Massage Gun

Getting the Most from Your Massage Gun: A Beginner’s Guide to Percussive Therapy

Getting the Most from Your Massage Gun: A Beginner’s Guide to Percussive Therapy

For years now, athletes, trainers and therapists have been using percussive therapy delivered with a handheld device to treat professional athletes during warmup, post-exercise recovery and rehab. When used correctly, a percussive massage device can be a great tool for intensifying blood flow to muscles and connective tissues to warm them up, and to relieve post-exercise stiffness and soreness.

Recently, consumer-grade percussive devices have hit the market at affordable prices, and they have become popular gifts for athletes and fitness lovers. Percussive massage guns resemble a hand drill, and most have multiple attachments and settings. Choosing the right percussive device and knowing how to use it effectively are keys to getting the greatest benefits from this popular self-care technology.

Our massage gun guide explains the underlying mechanisms of percussive device therapy, and goes into detail about how to use your percussive device correctly, to get the greatest benefits.

What do percussive devices do, and how do they work?

Percussive device therapy uses vibration and pulsation to deliver concentrated mechanical pressure to myofascial tissues. Percussive pressure can help release fascia and myofascial trigger points. It increases blood flow to tight muscles and connective tissues, warming them up and making them more pliable so they can relax. Percussive therapy provides relief from muscle pain and stiffness, and restores muscle tension balance for improved alignment.

Myofascial Trigger Points

When is the best time to use a percussive massage device?

Physically active people often use a percussive device shortly before playing sports or working out to intensify the flow of blood to soft tissues, warm up muscles and connective tissues, and increase their elasticity and range of motion. Using a massage gun for warming up enhances physical performance and lowers your injury risk.

You can also use your percussive device after physical activity to enhance post-exercise recovery. Percussive therapy mimics the benefits of deep tissue massage to release muscle knots, relieve muscle stiffness and promote the removal of metabolic waste.

Percussive gun therapy decreases inflammation in muscles by flushing extracellular fluids and deoxygenated blood from your tissues and shunting them to your circulatory system. When used correctly, percussive device therapy can diminish the discomfort of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and speed up post-exercise recovery.

When is the best time to use a percussive massage device?

Users of percussive therapy report a plethora of benefits:

Relaxes muscles and connective tissue

Stiff inelastic muscles, tendons and ligaments can inhibit fluid movement and undermine physical performance. They can pull your joints out of alignment, affecting static and dynamic posture, and contributing to multiple pain syndromes. Tight tissues make you more prone to injury during physical activity.

Facilitates injury healing and rehab

Percussive pressure helps to break down deep scar tissue and eliminate adhesions. It sparks neural activity and accelerates the influx of oxygen and nutrients to healing cells.

Boosts lymphatic function

Your lymph system is essential to optimal immune system function. It helps to maintain fluid levels in your body’s tissues and promotes optimal function immune responses.

Increases muscle elasticity and flexibility

Percussive therapy warms up muscle temperature and gently stretches muscle cells. Warm elastic muscles allow for unrestricted movement with greater joint range of motion.

Helps relieve pain, stiffness and soreness from overuse injuries

Use your gun to ease pain and discomfort from tendinitis, shin splints, plantar fasciitis and back pain. You can even use a massage gun for sciatica. However, use extreme caution when treating these conditions with percussive therapy.

Promotes more restful sleep

Tense, sore muscles can keep you awake by putting pressure on nerves, stimulating your central nervous system. Productive sleep is essential to post-exercise muscle recovery and optimal physical and cognitive performance.

Helps manage stress

We carry stress in our muscles, especially in the neck and shoulder region. Chronic stress keeps us in fight or flight mode, causing blood pressure to surge, elevating hormones associated with weight gain and promoting metabolic disease.

What advantages does percussive gun therapy provide?

How do I control the pressure of my percussive device?

It is best to gradually experiment with your percussive device pressure, to avoid overdoing it and putting too much stress on soft tissues. Most percussive devices come with different interchangeable attachments for the tip of the gun. Start with the softest attachment, and don’t bear down on the gun at first. Begin by applying light pressure (20-50 g) to more superficial tissues. Gradually increase pressure by 10-20 g for each application, and gradually experiment with different attachments.

Can I injure myself or someone else with a percussive device?

While percussive devices are generally safe, overusing your percussive device, or applying too much pressure over too long a time can create more problems than it solves. Excessive prolonged pressure, or applying pressure to injured tissues, can damage the fascia and muscles, causing scar tissue to form that will require professional intervention to repair.

Can I injure myself or someone else with a percussive device?

Excessive pressure can also cause rhabdomyolysis, a life threatening condition caused by ruptured muscle cells that leak toxic cell contents like myoglobin, potassium, and proteases into your bloodstream. Rhabdomyolysis can cause acute kidney damage, cardiac arrest, hepatic failure, and even death. A 2020 report by Chen et al. documents a case of rhabdomyolysis caused by inappropriate use of a percussive device.

Should I hold my percussive device at a particular angle?

To release taut muscle bands called trigger points, vertical compression is recommended. Hold the gun directly above the trigger point for 40-60 seconds. Do not allow the pain from compression to exceed a rating of 5 on a pain scale of10. Back off on pressure if pain becomes excessive, to allow the muscle to relax.

Remember that muscles relax, and fascia releases. If your goal is to release fascia, experiment by holding the gun at different angles, to gain the best access to your fascial network at that location.

What are the contraindications for percussive device use?

Go easy on percussive pressure and exercise caution when treating the following conditions:

Easy Percussive Pressure
  • Tendinitis
  • Periostitis
  • Bursitis
  • Fasciitis

You should never apply percussive pressure to any of these conditions:

Never Apply Percussive Pressure
  • Strained or ruptured muscles or tendons
  • Sprains
  • Broken bones
  • Undiagnosed severe pain — consult your physician before using your percussive device to treat severe pain from an unknown source

Consult your physician before using percussive device therapy if you have the following conditions:

Conditions List
  • High blood pressure
  • Severe varicose veins
  • Circulatory disorders and diseases
  • Osteoporosis
  • Degenerative muscular disorders
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Gout
  • Arthritis

Remember that every action has an equal and opposite reaction, so be gentle with yourself when using percussive therapy, and increase pressure gradually to avoid doing more harm than good.

Treating Active Trigger Points

Even the most advanced percussive device cannot effectively release active trigger points. Active trigger points often produce tenderness and cause referred pain in remote areas of the body. Latent trigger points, on the other hand, are irritable taut bands of muscle associated with a local twitch response that may release in response to percussive therapy.

To release an active trigger point, you need professional intervention. Treatment approaches for active trigger points convert physical energy to a biological reaction, a process called mechanotransduction. Effective methods include extracorporeal shock wave therapy (ESWT), ultrasound guided dry needling and acupuncture.

Resourses

Celik, Derya, and Ebru Kaya Mutlu. “Clinical implication of latent myofascial trigger point.” Current pain and headache reports 17.8 (2013): 353.
Chen, Jian, et al. “Rhabdomyolysis After the Use of Percussion Massage Gun: A Case Report.” Physical Therapy (2020).
Simic, L., N. Sarabon, and Goran Markovic. “Does pre‐exercise static stretching inhibit maximal muscular performance? A meta‐analytical review.” Scandinavian journal of medicine Konrad, Andreas, et al. “The Acute Effects of a Percussive Massage Treatment with a Hypervolt Device on Plantar Flexor Muscles’ Range of Motion and Performance.” Journal of Sports Science & Medicine 19.4 (2020): 690.
& science in sports 23.2 (2013): 131-148.

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In this instance, an athlete was originally diagnosed with minor quadriceps muscle strain and was treated for four weeks, with unsatisfactory results. When he came to our clinic, the muscle was not healing, and the patients’ muscle tissue had already begun to atrophy.

Upon examination using MSUS, we discovered that he had a full muscle thickness tear that had been overlooked by his previous provider. To mitigate damage and promote healing, surgery should have been performed immediately after the injury occurred. Because of misdiagnosis and inappropriate treatment, the patient now has permanent damage that cannot be corrected.

The most important advantage of Ultrasound over MRI imaging is its ability to zero in on the symptomatic region and obtain imaging, with active participation and feedback from the patient. Using dynamic MSUS, we can see what happens when patients contract their muscles, something that cannot be done with MRI. From a diagnostic perspective, this interaction is invaluable.

Dynamic ultrasonography examination demonstrating
the full thickness tear and already occurring muscle atrophy
due to misdiagnosis and not referring the patient
to proper diagnostic workup

Demonstration of how very small muscle defect is made and revealed
to be a complete tear with muscle contraction
under diagnostic sonography (not possible with MRI)

image

Complete tear of rectus femoris
with large hematoma (blood)

image

Separation of muscle ends due to tear elicited
on dynamic sonography examination

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