Massage Guns 101
What is it and how does it compare?
A massage gun is a simple tool to add to your box of recovery tools. Massage guns are used for two primary reasons. 1. It percusses or vibrates the muscles that can override pain signals to your brain creating a “relaxed feeling” and 2. It increases blood flow to muscle tissue taking away inflammatory chemicals and promoting lymphatic drainage.
Foam rollers, trigger point balls, ice, and heat packs, and E-Stim all share the family of massage guns. They are effective recovery tools. A massage gun may be a more aggressive approach to recovery therapy but it should not be the only therapy used. A combination of your favorite 3-4 of these recovery tools should be added into your treatment rather than using just one product.
Someone would use a massage gun to help recover in high-stress areas of your body. This includes the most common stress areas in your neck and shoulders from day-to-day stress. It is also very popular in athletic recovery from strenuous exercise or heavy workouts that may cause delayed onset muscle soreness.
Are you using it on someone else or yourself?
As a health practitioner, I understand the amount of pressure or force to use when using a massage gun. For someone else, if you are planning on using it on a friend, gym buddy, or loved one it may be wise to look for one with a pressure sensor. This allows you to know how much force you are using to prevent injury when using the device.
When using the device on yourself, consider where you would use it. Don't get the bright idea of having a great back massage every day if you can't reach your back. Some devices have an ergonomic handle or rotating massage head to get those harder-to-reach spots by yourself.
The Biggest Problem
As a chiropractic physician, the biggest problem with massage guns is knowing how to use them the right way! For example. If you are in a massage and the therapist is working your shoulders but you can't relax your shoulders then what good is it? I see this daily. Good intentions, bad technique. Relaxing the muscle you are working on is the key to being effective with this technique. it may be helpful to use the opposite hand of whatever body part you are working on. Example: hold with the right hand, apply pressure to the left shoulder or upper back. lifting the right-hand overhead activities muscle in the right shoulder and would be counterproductive to relax and “massage” the muscle.
Here Are Some Tips:
-Grab a partner!
For those hard-to-reach spots don't stress your body out trying to reach these areas. A partner can easily work this area for a few min without adding extra stress to your body. If no partner is available try using a vibrating ball product (Hyperice's Hypersphere or Theragun's Wave Solo) to take the stress off instead.
-Undertsand basic anatomy
Taking a crash course in anatomy or searching online for common muscle trigger points will help guide the use of a massage gun. Another good resource is a referred trigger point diagram. This helps us understand when there is pain that we are chasing, sometimes it is referred from another area.
In my opinion, it is best to stick to larger muscle groups when using these devices. with more experience, in using these devices you can understand how much pressure to use or when the best time to use it for your recovery. Smaller muscle groups on arms and feet take more precision and knowledge not to damage or bruise surrounding areas.
Another common misconception is that you should work in the same area for 30 minutes because it feels good. Less is more in this case. A good 2-3 minutes per muscle group is a good way to be effective in this type of therapy.
- Dr. Daniel DeLucchi
For more information visit my contribution to 5 Best Massage Guns and How to Use Them on U.S. News and World Report Dec. 3, 2021