The First Responders Guide to Percussion (massage) Guns

Are percussion (massage) guns good for recovery? What can they used for and how? Keep reading to find out.

If you have picked up any fitness magazine, performed a fitness-related search on the internet, or watched your favorite sports team, you’ve probably seen a percussion gun.  These industrial looking machines (also called massage guns, massagers, power massagers, or muscle guns) are handheld electronic tools that use a small motor to move a soft plastic or foam attachment back and forth or side to side, which you can use to rub, compress, and jiggle different parts of your body.  There are a wide variety of shapes and sizes of these guns along with a vast array of attachments that go with them.  They are becoming very popular in firehouses and gyms all over but are they really worth it?    

Massage guns can be used as an alternative to the foam roller as a self-myofascial release tool.  They add a more convenient way to hit muscles with different pressure and angles.  There is actually limited research available specific to the use of massage guns, however, there is a decent amount of research available on percussion massage and vibration therapy itself.  

As I researched the topic, most of the research was conducted using massage therapists to deliver the percussion techniques and not massage guns themselves. But, that does not mean that they don’t work.  Personally, I have used my percussion gun on some of my more sore and immobile muscles and have found some improvement.  One area is my quads, I’ve used the gun before and after workouts and have found that I experience less muscle soreness and more mobility.  

Percussion Gun Benefits

The percussion gun manufacturers and their paid influencers claim that the guns have a wide variety of benefits.  Using these guns before a workout or throughout the day have shown promise to have the following benefits:  

  • Helps reduce muscle inflammation and post-exercise soreness, like DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness).
  • Helps increase blood flow to your muscles and remove lymphatic waste fluids that collect as part of intense exercise and inflammation. 
  • Helps reduce and eliminate muscle adhesions. These are the knots and trigger points that develop naturally over time as the muscle heals.
  • Helps increase overall mobility, flexibility, and range of motion by keeping muscle fascia loose and frictionless.
  • Helps activate the nervous system to give us an amazing post-massage feeling of relaxation and stress reduction.

When Should You Not Use A Massage Gun?

I think it is also very important to note that there are some situations when you should not use a massage gun. Primarily it comes down to preexisting conditions like pulled muscles or broken bones. Just like any form of massage or self-myofascial release techniques like foam rolling, you should not perform them without seeking medical advice first. A massage gun is no different. 

Here is a list of conditions or situations where you should not use a massage gun without seeking medical advice first. 

  • Muscle strains and sprains
  • Broken bones or suspected broken bones
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Varicose vOsteoporosis (bone degeneration)
  • Conditions that affect your blood vessels (atherosclerosis, deep vein thrombosis, peripheral artery disease, varicose veins, etc.)

Note: This is not an exhaustive list. If unsure if a massage gun is safe for you, please check with your doctor before using one.  

How to use a Percussion Gun

Percussion massagers are very simple to operate and can seem firefighter-proof, but due to the intensity of the device, it is important to understand how the machine works and how to use it properly. You should also know which parts of the body it can be used on and, more importantly, which parts of the body it should never be used on.

Here are some things to be mindful of when using a percussion massager:

  • Do not use on the head and/or face 
  • Do not use on bones or the spine
  • Do not use near or on the front of the neck or on the front of the throat. 
  • Do not use it if you have any sort of blood clot
  • Do not use it on children or the elderly unless you have medical training or have discussed it with your medical practitioner.
  • Do not use for longer than advised

Safety Tips When Using A Percussion Massager

There’s no “right” way to use a massage gun—just play with different settings, speeds, attachments, and massage schedules until you find one that floats your boat.   As with any piece of equipment (for ems or fire operations) make sure you read the manual and get familiar with the various speeds and options.  And, only use as directed by the manufacturer.  

As you learned a moment ago, there’s also very little research on how to use massage guns, so if something works for you, do it.  That said, here are a few common ways you can use the massage guns and some tips that might help you get better results:

  • Don’t force the massage gun into your muscles. Instead, place it on your skin and move it around using slow, smooth motions.  

 

  • Before your workout, aim to use the massage gun for 1 to 2 minutes on larger muscle groups and 30 seconds to 1 minute for smaller ones (more isn’t better).  
    • Most importantly, don’t make the mistake of thinking that using a massage gun means you can ignore the tried-and-true principles of proper training and dynamic warm-ups. 

 

  • After the workout, you may want to do the same.  Before you go “pounding away” thought, give your muscles a few minutes to relax first.  Now, I did find some contradicting advice on post-workout percussion gun use, some articles suggested that post-workout percussion can add to muscle soreness while others stated the opposite.  I recommend trying it out and deciding what works for you.

 

  • After a long shift or workout and your muscles are sore, the percussion gun might help.   To use a massage gun for sore muscles, adjust the speed and depth settings to where they don’t cause pain. Because sore muscles tend to be sensitive, you’ll probably want to stick to the lower settings on your device.  Once you find a setting that feels good, use the massage gun for one to two minutes on each sore area.

You may find other times that a massage gun works for you.  If you enjoy using them and they make you feel better, then use them.  Just don’t expect that a massage gun is going to help protect you against injury or make give you super-hero recovery abilities.   This is a tool, just like a regular massage and foam roller, to figure out how it can work best for you.

Percussion Gun Attachments

Most of the massage guns sold today come with a series of massage heads and attachments. I found them confusing at first so I decided to include this section to help you avoid the same struggles I had.  Here is a quick overview of the most common attachments for percussion guns.  Some models include these (or more) along with a carry case.  

1. Ball Attachment- This soft foam/rubber-shaped ball is a great attachment for beginners or when using your percussion massager for the first time. It is the softest, most non-evasive piece available. You can generally use it on any part of your body.  It feels great on the back of the neck and bottom of the foot.

2. Flat Head Attachment-  The hammer tip-shaped attachment is generally considered the best overall. You can dig deep into the muscle tissue in dense areas of the body like the quads, glutes, hamstrings, and back.  It generally is suited to use on all your main muscles and feels great on the highest of settings.

 

3. Fork Attachment- The 2-pronged fork attachment is best used on certain parts of your body. The fork glides perfectly along your traps starting from the upper neck area to your shoulders. It can be run across the Achilles and used to massage your calf muscles.  I have also used this attachment on my feet to promote circulation.

4. Bullet Head Attachment- This small attachment is great for trigger point massage but shouldn’t be used for longer than 15 seconds per muscle area. You can use it to focus on tight and sore spots, it works beautifully for those knots in your muscles. 

The 5 Best Massage Guns for Any Budget

Massage guns range from about $69 to $600, depending on what features and models you want.  Most models have about 5 to 8 hours of battery life, 4 to 6 attachments, and up to 30 speeds. The main difference between cheaper and more expensive models is the strength of the motor (how hard the little reciprocating arm can push), the durability, and the noise. 

Nicer models tend to have stronger motors, last longer, and tend to be quieter than cheaper ones.  Then, of course, the more costly massage guns also tend to have a little better feel and finish.  Here are a few of the models I have used or found would be good options for any first responder (least to most expensive).  

  • The HOEE gun is a great option for those that want to get started using a massage gun and do not want to invest a lot of money.  This model has 20 different speeds and comes with a case.

HOEE- Massage Gun Deep Tissue, Handheld Percussion Muscle Massager for Athletes, Lightweight, Portable, Long Battery Life, LCD Touch Screen, 30 Speeds & 10 Heads (click here for more information). On sale at Amazon for $49.99

  • The FLYBY has a lot of good reviews.  It is powerful and quiet.  A great mid-level gun and investment, very similar to the gun I have and use daily.  I highly recommend it.  

Flyby F1Pro--  Deep Tissue Massage Gun.    Quiet Handheld Percussion Massager - Back Muscle Soreness & Recovery for Athletes - Men & Women - Lightweight, Portable, Long Battery Life, 3 Speeds & 6 Heads.  -$69.99

  • The RENPHO has a lot of good reviews and is similar to the one I purchased.  It has 20 speeds and is quiet and powerful.  It does come with a case so it is easy to take to the station.  Occasionally it is on sale for $69.00 on amazon.com.  RENPHO also offers a small and portable option that could be a great option to get started with.  It is only $39.00 and comes with a carry case (click here for more info on the smaller model).

RENPHO- Muscle Massage Gun,  20 Speeds, Deep Tissue Muscle Massager, Powerful Percussion Massager for Athletes with Portable Case. -$99.00

  • Hypervolt is a company that has some great products that focus on recovery.  The Hpypervolt is quiet and powerful and does have Bluetooth integration with an app they have.  They are on the higher price of guns.  A solid gun and the app is a nice addition.  

 

Hypervolt Bluetooth, Featuring Quiet Glide Technology - Handheld Percussion Massage Gun | 3 Speeds, 5 Interchangeable Heads | Helps Relieve Sore Muscles and Stiffness (Hypervolt w/ Bluetooth) -$349.00

  • Theragun is the first company that pioneered the gun and “percussion” movement.  This gun is very balanced, the different grip might allow you to hit different angles on each muscle.  

Theragun PRO - All-New 4th Generation Percussive Therapy Deep Tissue Muscle Treatment Massage Gun ($599.00)

 

So there you have it!  Everything you need to know about percussion (massage) guns.  As they become more and more popular there will be more research either further validating (on not) the effectiveness of using them.  For now, for me personally, the gun has helped reduce muscle soreness and helps me relax my muscles.   If you do get a gun, remember to follow the manufacturer's guidelines and figure out what works for you.  

Let me know if you have questions and/ or a percussion gun model that I should check out.

Stay safe, stay positive and GET FRF!

-ZAM (Aaron Zamzow) 

 

Sources

A J Herrero , H Menéndez, L Gil, J Martín, T Martín, D García-López, A Gil-Agudo, P J Marín. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21042329/

Imtiyaz S, Veqar Z, Shareef MY. To Compare the Effect of Vibration Therapy and Massage in Prevention of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). J Clin Diagn Res. 2014;8(1):133‐136. 

https://exogun.com/blogs/news/the-ultimate-and-safe-guide-to-muscle-percussion-therapy

https://legionathletics.com/best-massage-gun/ 

https://runbuzz.com/what-is-percussion-massage-therapy-and-how-can-it-benefit-runners/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3939523/ 

Paula K. Johnson, MS, J. Brent Feland, PT, Ph.D., A. Wayne Johnson, PT, PhD, Gary W. Mack, PhD, and Ulrike H. Mitchell, PT, Ph.D..  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4764225/

Pournot H, Tindel J, Testa R, Mathevon L, Lapole T. The Acute Effect of Local Vibration As a Recovery Modality from Exercise-Induced Increased Muscle Stiffness. J Sports Sci Med. 2016;15(1):142‐147. Published 2016 Feb 23.

Ricky W K Lau, Lin-Rong Liao, Felix Yu, Tilda Teo, Raymond C K Chung, Marco Y C Pang. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21849376/

Vibration therapy: clinical applications in bone.  William R Thompson, Sherwin S Yen, Janet Rubin. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25354044/

 

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