In recent months, several of my patients have asked for my opinion as a physical therapist regarding the benefits of massage guns. Particularly the one from the brand Theragun.
Of course, I already had an opinion on the subject. But I also conducted in-depth research to provide them with the most accurate and objective information.
You will find the links to the scientific publications I rely on at the end of the article (yes, there are some!).
Today, I’m sharing the results of my research and my discussions with my patients!
Happy reading 🙂! Any comments, additional information or questions are welcome in the comments section!
Last update: September 2023
Disclaimer: Amazon affiliate links. Complete disclosure in legal notices.
What is a massage gun?
I’ve been a physical therapist for over 10 years, and almost every year, I see a new product hitting the market that’s marketed to alleviate pain and gains a lot of attention.
This is the case with massage guns in recent years.
There were already some massage devices for personal use before, such as vibrating cushions or head massagers. In fact, just remembering the sensation of the latter makes me feel good
!In this article, I’m focusing on massage guns. If you’re in a hurry, here’s a very concise overview of my opinion on them:
Massage guns can provide a slight sense of well-being in the short term, with a low risk of side effects. However, those who sell them often overestimate the benefits that can be derived from them.My opinion as a physical therapist on massage guns, summarized in two sentences.
But let’s delve into this in more detail!
How does a massage gun work?
It’s a small device that can be purchased without a prescription and is shaped like a gun. It operates mechanically, powered by a rechargeable battery.
It can be applied by oneself (self-massage) or by another person (especially physical therapists) on different parts of the body.
Different attachments can be fitted onto it depending on the body part being targeted, which are sold with the device.
Most of these devices deliver percussions (low amplitude, high frequency). These are like small “taps,” taps, vibrations, painless, similar to a small jackhammer.
Vibration therapy (sometimes called vibrotherapy) has been used in medicine and sports for decades. Today, there is a renewed interest in it, particularly due to these massaging guns.
The number of pulses per minute can be adjusted on most devices.
What benefits are described by manufacturers?
Here are some of the claims made by those who manufacture and sell massage guns:
- Accelerates muscle recovery
- Relieves tension and stress
- Alleviates pain
- Targets muscles deeply
- Enhances blood circulation in the affected area
- Improves overall physical performance
We will precisely examine the evidence we have regarding the effects of massage guns.
What’s the effectiveness of massage guns, and on which symptoms?
One of the slogans of the massage gun brand Theragun?
Precisely, I will now delve into what “science” says on the subject. More specifically, what research teams have taken the time to:
- ponder the theoretical mechanisms of action of massage guns;
- test their effectiveness and potential side effects;
- publish their results in rigorous scientific journals.
For this, I conducted searches using the Pubmed search engine, a sort of Google for health studies.
The Benefices & Risks of Massage Guns
Here is a concise overview of publications discussing the theoretical or verified effects of percussion massage guns.
Since there were very few publications specifically on this topic, I expanded to include publications on percussion therapy in general, even when delivered by a device other than a massage gun.
I excluded publications that focused on the effects of percussion on respiratory issues such as COPD (chronic bronchitis), as I have never encountered anyone who wanted to use a massage gun for this indication.
|Effect of massage gun on thoracolumbar fascia properties||66 healthy men received 15 minutes of massage via a 30 Hz massage gun on the back. Impact on physiological parameter of fascia and perceived stiffness noted.||Yang 2023|
|Effect of massage gun (Malatec) on Achilles tendon stiffness and sports performance||11 adults received 1 minute of massage on Achilles tendon. Reduced tissue stiffness and slightly impaired explosive athletic performance observed.||Szymczyk 2022|
|Effect of massage guns on ankle flexibility and calf muscle strength||16 volunteers used massage gun on calf muscles for 5 minutes. Increased mobility (5°, short-term) without affecting muscle strength.||Konrad 2020|
|Effect of Theragun on muscle recovery and bench press performance||No differences in movement velocities and fatigue control. More repetitions performed by massage gun users.||Garcia 2021|
|Sports professionals’ use and opinions on massage guns||Hyperice Hypervolt® and Theragun® most purchased brands. Percussion believed to increase local blood flow, modulate pain, improve myofascial mobility, and reduce restrictions. Patient-reported outcomes used to document treatment effectiveness.||Cheatham 2021|
|Effect of massage gun on lifeguards’ recovery after aquatic rescue||Massage gun doesn’t improve recovery after aquatic rescue compared to passive rest.||Alonso 2022|
|Laboratory study on effects of vibrations on muscle properties||Bongiovanni 1990|
|Effect of percussion device on muscle properties via electromyogram||3 groups performed knee extensions with vibrations. Significant effect on excitation rates and weak to moderate effect on recruitment thresholds noted. Negative influence on force and motor unit recruitment.||Barrera 2019|
|Effect of vibrotherapy on delayed onset muscle soreness and inflammation||Vibrotherapy group showed improved pain and inflammation indicators after daily sessions. Some indicators showed no difference.||Broadbent 2010|
|Effect of percussive vibratory massage on muscle recovery||12 men received percussive vibratory massage during rest periods. Short-term recovery from intense muscle activity not improved.||Cafarelli 1990|
I did not include 7 additional publications because:
- They focused on other similar devices, not massage guns.
- They were of lower quality or redundant compared to the ones reported here, with unusable results.
For those who still want access to them, they are available in the bibliography of Lupowitz 2022’s publication, see end of the article. If you truly want a more in-depth analysis of a publication, let me know in the comments!
What can be concluded? Here’s my interpretation of this data.
- The empirical effects of massage guns and even percussion therapy are very poorly studied.
- Despite biases related to the scientific publication system often favoring studies with positive results, we still have studies in this field that show no effects.
- It is reasonable to expect a minor short-term pain-relieving effect from massage guns, but not more.
- Long-term effects (beyond a few minutes after the session) are never supported by evidence.
- The effects on “performance” or “fatigue” are inconsistent and seem impractical outside a research context.
This is my own interpretation of the data. There are more optimistic ways to interpret them, as done by a New York-based physical therapist, who concludes as follows, based on the same studies I’ve listed here:
Overall, vibrotherapy is a safe, cost-effective, and accessible form of treatment that offers numerous benefits.Lupowitz 2022
Now let’s examine what we know about the effects of massage in general, not necessarily associated with vibrations.
The Effects of Massage in General
There are hundreds of scientific publications dedicated to the positive and negative effects of massage. It would be quite ambitious to summarize them here in a few lines, even though I’ve read many of them!
However, I can provide you with my general opinion on massage, based on my scientific readings in recent years and my professional experience.
Massage is by far the most studied treatment for the most common cause of chronic pain in humans: low back pain, also known as back pain or back strain. So, in my opinion, this is a good starting point to think about the effects of massage in general.
Here’s what the most recent and rigorous study synthesis on the subject tells us:
We have very little confidence that massage is an effective treatment for low back pain. Massage improves the outcome of acute, subacute, and chronic low back pain only in short-term follow-ups. Functional improvement was observed in participants with subacute and chronic low back pain compared to inactive controls, but only for short-term follow-up. There were only minor adverse effects with massage.Cochrane 2015
This synthesis teaches us that massage:
- reduces pain in people with back pain in the short term (6 months), but pain increases again after several days or weeks without sessions;
- does not improve any other parameters in people with back pain in the medium or long term. They are not more active or walk more due to massage;
- never causes serious adverse events. The main adverse event it causes is an exacerbation of pain. This occurs in 1.5% to 25% of patients.
Roughly speaking, the results of study syntheses on massage, regardless of the indication, all say roughly the same thing: being massaged provides a little relief (about 1 to 2 points out of 10), but it doesn’t last over time.
You will find two more articles on my website that provide more information about massage:
- Why Physical Therapists (Almost) No Longer Massage? (coming soon in English)
- Benefits of Manual Lymphatic Drainage?
What’s the Benefit of Relying on Scientific Publications?
At this point, you might be thinking: What’s the point of relying on what scientific studies say if it works for me?
Here’s my perspective.
To me, it’s important to also (perhaps mainly?!) consider the opinions of individuals who have evaluated the effects of massage guns not just on themselves or a few patients, but on a broad range of individuals.
And more importantly, those who have set up controls to compare the effects of massage guns to other factors that could also lead to similar positive or negative effects: post-activity recovery, application of heat or cold, stretching, and so on.
This is where studies come in, published in scientific journals where the quality of each article is scrutinized. It’s not perfect (there are flaws in the publication system), but I believe it’s one of the most robust approaches we have.
When only considering the effects on ourselves, it becomes more difficult, in my opinion, to compare the effects of this technique to others.
And beyond studies that examine the direct effect, we can even think ahead: is it reasonable to expect significant effects on performance, recovery, or pain by using a device like this for just a few minutes? Considering all that we know about how the human body functions and the complex, multifactorial mechanisms of pain and fatigue?
Even though most studies end with a phrase like “more high-quality studies are needed to…,” personally, I believe there’s not much value in doing more.
What are the Side Effects or Risks of Massage Gun?
I have already written a comprehensive and detailed article about the known side effects and dangers of massage guns.
They fall into 4 categories:
- 1 is common but not severe,
- 3 are very rare but more serious.
The most common and less severe?
- An increase in pain and discomfort. This applies to massage in general. Some individuals are not receptive, and it can worsen their symptoms instead of improving them. This affects 1 person out of 100 to 1 person out of 4 according to studies.
The much rarer but more serious?
- Bleeding at the level of the neck’s aorta that can lead to a stroke (cerebrovascular accident) or even death.
- Rhabdomyolysis (breakdown of muscle tissue that can lead to multi-organ failure).
- Visual and ophthalmic issues.
In these 3 more serious cases, the adverse effect is linked to a specific use of the massage gun:
- on the neck;
- after intense muscle training, on the areas that were worked on, in an individual with low iron levels (anemia);
- around the eye.
It appears that the risk of these events occurring can be minimized by avoiding the use of the massage gun under these conditions!
My Opinion as a Physical Therapist on Massage Guns in General
The first thing you should ask yourself, in my opinion, before using a massage gun is: what are your expectations, your goals? What benefits are you seeking?
Here are the main expectations that people have when I’ve asked them this question, along with my opinion on the usefulness of a massage gun for them.
|Objective||My Opinion as a Physical Therapist|
|Slightly relieve pain for at least a few minutes, have a sense of muscle relaxation. Benefits in the back, feet, legs or elsewhere||The massage gun can meet your expectations, unless you are among the 1 out of 100 to 1 out of 4 individuals who are not receptive to massage.|
|Long-lasting pain relief (for several weeks) without needing to re-use the massage gun||The massage gun might disappoint you. Pain is a complex phenomenon, and finding a “miracle treatment” like this is difficult.|
|Prevent soreness or make it go away faster||There is no foolproof way to prevent soreness. Your best ally remains gradual increase in workload, frequency, and training intensity, not the massage gun in my opinion. However, massaging sore muscles can provide temporary well-being and relief, but it varies greatly from person to person!|
|Speed up the recovery of a tendinopathy/tendonitis or another injury||I’m open to the idea that the massage gun might have physiological effects on tissues, which is reasonable given its mechanism of action. However, I don’t believe these effects are sufficient to significantly speed up recovery by several days or weeks. Furthermore, it’s important to define what we mean by recovery: no evidence of tissue distress in examinations? No pain? Full capability to resume all physical and sports activities as before?|
|Enhance recovery, overall physical performance||I find these goals a bit too vague and difficult to objectively evaluate. I wouldn’t use the massage gun for this purpose.|
|Get rid of cellulite, benefits for cellulite||The effectiveness of the massage gun in my view is similar to most other manual techniques or devices used “against cellulite.” Honestly, as a healthcare professional, I haven’t extensively researched these aesthetic aspects (even though I understand that many people consider them important), so I won’t delve into the topic further at the moment.|
|Benefits on face||Using a massage gun on the face is not typically recommended due to the sensitivity and complexity of facial tissues and structures. The face is a delicate area with many small muscles, blood vessels, and nerves, and using a massage gun on the face could potentially cause discomfort, bruising, or injury. Massage guns are designed to target larger muscle groups and are often used on areas like the back, legs, and arms.|
|Benefits on stomach||The benefits of using a massage gun on the stomach area are not studied, and caution should be exercised when using on sensitive areas like the abdomen.|
It’s also important to consider alternatives that are available to you: other things can provide similar effects.
- Getting a massage from a massage therapist or at a beauty salon,
- Getting a massage from a close friend or family member,
- Using another massage device (massaging cushion, at-home TENS unit, etc.). Similar effects can be expected from these solutions.
If you prefer to be self-sufficient and independent from a third party for your massage, a massage gun, cushions, or TENS units will be good options.
On the other hand, if you prefer not to rely on any “technological” devices, turning to a professional or a loved one would be more suitable!
My Physical Therapist Review on Theragun
On the Theragun website, you will find an entire sales pitch highlighting its potentially superior effectiveness compared to other massage guns available on the market.
Particularly because it delivers percussions instead of vibrations. But as I’ve shown you earlier, studies evaluating the impact of percussion massage guns don’t show a significantly better effect.
What to think about it?
As I’ve explained throughout this article, the expected effect of a massage gun is minimal in my opinion. Consequently, the potential difference in effect between massage guns is very small!
Of course, by choosing a brand like Theragun (see on Amazon), it’s reasonable to assume that:You’ll have a better chance of getting a reliable product that works over time, than if you buy a $20 massage gun.
Comparison: Is It Likely That Some Massage Guns Are More Effective?
I will now provide you with my more general opinion on potentially more reliable devices.
Of course, I haven’t personally tried all of them. My opinion is based on my general knowledge of the subject and reading technical descriptions and reviews (both positive and negative) on various websites.
The aim is to give you some guidance in answering this question: which massage gun offers the best value for money?
Keep in mind that you might have your own criteria that will make you prefer one brand over another.
Below, you’ll find a comparative table. I’ve listed the devices for which internet users are searching for the most information on search engines. Why this choice? Simply because it probably means that these devices have the best word-of-mouth reputation, and word-of-mouth remains a “good” indicator in the absence of others.
In any case, be aware that no massage gun is inherently safer than another. Danger of massage gun is more related to the type of usage and your health condition rather than the specific type of massage gun used. At least, based on our current knowledge.
|🥇 Toloco Massage Gun|
Best massage gun under 100
41,718 reviews– 4,5/5
|Renpho Massage Gun||$49,99||⭐⭐⭐⭐|
8,931 reviews– 4,4/5
|Wirecutter massage gun||?||?|
2,531 reviews / 4,5/5
|Dacorm massage gun||$79,99||⭐⭐⭐⭐|
1,181 reviews– 4,4/5
|Opove m3 pro max||$129,99||⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐|
13,287 reviews / 4,7/5
|Infinity pr pro endurance||$134||⭐⭐⭐⭐|
95 reviews / 4,2/5
639 reviews / 4,5/5
Finally, a few comments on the one that appears to me to have the best value for money, as well as the Theragun, for which I often have people asking for my opinion as a physiotherapist:
🥇 Best mini massage gun
41,718 reviews – 4.5/5 5
70-minute battery life
Weight: 0.6 kg
Depth amplitude: 10 mm
One of the brands used by professionals
2,531 reviews – 4,5/5
120-minute battery life
Weight: 1 kg
Depth amplitude: 16 mm
I hope this article helps you to have a clearer understanding of the benefits (or lack thereof) of massage guns in your case.
My goal was truly to present you with the most factual information possible, far from the often vague promises made by those who develop and market them.
If you feel the need to learn more about the recovery period after an injury, I wrote this guide in eBook format:
Here’s what I wanted to tell you about this! I wish you a very good recovery! Do you have any comments or questions? Your comments are welcome 🙂 !
You may also like:
Furlan AD, Giraldo M, Baskwill A, Irvin E, Imamura M. Massage for low-back pain. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015 Sep 1;(9):CD001929.Effets secondaires du pistolet de massage
Sulkowski K, Grant G, Brodie T. Case Report: Vertebral Artery Dissection After Use of Handheld Massage Gun. Clin Pract Cases Emerg Med. 2022 May;6(2):159-161. doi: 10.5811/cpcem.2022.2.56046. PMID: 35701359; PMCID: PMC9197740.
Chen J, Zhang F, Chen H, Pan H. Rhabdomyolysis After the Use of Percussion Massage Gun: A Case Report. Phys Ther. 2021 Jan 4;101(1):pzaa199. doi: 10.1093/ptj/pzaa199. PMID: 33156927; PMCID: PMC7846179.
Mu J, Fan W. Lens subluxation after use of a percussion massage gun: A case report. Medicine (Baltimore). 2022 Dec 9;101(49):e31825. doi: 10.1097/MD.0000000000031825. PMID: 36626450; PMCID: PMC9750662.
Seider MI, Hwang CS. Massage Gun Ophthalmopathy. Ophthalmology. 2023 Jan 20:S0161-6420(22)00861-2. doi: 10.1016/j.ophtha.2022.10.029. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 36682979.
Cafarelli E, Sim J, Carolan B, Liebesman J. Vibratory massage and short-term recovery from muscular fatigue. Int J Sports Med. 1990 Dec;11(6):474-8. doi: 10.1055/s-2007-1024840. PMID: 2286487.
Yang C, Huang X, Li Y, Sucharit W, Sirasaporn P, Eungpinichpong W. Acute Effects of Percussive Massage Therapy on Thoracolumbar Fascia Thickness and Ultrasound Echo Intensity in Healthy Male Individuals: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2023 Jan 7;20(2):1073. doi: 10.3390/ijerph20021073. PMID: 36673829; PMCID: PMC9859515.
Szymczyk P, Węgrzynowicz K, Trybulski R, Spieszny M, Ewertowska P, Wilk M, Krzysztofik M. Acute Effects of Percussive Massage Treatment on Drop Jump Performance and Achilles Tendon Stiffness. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022 Nov 17;19(22):15187. doi: 10.3390/ijerph192215187. PMID: 36429903; PMCID: PMC9690094.
Lupowitz L. Vibration Therapy – A Clinical Commentary. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2022 Aug 1;17(6):984-987. doi: 10.26603/001c.36964. PMID: 36237646; PMCID: PMC9528696.
Konrad A, Glashüttner C, Reiner MM, Bernsteiner D, Tilp M. The Acute Effects of a Percussive Massage Treatment with a Hypervolt Device on Plantar Flexor Muscles’ Range of Motion and Performance. J Sports Sci Med. 2020 Nov 19;19(4):690-694. PMID: 33239942; PMCID: PMC7675623.
García-Sillero M, Jurado-Castro JM, Benítez-Porres J, Vargas-Molina S. Acute Effects of a Percussive Massage Treatment on Movement Velocity during Resistance Training. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Jul 21;18(15):7726. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18157726. PMID: 34360032; PMCID: PMC8345385.
Cheatham SW, Baker RT, Behm DG, Stull K, Kolber MJ. Mechanical Percussion Devices: A Survey of Practice Patterns Among Healthcare Professionals. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2021 Jun 2;16(3):766-777. doi: 10.26603/001c.23530. PMID: 35382115; PMCID: PMC8964305.
Alonso-Calvete A, Lorenzo-Martínez M, Pérez-Ferreirós A, Couso-Bruno A, Carracedo-Rodríguez E, Barcala-Furelos M, Barcala-Furelos R, Padrón-Cabo A. Why Percussive Massage Therapy Does Not Improve Recovery after a Water Rescue? A Preliminary Study with Lifeguards. Healthcare (Basel). 2022 Apr 7;10(4):693. doi: 10.3390/healthcare10040693. PMID: 35455870; PMCID: PMC9031405.
By Nelly Darbois
I love to write articles that are based on my experience as a physiotherapist and extensive research in the international scientific literature.
I live in the French Alps 🌞❄️ where I work as a physiotherapist and scientific editor for my own website, where you are.