I bet you have come across a recent fitness fad called massage gun at one point or another. But is the gadget worth the hype? Always conclusion first: yes, it's worth the hype. And I know you are too scientific to fall a disciple to this conclusion before I give you enough supports. I will hence bog down the efficacy of a massage gun from 360 degrees. At the end of this article, to have one, or not to have one, that should no longer be the question.
Massage Gun is a derivative of a clinical-based treatment called vibration therapy.
Vibration therapy is a science-proven treatment for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS).
DOMS is usually characterized by the pain, the soreness, and the limited range of motion (ROM), or stiffness, you feel after an intensive workout. DOMS is the result of your wounded muscle fibers, and it can lead to severe injury if mistreated.
Researches consistently show that vibration therapy significantly helps with pain relief, wound healing and ROM recovery.
Massage gun serves as an alternative to the expensive in-person vibration therapy. It comes in handy and does the same good job when combating DOMS on your own.
A massage gun is a hand-held mechanical device, once turned on, that can deliver frequent, powerful, and soothing blows to your deep muscles.
Underlying the rationale of a massage gun is a clinical-based treatment called vibration therapy.
Yes, vibration has therapeutic effects on physical bodies. It displays its most significance in the circumstance of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS), as vibration therapy helps remove DOMS symptoms much sooner.
So What is Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS?
DOMS is simply the soreness, the pain, or the stiffness you experience 12-24 hrs after an unaccustomed workout session (1). Contrary to popular belief that DOMS results from lactic acid build-up, which lactic acid has nothing to do with it, microscopic damage to the muscle fibers due to unusually intense exercises causes your unease (9). DOMS can impede daily activities: think about climbing stairs a day after an aggressive cycling class. Man...wild pain... I find DOMS especially afflicting because it makes me feel stiff, swollen, and immobile as contrary to the energetic and light feeling I expect of exercises. But the truth is with DOMS, unless it's extremely severe, slouching and rest only stiffen the muscles further; I need to keep moving, despite the pain, to ease the discomfort sooner
(10). Fortunately, vibration therapy comes to my rescue as it provides continuous passive movement to your muscles
. Such low-intensity vibration, best around 50 Hz (5),(11), has substantial science-backed therapeutic effects on damaged muscles:
Early reduction of pain
Improved healing of wounded tissues
Increased range of motion
Early Reduction of Pain
After being introduced to a new but intensive exercise, your body will likely develop pain, soreness, and tension due to DOMS, and you will continue to feel it for about a week. Such discomfort starts to plague us the most when we lift our hefty briefcase or walk in those high heels to work. However, if you pummel your muscles with a massage gun right after the exercise, you should feel much less pain in terms of intensity and duration
and be able to put that discomfort under control. In researches, participants who go through a post-exercise vibration therapy, compared to those who don't, report developing less pain
(4) and have a significantly earlier reduction of pain
in the subsequent days (3). Given that, a massage gun is truly an expedient to pain relief: while the passive vibration constantly stimulates muscle activity to diffuse your unease, it also spares you the labor of moving that painful body yourself.
Improved Healing of Wounded Tissues
As we now learned that DOMS are micro-tears to your muscle fibers, it's evident that our muscles are in a wounded state every time DOMS hits.
Illustration on How Muscles Grow
Growth of those damaged fibers takes time, but time could be a pressing factor for athletes obligated to daily training, and for those who have a vigorous workout plan; yet imposing another intensive workout upon the already affected tissues only increases the likelihood of severe injury. So we need a quick remedy. Vibration therapy again helps with that. First of all, vibration draws blood to the wounded area. Blood flow is huge to a wound as it brings the oxygen and nutrients necessary for healing (9). In an experiment conducted, five minutes of 30 Hz or 50 Hz vibration produced a significant increase of blood flow under the skin (8). Secondly, vibration therapy stimulates an increase of an immune cell called neutrophils, which is "suggestive of increased capacity of fight infection and reduced inflammation" (10). The faster our wounds can get past that inflammation stage, the faster it will be ready to rebuild new tissue. A massage gun, with its rationale based on vibration therapy, does exactly the same job for your damaged tissues--bringing more blood to them and helping reduce inflammation. These efforts together result in a quicker healing process and get you ready for the next challenge.
Increased Range of Motion
DOMS impacts our physical body from another crucial dimension called range of motion (ROM). By definition, ROM is "a measurement of the distance and direction a joint can move to its full potential"
(12). Think about how well you can pick up a dropped pen by bending your upper body without bending your legs, or how many staircases you can pass across in one single step. The bigger your ROM, to a better degree you can perform the above-mentioned tasks.
Examples of ROM
DOMS reduces your ROM: obviously, you will not be able to raise that arm as high as usual if you just ripped your brachialis the day before. Limited ROM can be troublesome as your movement is limited to a smaller degree. It is even risky when stiffness and pain get in the way as you try to expand the ROM--your body tend to engage other parts to compensate for the debilitated area
, which may lead to more dysfunction (7). Therefore, it is important to restore your ROM as soon as possible after exercise
--especially if you have many other physical activities follow. This is why I say you need a good vibration massage after workouts. One experiment conducted has shown that the recovery of ROM of participants is significantly faster for those who go through post-exercise vibration therapy than those who do not (6). The vibration effectively softens your stiff muscles, bringing more flexibility back to your movements in a timely fashion. Only with a proper ROM can you be ensured with a higher level of safety and better performance in your next training.
To sum up, the presence of DOMS directly affects the post-exercise pain you experience and the happening of your recovery process, which ultimately impacts your fitness motivation and performance. Vibration therapy, and its derivative, massage gun, provide a quick and effective remedy to the pain, the wound, and the tension.
While getting an in-person vibration massage every time DOMS hits is rather impractical, the invention of a massage gun resolves the dilemma with its auto vibration feature and highly portable size
. With a massage gun
, you now have a powerful tool to combat that DOMS and you can self complete a head-to-toe massage therapy just by one click on the power button. Is a massage gun worth the hype? Let me ask you one more time, and I believe you now have an answer.
(1) ACSM. (2011). Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). https://www.acsm.org/docs/default-source/files-for-resource-library/delayed-onset-muscle-soreness-(doms).pdf?sfvrsn=8f430e18_2
(2) How Wounds Heal - Health Encyclopedia - University of Rochester Medical Center. (n.d.). University of Rochester Medical Center. Retrieved August 12, 2021, from https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=134&ContentID=143
(3) Imtiyaz, S., Veqar, Z., & Shareef, M. (2014). To Compare the Effect of Vibration Therapy and Massage in Prevention of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). JOURNAL OF CLINICAL AND DIAGNOSTIC RESEARCH. Published. https://doi.org/10.7860/jcdr/2014/7294.3971
(4) Jones, G. C., Blotter, J. D., Smallwood, C. D., Eggett, D. L., Cochrane, D. J., & Feland, J. B. (2021). Effect of Resonant Frequency Vibration on Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness and Resulting Stiffness as Measured by Shear-Wave Elastography. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(15), 7853. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18157853
(5) Kiiski, J., Heinonen, A., Järvinen, T. L., Kannus, P., & Sievänen, H. (2008). Transmission of Vertical Whole Body Vibration to the Human Body. Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, 23(8), 1318–1325. https://doi.org/10.1359/jbmr.080315
(6) Lau, W. Y., & Nosaka, K. (2011). Effect of Vibration Treatment on Symptoms Associated with Eccentric Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage. American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, 90(8), 648–657. https://doi.org/10.1097/phm.0b013e3182063ac8
(7) M. (2021a, May 19). Why is Range of Motion So Important and How Can Chiropractic Improve it? Chiropractor in Lithia - STRONGLIFE Chiropractic. https://stronglifechiropractic.com/why-is-range-of-motion-so-important-and-how-can-chiropractic-improve-it/
(8) Maloney-Hinds, C., Petrofsky, J. S., & Zimmerman, G. (2008). The effect of 30 Hz vs. 50 Hz passive vibration and duration of vibration on skin blood flow in the arm. Med Sci Monit, 14(3). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18301353/
(9) NHS website. (2021, February 4). Why do I feel pain after exercise? Nhs.Uk. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/pain-after-exercise/
(10) Olson, G. (2019, June 25). What Is Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) and What Can You Do About It? Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/doms
(11) Rittweger, J. (2009). Vibration as an exercise modality: how it may work, and what its potential might be. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 108(5), 877–904. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-009-1303-3
(12) S. (2021b, July 25). RANGE OF MOTION OF ALL JOINTS. SAMARPAN PHYSIOTHERAPY CLINIC AHMEDABAD. https://samarpanphysioclinic.com/2019/02/21/range-of-motion-of-all-joints/
(13) Veqar, Z. (2014). Vibration Therapy in Management of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). JOURNAL OF CLINICAL AND DIAGNOSTIC RESEARCH. Published. https://doi.org/10.7860/jcdr/2014/7323.4434