massage gun benefits

3 Massage Gun Benefits That Explain Exactly How the Tool Speeds Up Recovery

These vibrating handheld devices are buzzy for a reason.

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A quick scroll through your social media feed can give the illusion that all of your pals—and fitness buffs you admire from afar—are obsessed with using massage guns for recovery. Which might lead you to wonder: Is it all hype? Or are there legit science-backed massage gun benefits?

Sure, investing in a vibrating, handheld device is cheaper than visiting a masseuse, but there’s more to using a massager than saving cash. In fact, we spoke to four physical therapists, and all of them agreed there are perks that come with investing in one. 

“Who wouldn’t want access to the power, pressure, and precision of a masseuse that never gets tired and always knows the exact spot you need worked out?” says physical therapist Celestine Compton D.P.T. “For those with fixed budgets or hectic schedules, massage guns have been a real game changer for self care.”

Aside from being a portable version of an on-demand masseuse, what does a massage gun do? Physical therapists explain how the tool can enhance your athletic performance.

About the Experts

Celestine Compton D.P.T., a physical therapist at Origin, a virtual physical therapy company focused on women’s health.

Matthew Perry, D.P.T., a physical therapist and founder of Auto-Ness Physical Therapy in San Diego, CA.

John Fenger, D.P.T., a physical therapist and manager of outpatient rehabilitation services at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, CA.

Corwin Patis, D.P.T., a senior physical therapist at Pacific Neuroscience Institute in Santa  Monica, CA.

What Is a Massage Gun—And Why Use One?

After a grueling workout or even a long day on your feet, a massage gun can help prevent and alleviate muscle soreness. The handheld devices use something called percussive therapy—rapid bursts of pressure and vibration—to help target tight muscles and relieve tension by increasing blood flow to them, says senior physical therapist Corwin Patis, D.P.T (1). 

After working out, myofascial tissue (also known as fascia)—or the connective tissue that supports the muscles and joints in your body—and your muscles can be riddled with trigger points (2). (If you’ve ever self-massaged a tender area that felt like a little knot forming within your muscles, that’s a trigger point.) 

Not only are these little knots painful, but they can also limit your range of motion, increasing your risk of injury (3). Trigger points can be released by applying pressure and inviting oxygen-rich blood to the aching area. 

This is where a massage gun can help.

Basically, [massage guns] create repetitive vibrations that you can position over a muscle or tendon with varying intensity, frequency, and duration,” Compton adds. “These vibrations improve blood flow to the area which can lead to better oxygenation and better overall muscle function.”

With many massage guns, you can customize the type of massage treatment you want with the help of interchangeable heads. Ball heads deliver controlled pressure and a deep tissue massage on your quad, for instance. Fork heads, which are two-prong, are helpful for when you want to apply vibration to the muscles on both sides of your spine—without touching the bone at all. 

Massage guns are usually wireless, so you can easily toss them in a gym bag or backpack for on-demand relief. 

Do massage guns work? 

Massage guns are relatively new (the first commercial one debuted 20 years ago), so there’s not a library of research on them yet, says Compton. (Right now, there is more research published on vibration in general, not specifically the vibration a massage gun creates). But studies suggest massage guns may help reduce pain, improve flexibility, and bolster strength (4). 

The beauty of a massage gun is that you don’t have to put in a lot of effort—or demand on your body—to reap the benefits. That’s because percussive therapy doesn’t involve applying external pressure with the massage gun, even though many people tend to do this when using the tool, Compton suggests. 

“If you’re leaning your whole body weight into the massage gun to work out that muscle, you’re likely not actually performing percussive therapy,” she says. You’re not going to damage your muscle by applying extra pressure, but the arm that’s holding the massage gun might get tired, she explains. 

Massage Gun Benefits

Everybody is different and what works for someone else may not be right for you. In general, though, there are three ways a massage gun can improve your recovery and enhance your athletic performance.  

Eases muscle tension and soreness

Fans and experts say a big draw of massage guns is that they help relieve—and prevent—delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) (1). Experts suggest this is due to the massage gun’s ability to increase blood flow to damaged muscle tissue.  

Research shows that when increased amounts of oxygen-rich blood are supplied to the muscles, it can help reduce inflammation, and exercise-induced muscle damage that typically occurs after an intense workout, Compton notes.

The low-frequency vibration in massage guns can also encourage the body to produce more nitric acid—a signaling molecule that regulates cellular functions—increasing blood flow in the process, Perry adds. 

Of course, how often you use a massage gun, and for how long, likely plays a role in how well the tool can alleviate soreness and improve circulation, Patis says. 

Improves range of motion

After a workout, you may have a limited range of motion due to temporary inflammation and muscle soreness, Compton explains. 

This is one of the reasons why it’s so important to prioritize recovery. “Reducing post-workout muscle soreness means a faster return of overall muscle function, reduced pain, and improved flexibility,” she says (5).

A massage gun can help increase your range of motion by releasing trigger points and restricted muscles (6). “Massage guns may help improve short-term range of motion, flexibility, and the quality of recovery after a workout,” says physical therapist John Fenger, D.P.T.

DOMs can also cause muscles to stiffen, inhibiting how well you can move the affected part of your body (7). Perry explains that massage guns can help here by increasing tissue elasticity and reducing muscle stiffness. This can also be helpful in conditions like plantar fasciitis, “where muscle tightness affects mobility,” Perry adds. 

Improving your range of motion can also lower the risk of injury as you head into your next workout, Compton says. Think about it: If you regularly change your form to avoid recruiting sore muscles, you may move your muscles, joints, and bones in ways they’re not meant to, or force them to carry too much of the load. 

Improves muscle strength and endurance

There is “limited” data to support this claim, Perry says, but a “reduction in muscle soreness and improvement in circulation might contribute to better overall muscle functionality.” He adds that the recovery effects a massage gun has on your muscles (releasing trigger points and alleviating tension and stiffness) all enable you to properly use them. 

In short, recovering more quickly from a sweat session can help you hit your next workout feeling fresh and ready to achieve your goals (5).  

What Are the Best Massage Guns to Buy?

The best massage gun is ultimately one that meets your needs and preferences. “I usually advise people to consider grabbing one that is inexpensive first in order to see if they even like it,” Compton says. 

Choosing one that comes with a variety of head attachments, adjustable frequency, and with a good return policy is always a smart move. 

Three Popular Massage Guns

The Bottom Line

Research on the benefits of using massage guns is still ongoing, but physical therapists say they can be handy tools for working out sore muscles. If you’re interested in a massage gun, consider borrowing one from a friend or investing in a lower-cost model first. You can always upgrade from there.