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How to use a massage gun – Avoid these mistakes!

Updated: Jan 8

Massage guns are very useful tools to help relax muscles and reduce pain, but they can cause serious injuries if used incorrectly. In this article, we ignore the sales talk and look at the research on massage guns to explain how you can use them safely for best effect. Remember, if you need more help with an injury, you're welcome to consult one of our physios online via video call.


How to use a massage gun safely.

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Benefits of using a massage gun


In my experience, using a massage gun is the most effective way to give yourself a massage, and the research does seem to support their use.


It’s important to note that the current research on massage guns is a bit patchy, and there’s a lack of high-quality studies. So, the current research results should not be seen as 100% accurate – some of it may still be proven wrong by more thorough research.


Massage gun benefits supported by research include:

  • Decreasing pain: The research seems to suggest that massage guns are better than placebo, foam rolling, and sports massage at decreasing pain.

  • Improving flexibility: The available research seems to agree that massage guns can improve flexibility.

  • Increasing performance (strength and explosive strength): The available research is of very low quality and shows contradictory results for this.

  • Helping recovery: The evidence suggests that massage guns can improve short-term recovery (between bouts of exercise spaced a few minutes apart), but the evidence for improving long-term recovery (how you perform the next day) is contradictory.



Massage guns can cause severe damage


Massage guns can cause serious injuries if you use them excessively or over sensitive areas. These are some of the dangerous side effects you want to avoid:

  • Damage to blood vessels (arteries and veins). There have been reports of people suffering strokes through damage to the arteries in their neck or blood clots that formed in other blood vessels. You can avoid this if you stick to using the massage gun over large muscles and avoid areas where blood vessels are prominent (see below).

  • Excessive damage to muscles leading to rhabdomyolysis (a condition that can damage the kidneys) either through excessive use or because the person has a systemic illness. This can be avoided by following the guidelines below.

  • Damage to eyes after using the gun on the face.

  • Damage to the pleura (the sack that surrounds the lungs).


Never use a massage gun on your neck or head.
Never use a massage gun on your neck or head.

General contraindications – When and where not to use a massage gun

Do not use a massage gun:

  • If you have a chronic condition like diabetes, iron deficiency, kidney disease, blood clotting disease, or any other condition that may make it easier to damage your cells

  • Over wounds, rashes, or blisters

  • Over areas with active inflammation

  • Over torn muscles, ligaments, or tendons

  • Over new scars (less than 12 weeks old)

  • Over fractures or areas of low bone density (osteoporosis)

  • On your face or head

  • On your neck

  • Over your chest (front or back) if you have any lung conditions, including asthma and emphysema

  • Over exposed arteries and veins, including near the collar bones, the armpits, crook of the elbow, front groin, back of the knee

  • In areas with little muscle (just skin and bone), including around the knee, ankle, or elbows, and on the hands or top of the feet

  • In areas where you don’t have normal sensation and can’t feel what is happening.



How to use a massage gun safely on yourself


Where to use a massage gun

You can use a massage gun over large muscles, for example the calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, back muscles, biceps, triceps, and muscles in the forearms. Check the contraindications above for what areas to avoid.


You can use a massage gun on the large muscle groups.

Massage gun settings and duration

These depend on your goals:

  • For recovery proposes it is currently recommended to use low frequencies (2 400 percussions per minute or lower) for 2 to 5 minutes per muscle group.

  • To improve flexibility the research suggests short duration treatments (maximum of 2 minutes per muscle group) at a high frequency (more than 2 400 percussions per minute).

  • It is not recommended that you use a massage gun shortly (less than 5 min) before a strength activity (especially an explosive one) because it may harm your performance.

But also use your common sense. For instance, if you have very large muscles, you may benefit from the upper treatment limits mentioned above. However, if you are a smaller person and don't have very large muscles, it is likely best to start with the lower limits.


How hard to press

Apply it at a “comfortably uncomfortable” intensity (about 4 to 6 out of 10 on a pain scale).


How often to use a massage gun

Leave at least 48 hours between treatments. Your body needs time to recover after a massage gun session.


Here are some massage guns available on Amazon:


How we can help


Need more help with your injury? You’re welcome to consult one of the team at SIP online via video call for an assessment of your injury and a tailored treatment plan.

The Sports Injury Physio team

We're all UK Chartered Physiotherapists with Master’s Degrees related to Sports & Exercise Medicine or at least 10 years' experience in the field. But at Sports Injury Physio we don't just value qualifications; all of us also have a wealth of experience working with athletes across a broad variety of sports, ranging from recreationally active people to professional athletes. You can meet the team here.

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Maryke Louw

About the Author

Maryke Louw is a chartered physiotherapist with more than 20 years' experience and a Master’s Degree in Sports Injury Management. Follow her on LinkedIn and ResearchGate.


References

  1. Ferreira, R. M., et al. (2023). "The Effects of Massage Guns on Performance and Recovery: A Systematic Review." Journal of Functional Morphology and Kinesiology 8(3): 138.

  2. Mak, R. K., et al. (2023). "Embolization of a Massage Gun–Induced Pseudoaneurysm in the Supraclavicular Fossa." Journal of Vascular and Interventional Radiology 34(9): 1637.

  3. Sams, L., et al. (2023). "The Effect Of Percussive Therapy On Musculoskeletal Performance And Experiences Of Pain: A Systematic Literature Review." International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy 18(2): 309-327.

  4. Sulkowski, K., et al. (2022). "Case report: vertebral artery dissection after use of handheld massage gun." Clinical Practice and Cases in Emergency Medicine 6(2): 159.

  5. Roehmer, C., et al. (2022). "ID: 15833 Paracervical Muscle Edema After the Use of High-Percussion Massage Gun." Neuromodulation 25(4): S56.

  6. Masters, A., et al. (2022). Hemothorax After Use of Percussion Massage Gun: A Case Report. C43. CASE REPORTS: PLEURAL DISEASE DILEMMAS, American Thoracic Society: A4172-A4172.

  7. Jiancheng Mu, M. and W. Fan (2022). "Lens subluxation after use of a percussion massage gun.” Medicine 101(49):p e31825

  8. Lai, A. C.-H., et al. (2021). "Massage gun-induced ocular injury–A case report." Indian Journal of Ophthalmology-Case Reports 1(4): 702-703.

  9. Chen, J., et al. (2021). "Rhabdomyolysis after the use of percussion massage gun: a case report." Physical Therapy 101(1): pzaa199.


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