You may have seen massage guns blow up on social media, thanks to mesmerizing slow-motion videos, or heard from your friends how much they help alleviate sore muscles after a hard workout. But if you think that they’re just the latest fitness trend that’s sure to blow by in a year or two, you’re wrong. Massage guns aren’t just great for viral videos; they’re an amazingly beneficial tool that helps recovery and injury prevention.
Massages have long been known to be beneficial for recovery, but going to a massage therapist to get your knots and soreness released on a daily basis is unrealistic for most. That’s why massage guns and the percussive therapy they utilize have become wildly popular in recent years. These handheld devices pound your muscles in rapid succession, which essentially helps you recover faster. In fact, vibration therapy has been shown to help alleviate the soreness you get after working out so you can get back to exercising faster. Plus, there are even studies that show how vibration therapy also helps prevent muscle damage if you apply it before a workout.
However, Dr. Jason Wersland, founder and chief wellness officer of Therabody, points out that percussive therapy and vibration therapy aren’t the same. “It’s important for people to know there’s a difference between vibration and percussion. The body responds differently to each,” he says. “Theragun pioneered percussive therapy which is a deeper, more effective mode of recovery and body activation.”
Dr. Karena Wu, owner and clinical director at ActiveCare Physical Therapy in New York, explains how this therapy works. “The rapid percussion really pumps the area and promotes fluid circulation. Massage in and of itself is an ‘irritant’ to the muscle, designed to bring blood flow to an area,” she says. “If a patient requires a lot of surface area to cover in a session or they really need a quick warmup on the tissues, the massage gun gets used first.”
Donald Zerio, a physical therapist at Spear Physical Therapy in New York, explains that massage guns work just like your tried-and-true foam roller. “They do work in the same sense that foam rolling works,” he says. “It is another method of soft tissue mobilization that provides the benefit of loosening up tight muscle tissue, which provides a feeling of relief and provides a short-term improvement in flexibility.”
Ashley Rozek, physical therapist and clinical director at Spear, also says massage guns are a great tool for both recovery and pre-workout. However, to get the best use of them, you might want to seek some professional help. “I think it is important to come see a physical therapist and learn how to safely and correctly use the gun on your body so you can effectively use it at home,” she says.
Zerio agrees with Rozek, saying it’s important to know exactly how to use your massage gun. “There is a certain amount of skill involved with it, and you can injure yourself if you are not careful,” he says. “We tell our patients to bring in their massage guns to a physical therapist so we can demonstrate how to use the different percussion heads and vary the depth and speed for specific muscle groups.”
There are tons of massage guns on the market, from a premium Theragun that goes for $600 to much, much cheaper ones on Amazon. To help you figure out which massage gun to buy, we asked our experts for some tips on what to look out for.
Wu says to find a device that is actually comfortable to hold. “Ergonomic design so that when you hold it, your arm doesn’t fatigue,” she says. “Weight of the massage gun is important so that you can again hold it against or to an area without straining your other arm.” She also recommends finding one that has multiple attachments so you can use it on different muscle groups all across your body.
Zerio points out that speed and noise are some more big factors to watch out for. “Common specs to pay attention to are the variety of percussion heads provided with the product, the noise level (some of them can sound like a jackhammer) and the number of speed options,” he says. “More expensive massage guns have up to five speed options, which isn’t really necessary, when two to three is all you really need.”
Zerio says it’s actually more important to pay attention to depth than speed. Wu explains the difference. “Different speeds will translate to being more gentle and calming versus faster and more stimulating,” she says. “Depth of percussion or amplitude will translate to more of a vibratory versus percussive feeling, which again would be applicable to more superficial areas versus deep areas.”
Below, we’ve listed out massage guns that fit our expert guidance, as well as the massage guns they use themselves in their practice.
Sonic Handheld Percussion Massage Gun ($99; amazon.com)
Sonic Handheld Percussion Massage Gun
With eight interchangeable heads, five speeds and an ergonomic design, this massage gun is the cheapest on our list at $99. But don’t let the price tag fool you — the Sonic percussive gun still has everything you need for a thorough massage.
Vybe Pro Percussion Massage Gun ($149.99, originally $199.99; amazon.com)
Vybe Pro Percussion Massage Gun
Featuring nine speeds, eight attachments, a 12-millimeter amplitude and long, ergonomic handle, the Vybe Pro ticks all the boxes. Plus, three of this massager’s heads are made of metal to really dig into your deep tissues.
PureWave Gen II Dual Massager ($149.95; padousa.com)
PureWave Gen II Dual Massager
“I use the PureWave Gen II Dual Massager because I find it is applicable to a broader population,” says Wu. “It has a long handle design, which is the only massage gun that can reach down to your lower legs and your entire backside without sacrificing your other body parts. The PureWave is great because it has
Are massage guns worth it? We asked the experts to find out
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