A massage gun can be an invaluable tool for sore and stiff muscles. But when and how often should you use a massage gun?
It should be used as part of a recovery routine, but that doesn’t mean you should only use it when you feel achy.
Being strategic about when you use it, how often you use it, and how long you use it can actually help to improve your performance in whatever sport you do.
Here’s our advice on using a massage gun as part of your fitness routine.
What Is a Massage Gun and How Does It Work?
A massage gun is a handheld device that you can use to give yourself a quick massage, alleviating soreness and stiffness. It’s also known as percussive therapy, and the gun may be referred to as a percussion massager.
They look similar to a cordless drill. Massage guns come with different speed levels and massaging attachments that help to directly target specific parts of your body. They’re relatively lightweight and portable, as they have a rechargeable battery.
Massage guns use rapid bursts of force by oscillating up and down, anywhere between 1,700 and 3,400 strokes per minute.
This reaches deep into soft tissue, increasing blood flow which helps to reduce muscle soreness, post-workout fatigue, and also with pre-workout muscle readiness.
Massage guns are often used by athletic trainers and physical therapists, but anyone can use them.
If you’re participating in high-intensity exercise like running or CrossFit, you will benefit from incorporating a massage gun into your recovery routines.
How Does a Massage Gun Promote Recovery?
Massage guns are able to penetrate deep into the soft tissue, stimulating nerve receptors, which increases blood flow to that specific area.
This gets oxygen-rich blood to the muscles, which is vital in the process the body goes through to recover and grow stronger. Increased oxygen levels will help replenish your ATP levels—fuel stores—balance hormones, assist with anabolism, and repair cells.
It also helps your lymphatic system to drain metabolic waste more efficiently. This helps reduce the risk of muscle soreness and DOMS due to lactic acid accumulation.
As the massage gun applies pressure to the tendons, ligaments, and muscles, it helps the muscles to relax. This will relieve muscle spasms and increase your range of motion, as it reduces stiffness.
By using a massage gun, you’re essentially giving yourself a deep tissue massage. This also helps to break up scar tissue from an injury or surgery.
What Different Types of Therapies Are There?
A massage gun will use either percussive or vibration therapy. Depending on the brand of massage gun you use, it may use both therapies simultaneously.
Both percussive and vibration therapy are a form of soft tissue manipulation, but there are slight differences between the two.
Percussive therapy uses a combination of frequency and force that reaches up to 16 millimeters into your muscles. This can be up to 60 percent deeper than vibration therapy.
Your body isn’t able to adjust to the amplitude and frequency of the massage gun, because the device touches the body and comes off of it multiple times per second.
That means it stimulates a deep tissue massage more effectively because the body doesn’t register it as being separate taps on the muscles. Instead, it registers a continuous pressing or massaging feeling.
This makes percussive therapy an effective treatment, because of the deeper and more intense stimulation of the muscle.
Vibration therapy uses vibrating movements where the amplitude of the force is lower than percussive therapy.
With vibration therapy, the massage gun makes and remains in contact with the skin but only penetrates 8 to 10 millimeters into the soft tissue. This stimulates the muscles, causing them to contract and relax involuntarily.
Vibration therapy uses the body’s biomechanics to help achieve results while alleviating pain, moderately increasing blood flow, and providing some massage-like benefits.
This is a good option for people who suffer from chronic pain, have medical conditions that prevent them from using percussive therapy, or who have very sensitive muscles.
How Do You Use a Massage Gun?
Fortunately, you can use the massage gun whenever you need to relieve muscle tension, during your warm-ups, and after your workouts.
To improve your recovery and reduce muscle soreness, it’s recommended that you use the massage gun within 48 hours of your workout.
To use the massage gun effectively, start by moving the gun over the bulk of your muscle slowly. When you find a trigger point or a knot, leave the massage gun on that spot for 15 seconds without adding additional pressure, then move on.
You don’t want to be “aggressive” with the pressure that you apply, as you can overstimulate the muscle, causing it to tense up. The goal is to relax and feel better!
If there’s no specific tender spot, then glide the massage gun over the muscle for up to two minutes and then move onto another area.
Avoid using the massage gun on bony areas and don’t ever apply the massage gun directly to your neck.
You should also avoid going over any area where you’re injured or you’re experiencing acute pain, as it may aggravate the issue.
You can always get advice from your physical therapist or doctor if you’re unsure if you can use the massage gun on a healing injury or old injury.
Always adjust the depth and speed settings of your massage gun before each use and start with the lower setting. Once you’ve found the setting that you can tolerate, only spend one to two minutes on each sore area.
If you have deep vein thrombosis, osteoporosis, fibromyalgia, arthritis, or any other musculoskeletal condition, then you should consult with your doctor before using the massage gun.
When and How Often Can It Be Used?
While it’s safe to use a massage gun daily, it’s most often used before or after workouts in short sessions.
You can use it 2 to 3 times per day for 15 seconds up to a maximum of 2 minutes per muscle group.
For pre-run sessions, glide the massage gun over your targeted muscles without applying additional pressure.
Use the massage gun before your run to help you warm up. It will increase the blood flow to your muscles which can increase and improve your range of motion before your run.
You can use the massage gun directly on each muscle and the supporting muscles groups. As an example, you can use the massage gun for 60 seconds on each quad and hamstring. Then use it for 30 seconds on each calf.
That being said, it’s important that you incorporate the massage gun into your warm-up but that you don’t use it as a replacement for dynamic stretching and other warm-up components.
After your run, you can use the massage gun as part of your cool-down routine.
This will help bring your body back to a resting state while maintaining strong blood circulation, which brings nutrient and oxygen-rich blood to your fatigued muscles.
You should use the massage gun within 48 hours of your workout. This will help promote recovery by reducing inflammation, stiffness, and muscle soreness.
While you can use the massaging gun 2 to 3 times a day, if you use it too frequently it could diminish the effects.
Instead, rotate your recovery tools between using a foam roller one day, the massage gun on the second day, and alternate between contrast baths.
How Long Should I Massage One Muscle Group?
Depending on the brand, the number of strokes per minute, and the amplitude of the force, the amount of time spent on one muscle group can vary.
With that being said, you can use the following guidelines:
Use the massage gun during your warm-up, as this will increase the blood flow to the muscles and switch your sympathetic nervous system on, which helps to prepare your body for activity.
Glide the massage gun without any additional pressure along each muscle for 30 seconds.
You take short breaks during your training session to use the massage gun to loosen tight, tense muscles or relieve muscle spasms.
By avoiding statically stretching the muscle during your workout, you won’t have to worry about potentially losing efficiency and output of the muscle.
Use the massage gun on the muscle for 10 to 15 seconds. This will increase the blood flow, loosen it up, and keep the muscles active.
Pain Relief and Recovery
Within 48 hours of your workout, you’ll want to glide the massage gun over each of your muscles for up to 2 minutes. This will help promote recovery by decreasing muscle soreness and stiffness.
What to Consider When Buying a Massage Gun?
When shopping for a massage gun, you may want to consider the following key features:
Massage Power and Speed
This is an important feature to consider, as it will dictate your overall comfort levels when you use the massage gun.
Look for a massage gun that offers variable speeds and power settings. You may find that you prefer a soft and gentle massage on the calves and a more intense massage on your quads or hamstrings.
This will allow you to choose a setting that’s comfortable for you.
You’ll also want to consider the amplitude—depth—of the gun, as this will give you a good indication of the intensity of the massage. The further the massage head travels in millimeters, the more force it applies, which means the massage will have more intensity.
Get a massage gun that you won’t have to worry about running out of juice in the middle of your warm-up.
The battery life of massage guns will vary between brands and most will have 2 to 4 hours battery life when used on its highest setting.
When used on the low setting, some massage guns will have a battery life of 5 to 8 hours.
Look for a massage gun that you find easy to use! Some massage guns connect to companion apps or have screens that help you control each massage.
The massage gun should have an ergonomic design that’s easy to hold in your own hands. You should also be able to reach all areas of your body easily without having to contort yourself.
The size and weight of the massage gun will be another feature to consider. Massage guns weigh between about 1 to 2.5 pounds. If you’re going to be taking it with you when you travel or putting it in your gym bag, then go for a lighter-weight option.
Most massage guns are fairly quiet to operate, but there will be some noise when the motor unit is working. It’s important to consider this if you will be using the massage gun around other people or at quiet times.
If you use it in an enclosed room, the noise can echo. Also, if you use it on the shoulders or upper back, close to the ears, it may seem louder.
Choose a massage gun with a low noise level if this is something you feel could be an issue for you. Consider others in the house as well.
You want to choose a massage gun with multiple detachable heads. You may find that differently shaped and sized heads work better for different muscles, so you want to have the option of changing them when you want a specific intensity.
There should be a large ball head, which is the most common attachment and is made either of rubber or dense foam. It’s the ideal size for large muscle groups, like quads, glutes, and hamstrings, as well as the back.
Another commonly used head attachment is the flat head, which works best on smaller muscles like the calves and the chest muscles. The bullet head is a much smaller attachment that’s great for trigger points.
You can also get a fork-shaped head, which has two prongs and can be helpful for massaging along the spine and places like the shin bone or the Achilles tendon.
Before you buy a massage gun, check the warranty information. If there’s a fault in your massage gun and something needs to be repaired or replaced, you need to understand what the company’s policy is.
It’s also a good idea to check a company’s social media profiles to see what experiences other buyers are having. If you find that many people are having problems with the customer service of the brand, it may be best to look at other products.