Percussion massagers are excellent tools for post-workout recovery, if you’re using them properly. Here’s everything you need to know to use muscle massagers safely and effectively!
Looking for a new way to treat your muscles to a little R&R after an intense workout? You might be curious about percussion massagers that are growing in popularity.
Percussion massagers are a great way to improve your mobility and address certain pain issues from muscle imbalances, if you’re using them right.
Massagers can be a double edged sword: on one hand they can be an excellent myofascial release tool, but on another hand, they can also cause problems if not used properly.
If you’re wondering about massagers, we’re here to help! In this post, we’ll share everything you need to know about massage guns, what they are, benefits of massagers, and how to use them safely!
What is a percussion massager?
If you’ve been on social media, read articles in fitness magazines, or perused popular fitness blogs, you’ve probably seen buzz around percussion massagers (also called massage guns, massagers, power massagers, or muscle guns). I’ll use several of those terms interchangeably throughout this post.
If you’re not familiar with this type of massagers, they are another great tool you can add to your fitness recovery tool box, just like foam rolling, cupping, stretching, massage, and other forms of myofascial release.
Massage guns are a handheld percussion massager that uses rapid, pulsating strokes to massage and release your muscles and fascia (myofascial release).
I’ve used other vibrational and percussion massage devices before in the past, like the MyoBuddy, that are nice for creating warmth and deliver a massage, but massage gun-type percussion massagers can deliver a deep tissue massage in very specific areas and trigger points, unlike a broader massager like the Myobuddy.
Most power massagers will come with several small attachments for reaching targeted areas. I decided on the Exogun when I bought mine and it came with 4 different attachments.
My favorite attachment is the flat one that spreads out the pressure a little bit more, but the others are great if you have specific muscle knots that you need to work on breaking down. Just make sure that you’re careful with them (more on that farther down in the post).
Benefits of using a percussion massager
There are a lot of great reasons to use a percussion massager! We’ll get into the contraindications of power massagers in a bit, but let’s look at the benefits of using a percussion massager:
Percussion massagers provide targeted myofascial release
Since I’ve had a lot of tendon problems, hip surgery, constant IT band syndrome problems, and knee surgery, foam rolling has become a constant and regular part of my routine.
I don’t always do foam rolling on my days off of exercise, but you’ll never see me do a workout that doesn’t end with foam rolling and stretching. Ever.
Myofascial release has become a non-negotiable part of my fitness and when I was personal training, I incorporated it into every client’s routine as well. I consider it essential to proper movement and recovery.
That said, sometimes foam rolling doesn’t always deliver the pressure we need, especially when we’ve been foam rolling for years. And it’s often really difficult to use the foam roller for hard to reach areas, like your neck, pectoral (chest) muscles, or inner thighs.
That’s where massagers come in: they help you get very targeted massage and myofascial release in places you can’t reach with a foam roller.
If you’ve been using a foam roller for years and want a step up from that, try out a percussion massager in addition to your rolling and stretching.
Massagers are compact and easy to use
One thing I love about percussion massagers is that they are incredibly easy to use. You don’t have to get on the floor like you do with a roller, which is great for people with limited mobility.
You don’t need a lot of extra space with a power massager like you do with a roller. With a foam roller, you need enough space to lie down on the floor with plenty of space to move as well, but you can use a massage gun just about anywhere and in limited space.
A percussion massager is also easier to travel with because it takes up less space than a full-sized roller and even some of the travel rollers. We like taking our massage stick with us to travel as well, but our massage gun will be a regular travel companion since we can use it while we’re sitting in the car, something we can’t really do with our massage stick.
Contraindications: when you shouldn’t use a massage gun
Just like with many forms of myofascial release, there are cases when you shouldn’t use a massage gun, and there are certain people who shouldn’t use them.
Don’t forget to always check with your doctor or physical therapist before using myofascial release tools!
Here are a few reasons you may not want to use a massage gun:
- If you have bleeding disorders or bruise easily
- If you are pregnant or have a high risk pregnancy
- If you recently had surgery (massage can move blood clots, always check with your doctor/surgeon about timelines for massage of any kind after surgery).
- If you have nerve disorders, MS, epilepsy, or other nervous system disorders
- If you have skin disorders and you have open sores or your skin is easily torn
Use your massager in the right place or it can do more harm than good
If you don’t remember that list of things, remember this: using a massage gun is great if you’re using it on the right area. You can actually make some issues worse by using a percussion massager in the wrong place. Let me explain.
After my knee surgery, I had some consistent knee pain when I started working out again and couldn’t figure out why. My physical therapy sessions were used up for my knee, so I had to kind of figure things out on my own.
Since my physical therapy was used up but I still needed a little help, I bought a couple months access to the recovery center that my physical therapist office had, which included massage chairs, Normatec pressure cuffs, Hyperice vibrating roller, the Hypervolt massage gun, among other great recovery tools.
I didn’t realize at the time that my knee pain was caused by my quad tendon pulling my kneecap up and out of place because the arthroscopic incisions in my knee were on the bottom of my knee, effectively releasing the tendons and muscles below my kneecap and the exercises I was doing was also tightening my quad tendon.
Kneecap riding too high and out of place = painful exercise.
It was completely different pain than before my surgery, so I knew it wasn’t the old tight IT band problem again.
I started using the Hypervolt on my fully healed incisions since I thought my completely new kneecap pain was due to scar tissue in those incisions. It actually made my kneecap pain worse because I was not addressing the real problem: my kneecap moving upward thanks to a new imbalance and my quad tendon getting too tight.
After a while, I began to notice what the problem was: I noticed my kneecap on my surgery knee was riding a full 1/2 inch higher than my other knee when I had my legs out straight and completely relaxed. I got a brace from my surgeon that I ended up having to modify, and once I knew what the problem was, I was able to tackle it and I’m doing pretty good so far.
My doctor also told me that my kneecaps naturally rode high anyway, so this is something that I probably have to watch out for anyway.
Bottom line: if you have an imbalance, it can actually hurt you rather than help you to use a massage gun on the wrong area.
Make sure you know for sure what areas you need to target before jumping in to treat yourself!
Tips for using a percussion massager
If you decided to bite the bullet and get a percussion massager/massage gun, here are some tips for safely using it.
- Avoid using your percussion massager over bony areas (unless you’re using a soft massager like the Myobuddy). Try to use the massager over muscles.
- Don’t press down hard with your massager. The power massager will work best if you apply moderate pressure, just holding it against your muscle but not pushing down with it.
- Avoid using a percussion massager over bursa. The repetitive pounding from a deep tissue massager isn’t a good thing for bursa especially if you have bursitis. If you’re not sure where the bursa are located in your body, you can find medical illustrations online of areas where bursa are located.
- Don’t use the percussion massager in one place for too long or it can cause bruising. Rotate areas that you’re massaging, especially if you have it turned on high or are new to using a massager.
- Start out easy with a massage gun if you’re new. Most massagers have different speeds and intensities, start out the easiest ones first when you’re starting out. Just like with any kind of myofascial release, you need to ease into it and build up as you build tolerance.
- I mentioned this a couple time before, but this bears repeating: always check with your doctor or physical therapist before using a massage gun to make sure it’s okay for you to use based on your personal health needs!
Popular Brands of power massagers
Since percussion massagers are really popular right now, there is a flood of different percussion massagers on the market. Just look at Amazon to see how many different kinds have popped up in the last year or 2!
Some of the more popular brand-name massagers include:
- Hyperice Hypervolt: $349-$399
- Theragun: $249-$599
- NordicTrack Percussion Massager: $99
- TimTam Power Massager: $249-$499
Originally I had my eyes on a Hypervolt. I had used it in the recovery center and liked it a lot. The Scheels store closest to us had a holiday sale on Hypervolt over Christmas, so I was seriously considering it but still didn’t want to spend that much ($350 for their deal including the case) so I started looking around.
Another fitness blogger I know wrote a post about massage guns and the Exogun brand they went with it for theirs, so I decided to give that one a try.
I’ve had my Exogun massager for about a month now and like it quite a bit. It works just as well as the Hypervolt I used at the recovery center and came at a pretty good price point: they had a small discount available so I got the massager, 4 attachments, and the case for about $170.
Their website lists the normal price at $599, but each time I’ve been on their website the past several months, I’ve only ever seen it actually sold for $199, then they offer coupon codes and sales as well.
I was worried about cheaper brands not performing as well, but since I had a good report from someone I knew that it worked good, I gave the Exogun a try and it works just as well as the Hypervolt so far.
The Exogun has 6 speeds/intensities and the battery life seems to be really good so far. We’ve had it a little over a month now and we’ve only had to charge it once.
Please note this post is not sponsored or endorsed in any way by Exogun, that’s just the brand I decided to go with.
Are massagers worth the price?
Are percussion massagers worth the price?
In my opinion, yes! They can be a great tool to add to your recovery routine, and with less expensive options available, you can find something that fits into your budget.
If you like to get massages regularly, this is a nice way to loosen up your muscles between massages sessions, especially if you have someone that will use this on your back where you can’t reach.
Since I workout regularly and I’m getting back into my full routines after 5 surgeries in 2 years, a massage gun was a great investment for me personally. I loved the Hypervolt, but decided to go with the Exogun and it works just as good for a fraction of the price.
There are a few other less expensive percussion massagers that work just as well as the full priced brands. If you look on Amazon and read reviews, you can find some good ones at decent prices so you don’t have to spend a lot for one.
Sarah Jane Parker is the founder, recipe creator, and photographer behind The Fit Cookie. She’s a food allergy mom and healthy living blogger based in Wyoming. Sarah is also an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer, ACE Certified Health Coach, Revolution Running certified running coach, and an ACE Certified Fitness Nutrition Specialist