Buying a massage gun, like the Hypervolt, seems to be a sign that you’re serious about your training.
But has the massage gun lived up to the hype, or is it just a passing (and expensive) fad?
We’ll go over the latest research on massage guns as well as what we’re seeing in our Physio clinic.
What is a massage gun?
Also known as a Percussive Massage device, a massage gun looks like a power drill with a golf ball on it.
It rapidly moves in and out in a punching action and is designed to, well, punch your muscles into submission…
What’s the proposed effect?
Essentially it’s designed to help you feel better and be a little more flexible.
Interestingly, it doesn’t make any claims about performance.
No promises of running faster, jumping higher, avoiding injury.
As far as marketing spin goes, it’s refreshingly honest and to the point.
Do massage guns actually work?
This is where it gets tricky – it’s a “yes” with a “but”.
After a quick 5 minute session on the massage gun, range of motion substantially improved.
But, and it’s a big but, the effect is not because of any muscle changes.
Instead, it works by temporarily changing the way the muscle feels.
It’s only temporary and has no long term benefits – essentially it’s only good for that session.
It’s also worth noting that it improves range compared to doing nothing – by comparison to stretching or a foam roller, the effect is pretty similar.
And with similar results, a $30 foam roller would have to beat a $300 massage gun…
Performance and fatigue
This is where some of the bigger claims have been made.
“Massage guns help you lift more, run further”, and so on…
This is where is gets a little murky – the research is conflicting.
We have a study saying that you can bench press more reps with a massage gun recovery between sets.
So why the difference?
This is a mix of circumstances and statistics.
All of the early studies have very low number of people being studied.
That means that 1 or 2 reps either way might make the difference between a significant result and a statistically insignificant one.
And from a stats point-of-view, the studies are looking for a less than 1-in-20 probability of a genuine result (not the result of luck).
So if 20 studies are performed on a completely random dataset, 1 of them is likely to come up with a positive result.
Overall, I’m dubious of this claim of fatigue resistant from a massage gun but I’ll wait for more, and bigger, studies to come out to confirm one way or another.
Negative effects of massage guns
With any intervention, we need to weigh up the likely positives with the risk of negatives.
As Physiotherapists, we’ll often have a skewed viewpoint on negative effects as we’ll only see the people who injure themselves using a massage gun – there’s no need to see a Physio if it worked as described!!!
But we have seen an increasing prevalence of athletes presenting with symptoms of muscle contusion after using a massage gun.
A muscle contusion is damage to the muscle due to impact – imagine pinching a steak hard enough that the fibres split.
It causes muscle damage and bleeding – this often results in visible bruising around the area of the massage gun treatment.
And muscle contusions are small tears in the muscle, so trying to improve muscle recovery has set you back 3-4 weeks while it heals.
There are also extreme cases in the literature of significant muscle damage causing kidney issues, called Rhabdomyolysis, although this is a very rare occurrence.
What’s the difference between the cheaper massage guns and premium brands?
Massage guns can be an expensive purchase, setting you back an average week’s wage in most parts of the world.
So can you buy a cheaper brand and still get a good product?
The top of the line models, such as the aforementioned Hypervolt, boast smooth actions and quieter operations from high quality motors.
They also have bluetooth controls and a variety of speeds.
The next tier of brands below the premium models, such as the Morgan massage gun, offer a good quality option with different speeds, LCD touch screens and long battery life.
You’ll need to compromise a little with slightly noisier motors and no bluetooth connectivity.
(On that note, I’ve never understood the need to bluetooth the device remotely when you need to have the gun in your hands anyway…)
Then there’s the budget versions of massage guns – extremely well priced but you get what you pay for.
Rattly operation, very noisy motors and shorter battery life.
If you’re going to invest in a massage gun, I wouldn’t recommend these options.
If you didn’t want to spend hundreds of dollars, maybe just stick to the trusty foam roller…