide faster relief. Of course, there's also size and price. If you like to carry your tools with you, you might find it easier to keep a massage gun in your bag (they make mini massage guns, after all) than lugging around a giant foam roller. If you're on a budget, it's good to know that you can buy a foam roller for less than $10. “Ultimately, the best tool for you will depend on your personal needs,” Hruby said.

Massage gun comparison. Stretching exercises

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Can't you just keep doing some good stretches? Well, there are a lot of differences between percussion therapy and stretching therapy. According to Caprito, the self-myofascial release that occurs with a massage gun is more about releasing tension within the connective tissue and increasing blood flow to a specific area, while stretching is more about increasing long-term flexibility. Stretching lengthens the muscles, while massage kneads the muscles. "However, both are helpful for cooling down and warming up after exercise," she says. Of course, stretching is also free.

Is a massage gun worth buying?

Spencer-Browning believes anyone who exercises regularly can benefit from owning a massage gun. It's a great tool to prep your muscles before training and relieve any tightness or soreness you experience after a workout, she says. “If you’re a fitness enthusiast or play sports, a massage gun may be a good investment,” Hruby adds. "They're also good for those who suffer from muscle pain or stiffness." (Looking at you, my desk colleagues.)

The price factor may (understandably) hold you back. But you may also want to hold off if you're worried about going too far. Since this is an intense form of massage, Hruby says the massage gun may cause more soreness and may even lead to bruising. He recommends seeking advice from your doctor or physical therapist before taking action. Otherwise, these are great devices to have on hand for DIY muscle massage.

Research reference:

Imtiaz, S. (2014). To compare the effectiveness of vibration therapy and massage in preventing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). J Clin Diagnostic Res. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3939523/

Konrad, A. 2020. Acute effects of percussive massage therapy using a high-voltage device on plantar flexor muscle range of motion and performance. Journal of Exercise Science and Medicine.

Wiewelhove, T. 2019. A meta-analysis of the effects of foam rolling on athletic performance and recovery. Frontiers in Physiology. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2019.00376.

expert:

Dr. Steve Hruby, doctor of chiropractic, Washington, D.C.

Cathy Spencer-Browning , Vice President of Programming and Training, MOSSA

Amanda Capritto, ACE Certified Personal Trainer and ISSA Corrective Exercise Specialist