By Karla Walsh
If your muscles are tight, tense, or full of knots (been there, felt that!), you probably want to relieve that tension ASAP. But how?
“Massage has been shown to decrease delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) by 30 percent,” says Lauren Lobert, DPT, owner of APEX Physical Therapy in Brighton, Michigan. “Both massages and massage guns increase blood flow, improve range of motion, and decrease pain and tenderness.”
The massage guns she speaks of have become all the rage everywhere from pro sports locker rooms to Hollywood movie sets, and offer a handheld, cord-free shake out for your tight muscles.
Science backs up Lobert’s premise: Massage and “vibration therapy” from a massage gun were equally effective in preventing muscle soreness, according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research. In addition to reducing post-exercise soreness and returning stressed muscles to normal functioning, massage guns (and massages!) can also boost blood flow to a specific area.
“Muscles are encapsulated by a lining called fascia, which can get stuck to the muscle fibers,” says Theresa Marko, DPT, a board-certified orthopedic clinical specialist in physical therapy and owner of Marko Physical Therapy in New York City. “Massage—by hands or a massage gun—releases this, helping the muscle fibers glide better and perform properly.”
It makes even more sense if you think about your natural reaction to muscle pain: applying pressure to the spot that’s causing trouble. “The pressure from the massage gun can desensitize the nervous system in that area, which then decreases the sensation of pain,” adds Nina Geromel, DPT, owner of Geromove Physical Therapy in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. “This is why we’re inclined to rub a painful area after we bumped it on something.”
Legions of celebrities and athletes (and likely someone you know or follow on Instagram) are obsessed with massage guns, quite possibly because:
- One investment offers years of use.
- Your “appointment” can be any time you like.
- It’s simple to use before or after a workout.
- It’s a nice massage alternative if you don’t like being touched by strangers.
“If you’re looking to warm up an area in a short amount of time, I typically recommend massage guns as the best option,” says Kellen Scantlebury, DPT, a physical therapist and the CEO of Fit Club in New York City. “But if your goal is to reduce as much muscular stress and tension as possible, I recommend a massage therapist or physical therapist. Having someone work on you helps increase your state of relaxation more than using a massage gun on yourself.”
If you’re interested in giving one of these massage guns a shot, here are some options at different price points for different fitness goals.
HyperVolt Handheld Percussive Massage Device
With three speed settings and an extremely quiet motor, Lobert and Marko both own and swear by the HyperVolt. “The low speed is still very strong,” Marko says. “With five different attachment heads to choose from, you can target different areas of the body easily. The most important quality, though, is that this gun is quiet. You could do this to yourself while watching a movie with your partner, and he or she will not complain about the noise. I know this from experience!” $299
Vybe PRO Handheld Deep Muscle Massager
Consider the Vybe PRO, which comes complete with nine speeds and five heads. “The different attachments are helpful to modulate pressure for different areas of the body,” Geromel says. “This massage gun also comes with a two-year warranty and a travel case for when you need a shake-down on-the-go. $198
Theragun G3PRO Percussive Therapy Device
This locker room darling (it’s used by about 250 American sports teams) has two speeds, six attachments, 60 pounds of maximum force…and a hefty price tag. “This is a professional-grade massage gun with great durability,” Geromel says. “Although it’s more expensive than other options, it holds up with use over time.”
Scantlebury is also fond of Theragun—especially newer models like this one, which is quieter, easier to hold and handle, and a bit more intense. “I recommend using this if you’re a weightlifter or CrossFit athlete with more muscle tone.” $600
NordicTrack Recovery Massage Gun
On the opposite end of the budget spectrum is a new option—one of the first massage guns on the market under $100—from the classic fitness brand NordicTrack. It’s lightweight, has a battery charge that lasts for 90 minutes, and is sold with three different attachment heads.
One Walmart reviewer raves: “While this massager probably isn’t as powerful as a $500 Theragun, it is perfect for an amateur athlete like myself. 10/10 would recommend to anyone looking for a low-cost way to get into percussion therapy!” $100