5 Science-Backed Reasons Why Percussive Therapy Is Good for You

August 31, 2020
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Are you too exhausted to go out for a massage after training? This is for you.

man with sore arm inside a gym

If ever you have already experienced getting a massage (which many people would have), you’ll agree that it’s a totally life-changing experience. As your massage therapist kneads your aching muscles, you can feel the pain easing away immediately. You feel lighter and less stressed. The best thing about it all, you can hit the gym again without worrying about body aches. Oh, what a wonderful gift massage is!  

Now, imagine experiencing this kind of relief anytime you want, anywhere you are. Ain’t that cool? That’s the reason why percussive therapy is trending nowadays. It offers the same benefit as that of a traditional massage less the expense and the hassle of visiting a therapist. It involves using handheld devices called massage guns.

Massage guns are high-intensity devices that can aid in muscle recovery. While massage guns are designed for anyone’s use, they are most popular among professional athletes and trainers. Percussive therapy is the best option for people who want quick relief for sore muscles.  

Fast, convenient, claims to be effective—sounds like a perfect hoax, right?

No. Despite being a recent innovation, percussive therapy proves that it’s more than just a hype. And there are a number of studies to back it up.  

Let’s drill into the details.

What Is Percussive Therapy?

Hydragun against gray background with red logo

Percussive therapy is one of the latest discoveries for sports recovery. The massage gun provides accelerated bursts of pressure into the tissues of the body. This action helps release muscle knots which are the primary suspects for back and shoulder pain. What’s more, it can reach even deeper layers of muscles than a foam roller or human hands.

Unlike in traditional massage, percussion therapy desensitizes the surrounding area of your aching muscle until the pulses penetrate the target area. It reduces the unbearable pain that we tend to experience when the therapist applies too much pressure on our sore muscle. It’s like enjoying the benefits of a deep tissue massage sans the pain. Who wouldn’t want that?

Studies show that percussive therapy offers a number of benefits.

Because of the increasing popularity of massage guns and the growing number of people who keep on asking, “How does percussive therapy work? Is it really practical?”, many health and fitness experts conducted studies regarding its effectiveness. Such studies indicate that the taps and thumps of this sports recovery device can be beneficial for your body in many ways:

1. It prevents Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). DOMS happens when you engage in a physical activity that stresses your muscles beyond their usual limit. It’s annoying, dreadful, and could last for 24 to 72 hours after your workout. Good thing, percussion therapy could give you a fast remedy.  

man holding his right knee while sitting at the stairs

According to a 2014 study published in the Journal of Clinical & Diagnostic Research, vibration therapy, “improves muscular strength, power development, and kinesthetic awareness.” It also, “effectively improves muscle performance which may prevent DOMS.”

While vibration therapy and percussive therapy are two different forms of treatment (vibration therapy uses, well, vibration; whereas percussive therapy involves thumping or hammering motions in addition to vibration), their mechanisms are the same.

The vibration causes a motor unit activity that blocks off any muscular damage caused by an eccentric workout. It also reduces the body’s perception of pain by disrupting the pain signals that the brain sends to your body. Thanks to percussion therapy, you don’t have to endure any post-workout pain and stiffness anymore.  

2. It improves flexibility. The same study explains that aside from pain reduction, the vibration also synchronizes your muscle spindles which results in a better range of motion. Once muscles become flexible, they won’t be as prone to injuries and pains as they were before. Your flexibility will also improve your posture and balance. Sweet!

3. It increases blood circulation. Overtraining causes severe muscle pain—we all know that. But did you know that it’s because lactic acid builds up in your muscles whenever you do an intense workout? This effect can be countered by increasing blood circulation, and studies published in 2011 and 2014 pointed out that vibration therapy helps increase blood flow. In sports recovery, the increase in blood circulation minimizes muscle tension and inflammation.  

4. It gives way to a better lymphatic flow. Fewer muscle knots and muscle tightness means better drainage in the lymphatic system. When the lymph moves freely, the body can excrete toxins and waste effectively. A better lymphatic system means a healthier immune system and improved metabolism. Talk about positive chain reaction, right?

5. It offers quick relief to muscle soreness. This is probably the highlight of it all—it’s fast and effective. Proponents of the 2014 study which compared the effect of vibration therapy and massage in preventing DOMS suggested that, “The difference in time taken for the execution of the treatment can play a pivotal role. [In] situations where time is [of] the essence, vibration can be used.”    

Since massage guns are portable sports recovery, you can literally enjoy it whenever you want. At the gym right after work-out, on the sidelines during a time-out, or at home late at night—it’s available to you 24/7. All you have to do is turn it on, target your sore area, and relax. Percussive therapy got you covered.

As if the above-mentioned benefits were not yet enough, a few pieces of research reveal that vibration therapy can also improve the muscle strength of adults, activate bone formation, enhance bone strength, and even decrease muscle tremors which can be beneficial to people with Parkinson’s disease. It expedites the rehabilitation process of muscles that suffered from trauma, disease, or surgery. Massage guns are also considered helpful in aiding insomnia, curtailing stress, and surprise surprise—reducing cellulite! Now that’s revolutionary work right there.  

Is Percussion Therapy Right for You?

After learning all its benefits, here comes the big question: Is percussion therapy right for you?

Percussion therapy is for anyone who has an active lifestyle—professional athletes, CrossFitters, gym buffs, and people who just want to push themselves beyond their limit by recovering fast. Specifically, massage guns are best to use when you are experiencing the following common injuries:

  • Muscle Soreness
  • Sciatica
  • Shin Splints
  • Muscle cramps and spasms
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Herniated or Bulging Discs
  • TMJ Syndrome

Some athletes also use massage guns during warm-up to “wake-up” the muscles or prepare their body for work-out. But like other treatments, it is wise to consult your doctor first before using a percussive therapy gun, especially if you have existing medical conditions.  

People who fall under these categories are highly-encouraged to seek medical advice before considering percussive therapy:

  • People who have inflammation-related injuries
  • People who are taking blood thinners such as warfarin and heparin
  • People who have a muscle strain, sprain, fractures, varicose veins, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, and conditions that can affect the blood vessels such as peripheral artery disease, thrombosis, etc.,  

Although it may seem like percussion therapy only works for people who are in perfect shape, that’s not necessarily the case.

For example, if you are suffering from a shoulder strain, you can still use your percussive therapy gun to treat other areas on your body that may have sore muscles. You can also adjust the settings so you can use it comfortably. Just remember to use it with caution and with proper guidance.

How to Use a Massage Gun

Hydragun being used on the body

One advantage of a massage gun is that it’s very user-friendly. Basically, you just need to turn it on, point it at your target area, and let it do its job. But to maximize its potential, Josh Orendorf, a doctor of physical therapy and certified personal trainer, shares a few tips on how to use a massage gun on your own:

1. Start low, start slow. Massage guns are powerful devices so it’s best to take caution. It could be painful if you start out on high without assessing your tolerance level yet. Remember: higher pressure does not necessarily mean a better massage. The key to enjoying the benefits of percussive therapy is to apply the right amount of pressure at the right place. “I start all my athletes on the lowest setting and increase from there,” says Orendorf.

2. Let it “float.”  Regardless of your preferred pressure, it’s advisable to let the massage gun float on your muscle area. You don’t have to force the massage head on the body. Just glide it over your sore muscle and move it slowly.

3. Yes, move it. Orendorf advises, “Make sure you’re not pressing too hard or staying in one spot for too long.“ You can easily create more harm than good. Keep the gun moving for the best results.”

While moving it, make a conscious effort to steer clear of the bone. Start on the larger muscle groups until you get used to the device.

Dr. John Rusin, a physical therapist and performance coach, explains, “People find areas that hurt and think that means they need to stay on them. They may be running over a bony prominence or a vein-artery nerve bundle.” And like other overdone massages, this could be damaging in the long run.

4. Relax. It’s a therapy, remember? Being too tense will make your muscles reject the device and hamper the effectiveness of the treatment. Just take deep breaths and feel your muscle pain go away.

Percussion Therapy FAQs:

Frequently Asked Questions text against black background

Is percussion therapy safe?

Unless you are one of the people mentioned above who should be wary of using a massage gun, percussive therapy is a safe muscle recovery treatment.

If in doubt, consult a medical expert first just to be on the safer side.

I am pregnant and I experience severe muscle cramps. Can I use the percussive therapy gun?

No. It’s not recommended to use during pregnancy, especially over your abdominal area. Treatments such as percussive therapy, shiatsu, and acupressure are not advisable for pregnant women. Women who are in their first trimester are advised to avoid any form of massage due to the increased risk for miscarriage during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Instead of percussive therapy, expectant mothers may opt for a prenatal massage to relieve muscle tension, reduce back pain, and alleviate stress.

On what areas of my body can I use the massage gun?

You can use the massage gun on any muscular area of your body, but you should avoid using it on the face, throat, neck, or nerves and major blood vessels. Of course, you should also avoid areas where you have wounds, scabs, cancerous lesions, and a recent bone fracture.

If you experience any electric or pins-and-needles sensation, you may have literally touched a nerve. Stop using the device and consult your doctor.

Is it normal for my skin to turn red or pink after treatment?

It’s usual for the area where the massage gun is used to become a bit red or pink after the treatment. It is often due to the dilation of muscle cells and blood vessels. Josh Shadle, a certified massage therapist and injury specialist explains, “If the tissue is getting really red really quickly, [that means] you’ve got a lot of blood flow in there.” He advises moving the gun to another spot because your skin may become sore and you could risk having a bruise. If your skin has turned red longer than usual and has become inflamed, stop using it and seek your physician’s advice.

What is the best massage gun in the market?

Sports recovery devices like massage guns are mostly assessed in terms of stall force, noise level, weight, customizability, and of course, pricing. But according to Alan Novick, physician and chief of the Memorial Rehabilitation Institute in Florida, there isn’t a definitive way of knowing if one product is better than the other without controlled studies. “It finally comes down to what people think,” he says. He recommends experimenting on different settings, and eventually, listening to your body to determine which one is right for you.

Yes, there are several things to consider when choosing a percussive therapy gun that’s perfect for you, but you can always count on trusted brands to ensure you’ll find the best sports recovery device. And though it may take a great leap of faith to shift from the conventional to the unfamiliar, investing in a massage gun could be one of the best things that you can do for yourself.

After all, it could be the gym essential that you’ve been waiting for—reliable and always on-the-go. Is there anything better than that?

What are your thoughts about percussive therapy? Let us know in the comments section below.

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