Percussion In Massage With A Massage Gun | How Percussive Therapy Works

Created by Elly McGuinness

Last Updated: March 27, 2021

CATEGORIES: Physical Fitness

Several years ago I visited my local chiropractor. She pulled out a small handheld device called a massage gun, which she said she would use as part of my treatment plan for back pain. The massage gun was used as the tool to apply a technique called percussion in massage.

I was intrigued and perhaps a little skeptical as to its efficacy at first. However, I highly valued her knowledge and experience so I was excited to give it a try. I was happy to discover that her sessions using the massage gun were short, yet effective. The treatments were also completely painless for me. These, along with the fact that treatments can also be self-administered are perhaps some of the key reasons that this modality has surged in popularity over recent years.

(This post includes affiliate links for which I may earn a commission at no extra cost to you should you make a purchase)

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[Massage guns are also featured on my post about the 9 Top Myofascial Release Tools For 2022, and you can read my dedicated Exogun review here.].

What is percussion in massage?

Percussion massage is a deep tissue massage technique that uses a combination of vibration and a pulsing type motion to target muscle knots. This type of massage therapy is applied through a massage gun. Much less intense than the name implies, massage guns have the ability to reach deep into the muscles without the pain that can be experienced with a traditional deep tissue or trigger point massage.

Percussion in massage is applied using an easy-to-use handheld gun. A percussion gun can be used as part of a treatment plan through professionals such as massage therapists and chiropractors. Driving the increase in popularity is the fact that they can also be used for muscle release at home or anywhere, without the need for a practitioner.

Percussion in massage - man with massage gun doing self massage at home

Benefits of percussive therapy

Percussive therapy can be used as a workout preparation or a recovery tool. The potential benefits are related to the deep muscle injection from the massage gun to effectively reach problem areas.

Percussion in massage may offer the following benefits:

Reduction in the incidence or severity of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)

The theory behind percussive therapy is that it can help prevent pain signals from reaching the brain. Therefore, massage guns could be used to help your muscles feel better faster in between workouts.

Increased blood flow

Vibration therapy, which is part of percussion in massage can improve circulation. This helps reduce tension and stiffness in the muscles.

Decrease recovery time

Using a modality such as massage percussion can help speed up your muscle recovery time. Although recovery time is multi-factorial, this could mean that you’re fully recovered and ready for your next workout faster.

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Percussion in massage may help improve flexibility 

The muscle release that you experience with percussive therapy can help free up blockages in your muscles and connective tissue, as well as relieve stiff joints. This can help you to increase your range of motion and stretch into your muscles more effectively.

Better lymphatic drainage

Like other massage techniques, the release of muscle knots allows lymph to flow more freely through the body. This means that waste products from the body can be removed more easily.

Fast, effective, and painless

Percussion in massage is well-worth considering as part of an effective workout recovery plan. They can deliver fast relief, and you can use them at home, or wherever you are. Massage guns offer a pain-free alternative for those who find the intensity of trigger point therapy (e.g. foam rollers and trigger point balls) to be too much.

A cheap recovery option

Massage guns have decreased a lot in price since they first entered the market, so there are options to suit different budgets. Overall, if you use one regularly, it’s just a small fraction of the cost compared to a traditional 1:1 massage.

Benefits of massage guns - massage gun and extra parts

Research on percussion in massage

Little research has been conducted on the benefits of percussion in massage using massage guns. Research has mostly been limited to the effects of vibration therapy or massage therapy, both of which have been shown to be effective treatments for the prevention of DOMS. From there, suggestions have been made about the potential benefits of percussive therapy since it includes elements of both vibration and massage. 

Much of the other evidence is anecdotal, with trainers, chiropractors, or everyday massage gun users sharing their personal experiences on the effects. However, more specific studies that explore the benefits of percussive therapy are now starting to emerge. 

A 2020 study on 16 male volunteers explored the effect of using a Hypervolt massage gun on range of motion and performance in the calf muscles. For the group using the massage gun, the study found that range of motion in the muscles increased significantly, without a subsequent decrease in muscle strength.

As a result, the researchers in the study recommended using percussion massage as part of a warm-up. The goal of doing so is centered on optimizing flexibility without reducing performance.

Types of percussion massage guns

If you are wondering what type of percussion massage gun to buy, there are plenty of product options available on the market. There are options for different budgets, and often several options from one brand, offering slightly different features. 

A popular brand is Theragun, with models from the Theragun Mini at $194.99 up to the Theragun PRO at $599. The Vybe Pro Massage Gun also has high ratings and has nine speeds and eight head attachments. Other options include the Tim Tam Massager, or the much cheaper ECUPUZ massager at less than $60.

I recommend Exogun as a great, budget-friendly option.

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Percussion in massage precautions

If you have an injury or medical condition, please seek professional advice before using a massage gun. Massage guns are not designed to be used at the site of an injury, and could cause additional damage to the area. Do not use them for strains, sprains, or any inflammatory conditions. They should also be avoided if you are pregnant.

Start by using the lowest setting of your percussion massage gun. This can help you get a feel for the level of pressure that works for you, without overdoing it from the beginning. Harder and/or longer is not necessarily better.

Be sensible, and use them on the main muscles you target in a workout. That is, they’re not designed to be used on areas of the body such as the face, head, or neck. If you are unsure how to safely and effectively use a massage gun, ask a professional such as a chiropractor who uses this modality regularly. You’ll get more out of your massage gun if you known exactly how to use it properly.

How percussive therapy works - massage therapist using massage gun on the back of patients leg

Are massage guns worth it?

Percussion in massage can be considered as one technique that can potentially help you to reduce pain levels, increase range of motion, and improve overall physical performance. There are many other ways that these objectives can be achieved, and it’s a matter of personal preference as to whether you want to include a massage gun as part of your toolkit for better health and wellness.

Ultimately, if you buy one and it sits in your cupboard gathering dust, then it’s not a great investment. Massage guns are likely to be most effective when they are used regularly as part of a holistic approach to a fitter, healthier lifestyle. That is, there are no silver bullets, and your success will be determined as a result of several factors.

Percussion in massage - massage gun in case

What do you think about massage guns? 

Are you considering purchasing a massage gun, or do you use one regularly already? Do massage guns help sore muscles or back pain? Do massage guns help with recovery? If you’ve been using one, what has your experience been?

Feel free to join the conversation about percussion in massage and leave any questions or comments below!

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Disclaimer: This article contains affiliate links. This means that if you make a purchase after clicking on one of these recommended service provider links, like an insurance broker, or a travel agent, I may earn a commission – at no extra cost to you. [For my full disclosure, please see my DISCLAIMER page].

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Elly McGuinness


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