How to Correctly Use a Massage Gun, According to Physiotherapists

Health & Wellness

Experts explain exactly how to use a massage gun so you can treat sore muscles immediately.

Last updated: 30 August 2022
5 min read
How to Correctly Use a Massage Gun

Consistent training requires time and dedication to stay healthy. To do so, it's important to prioritise recovery work.

And there are various recovery methods and options to consider. From the classic ice bath to compression therapy, there are loads of methods that can keep you feeling your best. One of the most convenient and popular options is to use a massage gun in your prehab, rehab and daily recovery routine.

The Benefits of Massage Guns

You may have seen professional athletes using massage guns courtside or even at your physiotherapy office. Massage guns often look like a drill with a soft bulb on the end, which can be applied to cranky muscles.

"Massage guns use the effects of vibration and percussive therapy to reduce lactic acid build-up and delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), by promoting circulation and increasing tissue temperature", said David Jou, DPT.

(Related: Should You Work Out When You're Sore?)

The vibrations produced by the massage gun are stronger and faster than one could do manually, said Carly Graham Brady, DPT.

One benefit of using a massage gun is to decrease workout-related soreness and soreness in general, Jou said. Another perk, according to Graham Brady, is how quickly massage guns can break down muscle tissue compared to a massage therapist or physiotherapist.

How To Use a Massage Gun

Massage guns are a great recovery tool. To reap the benefits (and prevent unintentional injury), it's important to learn how to properly use a massage gun before treating sore muscles.

According to Jou, you should target the belly of the muscle (the area with the most muscle tissue) and the length of the muscle while avoiding bony protrusions and attachment points. This can help to prevent discomfort and pain. As a rule of thumb, Graham Brady advised only using a massage gun on soft tissue or where you have a lot of muscle mass, not your bones or tendons.

More specifically, she recommended using the gun on areas that may be sore or tight. She said to avoid applying the massage gun to bone as this can exacerbate certain injuries and conditions such as fractures.

You may be tempted to turn your massage gun on full blast, especially after an intense few days of training, but the "no pain, no gain" concept doesn't apply to massage guns, Jou said. "I like to advise athletes to choose a speed and pressure that is tolerable and to use pain as a guide on how long to use the device", he explained. "The benefits of the massage gun don't depend on how intense the settings are but more so when and where the device is used".

Graham Brady agreed with Jou and said to use tolerance of the massage as the guidepost. Don't push the gun deeper into the irritated area, but instead apply pressure slowly up and down and side to side—using different angles can help break up the tissue in different ways, Graham Brady explained.

There isn't a set amount of time you should spend on a muscle group, but Graham Brady recommended slowly addressing an area and beginning to move on to other muscles once you feel relief and that the muscle has loosened. Using the massage gun for 10 minutes a day in conjunction with massage therapy or physiotherapy can improve how you feel and move, said Graham Brady.

If you aren't sure which head (or top) to use, Graham Brady said the bigger the muscle area you're targeting, the larger the head to use. The smaller the head, the more pinpointed the massage will be. To avoid pain, she recommended starting with a larger head to see what you can tolerate and then consider using a smaller one.

When To Use a Massage Gun

Because there is a bevy of recovery tools and options, you may be wondering when to use a massage gun over other recovery options such as a foam roller or a traditional massage. In Jou's opinion, massage guns are great for when other recovery options aren't readily available. "However, massage guns are just tools and not meant to replace traditional treatments from a professional", he said.

Graham Brady agreed with Jou and added that it should be used in conjunction with what a professional, such as a physiotherapist, is telling you to do. She also said that massage guns are great tools to use between sessions with a massage therapist or physiotherapist. This can help to maintain the integrity of your muscle tissue on your own before your next session.

If something feels pulled, strained or injured, avoid using a massage gun in that area, Graham Brady advised. But if you are in need of immediate, short-term relief from a sore muscle, she suggested slowly and gently using the massage gun around the area of pain to avoid causing more inflammation.

As for the optimal time to use a massage gun in your routine, Jou said to use it immediately after a workout to increase circulation—this aids in flushing lactic acid and toxins from the muscles and helps to decrease workout-related soreness. He also advised doing a follow-up session the following day to ensure your muscles stay loose and mobile. Though recent research suggested that doing as little as five minutes of a massage treatment prior to exercise can optimise flexibility, without sacrificing muscle performance.

When Not To Use a Massage Gun

It may be tempting to use a massage gun every time you experience discomfort, but according to Jou and Graham Brady, that approach can potentially lead to pain, injury and worsening symptoms. If you're experiencing an injury that's acute, swollen or related to nerves, Jou recommended avoiding going over those areas with a massage gun to prevent long-term damage.

If you're wondering how to use a massage gun on your back, focus on the areas that have more muscle, avoiding the spine, neck and deep, bony structures, Jou advised.

In general, if you aren't experiencing any relief or your muscles aren't loosening up, you should stop using the massage gun and consult an expert such as a physiotherapist to get to the root of the issue and prescribe a custom plan for you to alleviate any pain and discomfort you may be feeling, Graham Brady said.

At the end of the day, it's important to devise a recovery routine that works best for you and your needs, and don't just follow the trends. And if using a massage gun is a part of that routine, consider consulting an expert to show you how to properly use it so that you can reap all the benefits and function optimally.


Words by Tamara Pridgett

How to Correctly Use a Massage Gun

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