Just what is a massage gun, and why are they so popular right now?
Massage guns are handheld, battery-operated devices that are made to vibrate or massage your muscles to help relax them and provide pain relief. They usually have different attachment heads to help you reach certain areas of the body or to adjust your massage experience.
A massage brings fresh blood to the affected body part, and that helps to get rid of waste in the muscles. It also helps reduce painful muscle contractions.
Compared with basic, less expensive massage tools like inexpensive shiatsu massagers you often see for sale around the holidays, massage guns are able to reach deeper levels of the muscle tissue.
You might use a massage gun for a few different reasons:
- For stress recovery. This could be day-to-day stress felt in your neck and shoulders based on your body positioning. Or, it could be for athletic recovery from heavy workouts that may cause delayed onset muscle soreness, says Daniel DeLucchi, chiropractor and co-owner of Tuttle DeLucchi Chiropractic Seattle in Seattle.
- For tight muscles.
- To reduce the need for or supplement in-person massage treatments.
- To increase blood flow in specific areas of the body, which is helpful because enhanced blood circulation helps to remove waste products in the muscles.
- If you have limited mobility or balance or if you’re post surgery, as massage guns are easy to hold in your hand without moving around a lot, says Heather Jeffcoat, a physical therapist and owner of Femina Physical Therapy in the Los Angeles area.
You might choose to use a massage gun in addition to or in place of a foam roller, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (or TENS unit) or a massage therapist. “If you use these other therapies more often, you can easily add a massage gun into your rotation of recovery tools,” DeLucchi says.
How to Choose a Massage Gun
Because massage guns are more expensive than the basic massage devices you see at retail stores – higher-end models can run upwards of $300 – you’ll want to choose one carefully. Here are a few questions to ask yourself to help choose the best massage gun for you.
- How often will you use it? If you see yourself using it a few times a week, then you may feel OK buying a pricier model. If it’s occasional use, a less expensive model could be a better way to dip your toe into the waters of massage guns.
- Will you travel with it? If so, you probably want a smaller model so it’s easier to carry, says Lauren Lobert Frison, a physical therapist and owner of APEX Physical Therapy in Brighton, Michigan.
- How loud is it? Some of them can be noisy, Lobert Frison says. The higher-priced models tend to be quieter, says Brandon Trachman, a physical therapist at PT Central in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
- How much does it weigh? You have to hold the massage gun to use it. “If you have limited grip strength or fatigue easily, lighter will be better for you,” Jeffcoat says.
- What type of massage pressure do you like? Some are known for more aggressive pressure, which may not be a good match if you like lighter pressure, Frison says.
- What’s the battery life on a single charge? You’ll find a range from 20 to 40 minutes to two or more hours, usually depending on cost.
- How many speed settings does it have? Ideally, it will have at least three settings so you can vary the experience based on what you need.
- Are you looking for tech-based guidance on how to use your massage gun? Some of the higher-priced models have Bluetooth-connected apps that include videos on how to use the massage gun and provide custom-recommended warm-up and recovery routines.
The Five Best Massage Guns in 2021-2022
- Hypervolt 2 by Hyperice ($279 to $299 on Amazon). This versatile model is lightweight (1.8 pounds) and has three hours of battery life. It includes three speeds and five attachment heads, plus it’s a good size for travel. One potential drawback: Its larger handgrip may be harder for smaller hands to hold, DeLucchi says.
- Theragun Prime by Therabody ($299 on Amazon). The Prime model has five speeds, five attachments, and two hours of battery life. It weighs 2.2 pounds.
- Hypervolt Go by Hyperice ($179 to $199 on Amazon). One advantage with the Go model is its light weight – only 1.5 pounds. The weight distribution makes it easy to use for patients with chronic pain, Jeffcoat says. It comes with two attachments. It’s not as powerful as pricier models but is sufficient for most of her patients.
- Renpho R3 Massage Gun by Renpho ($99 on Amazon). This more affordable model has five attachments, five speeds and weighs 1.5 pounds. One Amazon reviewer wrote, “My legs were aching from an intense workout so I used the gun on only my left leg to see what difference it made. Instantly the muscles felt less tight as if I hadn’t exercised.”
Fusion FX Heated Heated Percussion Massage Gun by LifePro ($229 on Amazon). A unique feature of the Fusion FX is that it provides heated massage for extra relief to sore muscles. It comes with five speeds, five attachments and three “bonus” modes to change up the massage approach. It weighs 2.16 pounds.
How to Get the Most Out of a Massage Gun
Once you find the right massage gun, keep these tips in mind so you can get the most out of using it:
- Try to relax the muscle you’re targeting in advance. If the muscle isn’t already somewhat relaxed, then it’s hard for the massage gun to provide further relief. One suggestion from DeLucchi: Hold the message gun in the opposite hand of whatever body part you’re working on. So, if you want to use it on your left shoulder, hold the massage gun in your right hand so you’re not tensing the muscles in your left shoulder.
- Have a partner help out if available. There will always be some parts of your body that are hard to reach on your own. Ask someone to use the massage gun in those types of areas to help out.
- Expect some muscle soreness but not pain, Trachman says. Back off and use the gun elsewhere or take a break if you experience pain. If the pain after using a massage gun lasts more than two to three days, see a doctor or physical therapist for help.
- Start slow and work your way up as tolerated if your massage gun has different speed settings.
- Talk to your doctor first if you use prescription blood thinners, have areas of impaired sensation or suspected blood clots. Typically, massage guns shouldn’t be used for people in these groups, Trachman says.
- Don’t use the gun on bony parts of the body or broken skin. This could cause additional skin damage.
- Don’t overdo it. Less is definitely more, DeLucchi says. Two to three minutes per muscle group is more effective than a 30-minute session, he explains.
- Continue to use more than one way to relieve sore muscles. You’ll get better results by sticking with a range of options, including ice and heat packs, foam rollers and similar type therapies.
- Combine massage gun use with stretching that’s appropriate for your target muscle area. Trachman’s practice will often combine massage gun use with active stretching and other forms of hands-on therapy.
- Use it. That may seem obvious, but Lobert Frison has observed many people buying devices without ever using them. Find a time and place where you can relax while using it.