Percussion Massager Benefits: Purpose and Efficacy Explained

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
February 28, 2022

In the event of significant athletic training or cases of an individual suffering from injuries to the soft tissues of their musculature and tendons, there is no doubt that any sort of relief from the kind of symptoms that accompanies these sorts of bodily strains is of vital importance.

This is where a particular device known as the percussion massager is brought into play, of which utilizes the heavily researched methodology of percussive massage therapy in order to reduce such characteristics of muscular strain such as swelling, high temperatures and dull aching pains.

Though somewhat contested among the scientific community, there is some evidence that suggests percussion massagers can present a certain level of benefit to the recovery of both athletes and individuals who have strained their connective and muscular tissues in some shape or form.

What is a Percussion Massager?

percussion massager

The most common form of percussion massager is that of a hand-held device with a protruding knob at one end, of which - when activated- will both vibrate vigorously as well as thrust repeatedly back and forth, providing both a kneading action to the tissue it impacts as well as the added benefit of smaller vibratory movements.

Depending on the particular brand and model of percussion massager one is using, the strength and rapidity of both its vibrations and thrusts can vary, with more intense and powerful percussion massager devices being more suitable for deeper tissue strain, such as in the quadriceps femoris or gluteus muscle groups.

Even the vibrating knob located at one end of the percussion massager device can vary in shape and function, with some possessing a triangular shape for more precise and sharper penetrating movements, of which are more suitable for such areas like the forearms or deltoids where the particular muscle groups are more divided and by extension separated into smaller fibers.

What are Percussion Massagers Usually Used For?

Percussion massagers are most commonly used by athletes and professionally trained individuals who act in a restorative and rehabilitative capacity in concerns to their client’s anatomical and histological health, such as kinesiologists and physical therapists. 

Asides from its ability to help heal soft tissue injuries in a variety of individuals, percussion massagers may also be combined with a prescribed warm-up routine prior to the performance of intense exercise so as to reduce the chance of injury as well as improve athletic ability via the improvement of blood flow to musculature.

This is especially applicable in regular gym goers who stress particular parts of their bodily tissues on a repetitive basis, of which may eventually suffer from a reduced range of motion and flexibility due to the usage of an improper or entirely absent stretching routine.

The use of a percussion massager, when combined with proper physical therapy, stretching routines, warm-ups, and proper exercise form, can both speed up muscle tissue recovery as well as reduce its chance of injury during the times when it is placed under stress.

Who Can Benefit from Using Percussion Massagers?

massage gun benefits

Percussion massager devices are not entirely reserved for professionally trained specialists or highly advanced athletes, however, as they may be purchased in practically any sporting goods store or even in a variety of online marketplaces for perfectly reasonable prices.

As such, the use of a percussion massager device is not only aimed towards such individuals but also towards the general consumer populace, with such people like frequent gym goers or individuals with physically strenuous jobs also being able to benefit from the use of percussive massage therapy on a regular basis.

All this being said, percussion massager devices are usually found to be most popular among professional athletes with a particular specialty in endurance sports, such as triathlete competitors and marathon runners, all of which benefit from the reduction in lactic acid build-up as is a consequence of percussive massage therapy.

Alongside these athletes is also the frequent use of such percussive massage therapy in regards to high intensity resistance exercise with high requirements of flexibility from the athlete so as to reduce their relative chance of injury, such as in the sport of Olympic weightlifting or strongman competition athletes.

What are the Benefits of Using a Percussion Massager?

Extensive research has been conducted into the relative safety, possible dangers as well as the benefits of not only percussion massager devices but also percussive massager therapy in general, with other methods of achieving such being the use of other vibrating massage devices or similar methods of anatomic tissue manipulation.

Though some of these benefits are disputed between opposing studies and parties of researchers, there are several primary advantages applicable to the majority of individuals who choose to regularly use percussion massager devices, of which are quite commonly supported by the majority of academic literature articles concerning the subject.

Warm-Up Benefits

Though not entirely based on percussion massager devices alone, there is doubtless quite a volume of clinical evidence behind the benefits of “warming up” an athlete’s musculature and connective tissues prior to any athletic endeavor, with even short bouts of usage of a percussion massager on the muscle groups intended to be exercised producing improved range of motion as well as reducing perceived pain and soreness in said muscle groups.

This is primarily due to the improvement of blood circulation in the tissue of the targeted muscle groups, of which is also a consequence of the structured warm-up routine meant to be combined with said percussive massager usage.

Myo-fascial Tissue Pressure Release

The vibratory and pulsing nature of percussion massage devices is quite helpful not only for numbing the nerves of a strained area but also for reducing fluid swelling in muscular tissues such as the myo-fascia, a scaffolding tissue that both protects and contains the fibers of a muscle group.

In instances where the muscle groups of an individual experience repetitive strain as is the case in intense athletic exercise or intense physical careers, the body may respond by increasing the flow of blood and other fluids to said myofascial tissue, producing a tightening or “knotting” effect.

This is directly treated through the release of said fluid, thereby reducing the pressure or tightness in said myo-fascial tissue and subsequently reducing pain in the muscle, of which may also improve recovery time of said muscles by allowing more blood to flow to the area so as to deliver nutrients and other vital materials.

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) Treatment

The particular biomechanical underpinnings behind the occurrence of delayed onset muscle soreness after a bout of exercise is somewhat disputed, though it is generally agreed upon to be due to microscopic tears and strains in the tissue of the muscle fibers utilized during strenuous exercise.

Percussion massagers help remedy this in much the same mechanism that they aid in myo-fascial tissue pressure release, wherein the subtle vibrations imparted by the knob of the massage gun as well as the thrusting of said knob can displace blood and other bodily fluids from the tissue, as well as break up “knots” of muscle fiber, allowing the muscle group as a whole to relax.

This has the effect of significantly reducing both swelling and pain associated with the presence of delayed onset muscle soreness in a post-exercise context.

Flexibility Improvements

In a rather impressive study conducted by the University of Graz, an Austrian institution, handheld percussive massage instruments such as percussion massager guns were found to significantly improve the range of motion of muscles in the body within just five minutes of uninhibited percussive massage treatment.

This is combined with the fact that said percussive massage therapy imparted by a percussion massager does not seem to affect athletic performance or torque release in any statistically significant way, making the combination of percussive massage treatment and a proper stretching or warm-up routine prior to intense exercise a truly excellent path to take.

The benefit of improved flexibility in the athlete or patient will also have the consequent effect of reducing their chance of injury by allowing their connective tissues and muscle fibers to withstand strain at a larger arc or angle without the incidence of tissue tearing or overextending beyond its limit.

Scar Tissue Improvements

Though not specific to just percussive massage therapy, the use of a percussion massager on areas with the presence of deep scar tissue may impart significant benefits to the individual, essentially “breaking down” the tissue through the vibration and use of acupressure.

These two techniques, among other smaller methods utilized by percussion massagers, help instigate what is known as an ischemic reaction in the collagen fibers of the scar tissue, wherein fluid pressure is increased and then rapidly decreased, causing a shunting effect of venous fluids and thereby improving fluid flow to the area as well as manipulating scar tissue so as to break it apart.

What are the Dangers of Using a Percussion Massager?

While percussion massagers are generally safe and as such allowed to be marketed to practically any individual, certain subsections of the population must take care while using them so as to not induce or worsen their injuries and strains, as well as to prevent any other unfortunate incidents from occurring.

Individuals with Anemia or Whom Otherwise Bruise Easily

Though the majority of percussion massager devices do not pulse or vibrate rapidly enough to induce any sort of bruising in the majority of its consumer base, certain individuals with a particular susceptibility to such an effect due to the unfortunate case of anemia, hemophilia, cushing’s syndrome or a variety of other medical conditions may find that the use of percussion massagers can cause localized bruising.

This may be remedied by either using a much weaker percussion massager device or by simply avoiding the usage of such devices all together, with other forms of percussive massage therapy being accessible without the risk of causing ecchymosis or localized tissue contusions.

Pregnant Individuals, Individuals Recovering from Traumatic Injuries or Surgical Procedures

While percussion massagers are quite useful for recovering from general athletic strain in muscular and connective tissues as well as minor injuries accrued from daily life, they may do more harm than good in individuals recovering from severe physically traumatic injuries or surgical procedures.

This is due to the fact that the vibrations and pulsation of the percussion massage instrument’s knob may interrupt the healing process of the injured area, shunting away beneficial blood flow and potentially breaking up cellular tissues that are still in the process of interconnecting, such as in surgical wounds or torn ligaments.

Women who are pregnant will also find that the usage of massage guns around or on their baby bump to not only be rather unpleasant but potentially dangerous if used in the wrong area, and it is our advice that said expecting mothers first consult a physician prior to using a percussion massager at all.

Where Should You Use a Percussion Massager on the Body?

percussion massage targets

Percussion massager devices may be used in practically any part of the body with significant enough soft tissue to withstand the deep-tissue pulsations of percussion massage therapy, especially in areas such as the upper legs wherein the quadriceps femoris and hamstring muscle groups may be massaged quite thoroughly by the device.

Other areas that are commonly strained during exercise or daily activities and may benefit from the use of a percussion massager are the shoulders, back, pectoralis muscles, calves, and buttocks.

Though the percussion massager device may be used in other – more bony- areas of the body such as the back of the neck and the extremities of the limbs, care must be taken so as to reduce the chance of bruising or pain as the pulsating and vibrating knob comes into contact with harder tissues such as bones or more fragile joints.

How Long Should You Use a Percussion Massager to Achieve the Benefits?

For the purposes of warming up prior to athletic activities, simply massaging the muscle group intended to come under strain for as short a time as five minutes should be more than sufficient enough to improve its flexibility and reduce the chance of injury, especially when combined with a proper warm-up routine.

For general injuries and muscular strain, the average percussion massager should impart significant benefits to most muscle groups if used for up to fifteen minutes at a time, though one should immediately stop if any sort of pain is experienced.

References

1. Imtiyaz S, Veqar Z, Shareef MY. To Compare the Effect of Vibration Therapy and Massage in Prevention of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). J Clin Diagn Res. 2014;8(1):133-136. doi:10.7860/JCDR/2014/7294.3971

2. 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;19(4):690-694. Published 2020 Nov 19.

3. Unknown Author. “Breakdown Of Scar Tissue - Benefits Of Massage - Massage - Treatments - Physio.co.uk. Physio.co.uk. Published 2022. Accessed January 2, 2022. https://www.physio.co.uk/treatments/massage/benefits-of-massage/breakdown-of-scar-tissue.php

4. Weerapong, P., Hume, P. A., & Kolt, G. S. (2005). The mechanisms of massage and effects on performance, muscle recovery and injury prevention. Sports medicine, 35(3), 235-256. https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-200535030-00004

5. García Sillero, Manuel & Jurado-Castro, Jose Manuel & Benítez-Porres, Javier & Vargas Molina, Salvador. (2021). Acute Effects of a Percussive Massage Treatment on Movement Velocity during Resistance Training. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2021. 7726. 10.3390/ijerph18157726.

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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