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Dr. Gary Tanchak, D.C.

Expert Board Member

  • Education: Palmer College of Chiropractic, Monmouth University
  • Expertise: Chiropractic, Manual Therapy, Kinesiology

Bio:

Gary Tanchak, DC, is a Chiropractor who takes a comprehensive approach to spinal and extremity injuries. He takes the entire body’s biomechanics and lifestyle into account when addressing injury to help rid the patient of their pain and keep it from returning in the future. Dr. Tanchak addresses the patient’s injuries through a combination of passive modalities, such as spinal and extremity manipulations, Active Release Technique, and non-surgical spinal decompression.

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are massage guns good for back pain

Are Massage Guns Good for Back Pain? An Expert’s Perspective

We have had so many of our readers ask us whether a massage gun can relieve lower back pain – a problem that very many people experience. We know how popular massage guns have become. Everyone is using them, and athletes can’t put them down.

But is a massage gun good for back pain?

Well, we have written a few articles explaining what these electronic gadgets can do for sciatica, plantar fasciitis, and neck pain. The quick answer would be, yes, massage guns can help alleviate back pain.

But there are things to learn first. Let’s find out!



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Why Trust Our Advice and a Disclaimer

We understand that there are different reasons for back pain. That is why we combed the internet for more information and asked our medical experts for their insight on the topic.

Although the content in this article should not be considered medical advice, we ensured that it has been medically reviewed for accuracy.


Bad Habits Causing Muscle Strain

If you want to know just how rampant back pain is in our current generation, do a quick Google search and see how many search results you’ll get. The problem stems mostly from our sedentary lifestyles.

When we are not seated at our desks for 10 hours a day, we are on our smartphones scrolling through social media. We are also the generation that is crazily hooked on video games, and we know what that means for our backs.

Poor posture while engaging in these activities leads to back and neck pain. If you want to know how poor posture is an issue today, just go on YouTube and see the amount of videos on the topic.

Can percussive massagers offer a solution to the problem? Yes, massage guns can be good at alleviating neck and back pain caused by poor posture, among other things (we’ll explore other reasons as we go).

Most cases of back pain are caused by something happening to the muscles in your back – we know that percussive massagers can provide good percussive therapy for most muscles.

lower back pain on a wooden man toy on a blue background
What causes lower back pain?

What Causes Back Pain?

Back pain may come as a result of many things happening either to the muscles or the spine. Massage guns can only be effective if the cause of the pain isn’t severe. Otherwise, you’ll need to see a doctor for specialized treatment.

Here’s what you can expect when you feel back pain:

  • Muscular problems:
    Muscular problems that cause it are due to muscle strains. This happens when the muscle tissue is abnormally pulled, overstretched, or torn because of heavy lifting, repetitive strain, constant bending, or incorrect lifting. The pain can either be mild or severe. In some cases, you will experience stiffness. The muscle may also decondition due to a lack of physical activity – when you live a sedentary lifestyle. 
  • Degenerated discs:
    Intervertebral disc degeneration happens when the disc becomes dehydrated, causing it to lose its normal height. This leads to reduced space between the discs. The reduced space causes a nearby spinal nerve to compress and cause pain along that nerve. When this happens, you will experience shooting pain, numbness, or weakness in the rear pelvis extending down the leg (sometimes all the way down to the foot). 
  • Herniated discs:
    Herniated discs happen when the discs gradually wear out. Sometimes, however, it may happen during heavy lifting, causing the nucleus pulposus (inner contents of the disc) to push against the annulus fibrosus (outer covering of the disc), which causes sciatica. 
  • Spondylolisthesis:
    This is what happens when a vertebra slips over another below it. It happens when the vertebra experiences a high degree of mechanical stress. This often leads to the compression of a nerve root, which causes pain in the lower back—sciatica. 
  • Osteoarthritis:
    This age-related condition causes abnormal bone growth (bone spurs) and joint inflammation. It can lead to localized back pain and limited movement, and it often causes sciatica. 
  • Spinal stenosis:
    This happens when the spinal canal narrows. The narrowing can cause compression of the nerve roots, leading to sciatica. This can be a serious condition that may require specialized treatment.
chiropractor massaging back
A chiropractor treating a lower back issue on a patient.

How Can Massage Guns Help With This?

Percussive massagers can do many things to help with the normal functioning of body muscles.

They can also help move important body fluids that help eliminate toxic waste and oxygen to the tissues. Efficient oxygen supply to muscle tissues can alleviate pain and help with recovery.

One thing you may have noticed regarding the causes of lower back pain above is that sciatica is possible in all instances. We discussed how a percussive massager can help with sciatica pain a while back.

Here are two ways:

Deep Tissue Massage

A deep tissue massage is the easiest and fastest way to relieve lower back pain. This helps to improve circulation to the muscle tissue.

Good circulation can reduce inflammation and improve the range of motion. When the tissues in the lower back are stretched or torn, the area may become inflamed. This inflamed area will spasm, cramp, and contract tightly. This leads to intense pain.

Massage guns can be used to reduce the blockage caused by inflamed tissues. This eases the pain and helps to quicken the recovery of the tissues. 

We know that hand or manual massage by professionals is preferred when treating lower back pain. However, massage guns can help quicken the process. Chiropractors and physiotherapists have these gadgets with them.

Sometimes, visiting these professionals can be expensive. percussive massagers can make it cheaper if you know what you are doing.

A chiropractor on the background treating lower back pain with a percussive device on a man laying on his chest on a massage bed
A physiotherapist treating lower back pain with a percussive device.

Myofascial Release

Massage guns are great tools for myofascial release. Studies have shown that they help relieve pain in myofascial tissues when appropriately used.

Myofascial release can help treat the skeletal muscle by releasing tension and relieving stiffness in your lower back.

This process also works to improve blood and lymphatic circulation. This helps with the stimulation and stretching of lower back muscles.

When combined with exercises (light exercises for those with severe pain caused by serious conditions like herniated discs) and a healthy lifestyle, percussive massagers can effectively calm the pain and spasms in your lower back.

But the pain is not just in your lower back; your upper back can also be hurt

a man holding a mini massage gun on the back of an old man for treating back and neck pain
Back and neck pain is alleviated using a mini percussive massager

Is Massage Gun Good For Upper Back Pain?

Upper back pain happens when you experience discomfort in the area between your shoulder blades.

Pain in the upper back is mainly caused by poor posture. Sitting at your computer for much of the day, spending too much time playing video games, or scrolling through social media on your smartphone may irritate your upper back.

Pain in the upper back manifests as a sharp, stabbing, achy, or crampy feeling. 

Other causes of upper back pain include:

  • Muscle overuse: When you overuse your back muscle by repeating the same activity (such as baseball pitching), you may strain the muscle, cause it to tighten, or cause irritation.
  • Traumatic injury: You may injure yourself in a car accident, slip and fall, get injured at work, lift incorrectly, or go too hard during workouts. 
  • A herniated disc may cause upper back pain, too.
  • It may be scoliosis, fibromyalgia, spinal deformity, or problematic kyphosis. 
  • Lung cancer can also affect bones in your upper back and cause pain.
a physician using percussive therapy on the upper back of a man
A physician using percussive therapy on a man’s upper back

What Massage Guns Do To Help For Upper Back Pain

Percussive massagers have been proven to reduce muscle strain and overall muscle fatigue. They are fantastic to use after a heavy workout to relax your body and the muscles to heal faster.

For those who experience upper back pain as a result of a herniated disk or traumatic injury, using massage guns and proper muscle exercises can help with recovery or rehabilitation. 

Another thing worth mentioning here is that pain in the upper back may also result in pain in your neck. That is because the trapezius muscles – the paired muscles that help with your head and shoulder movement – are also part of the upper back.

The key here is to choose the right device and use it properly if you want to alleviate pain in your upper back.

We have published a guide post on choosing the best devices for treating back pain – check it out.


Is A Percussive Massager Good For Lower Back Pain?

The lower back is the most affected part of the back. As we have discussed above, several things may cause pain in your back. In most cases, however, muscle strains cause that pain.

That pain primarily comes from either:

  • A muscle strain is when fibers in the muscle tear after being overstretched or overused, mostly due to repetitive movement or heavy exercise involving lower back muscles. Or,
  • Lumbar sprain is when ligaments tear or get overstretched. 

The hip, buttock, pelvis, and hamstring muscles support the lower back. When these muscles are strained, pain or tightness may extend to the buttocks and the legs. 

Massage guns can also help repair torn and overstretched muscles and ligaments. When used properly, the percussive therapy from these gadgets may alleviate the pain.

Is a percussive massager good for lower back pain, then? Yes, massage helps with the movement of body fluids that help heal and recover these muscles and ligaments. Percussion massage guns are not the silver bullet per se, but they can be effective if you can use them properly.


Is Theragun Good For Back Pain?

Yes, Theragun massage guns can be pretty effective in helping ease back pain.

As we have already discussed here, these devices are worthy of consideration for treating your back pain. Theraguns are top-of-the-shelf massage guns. They are the top name in the massage gun industry.

In fact, Theragun started the whole percussive therapy devices industry. Their very first percussive massagers were designed to help with muscle injury recovery.

A chiropractor, Dr. Jason Wersland, was looking for a solution to his pain after a motorcycle accident when he came up with the first massage gun. Over time, Theragun has evolved to become the leader in the industry.

a hand holding theragun pro massager
Theragun Pro
photo profile of Dr. Jason Wersland Theragun
Dr. Jason Wersland, Theragun’s founder.

The devices feature:

  • Superb ergonomics – the triangular shape allows multiple ways to hold the device.
  • High amplitude – amplitude means the distance the massage gun head covers as it moves back and forth. The large Theraguns (Pro, Elite, and Prime) and the D6 Pro (from Bob and Brad) all have a 16mm amplitudethe highest in the business. Only a few massage gun brands successfully replicated this (e.g., Achedaway Pro, Bob and Brad). We cover all of them in our post on high-amplitude massage guns.

If you want to acquire a 16mm amplitude hand-held massager to treat your back pain, you should know that high amplitude is sometimes considered aggressive or hard-punching. That means it may be a little painful to use while treating some injuries.

However, they are very effective in what they do. Theraguns’ main disadvantage is that they are very expensive and can also be pretty loud. The D6 Pro is more affordable and quieter.

TIP: Our guide on the best massage gun for back pain discusses Theraguns. We also list affordable alternatives with similar characteristics but quieter.


Is Hypervolt Good For Back Pain?

As long as the pain in your back is muscle-related, Hypervolts, like Theraguns, can be pretty effective in treating you.

Besides Theragun, Hypervolts are the second most popular massage guns in the business.

Hyperice recently released Hypervolt 2 and Hypervolt 2 Pro. Hypervolt 2 has a 12mm amplitude, while Hypervolt 2 Pro has a 14mm amplitude. Both devices can thus be referred to as percussive devices.

They are not as punchy as Theraguns. Also, their ergonomics are not as good as Theragun’s.

TIP: We can tell you many alternatives to Hypervolt with better ergonomics.

the hand of a a lady holding a percussive massager against the back of a female for treating back pain
A percussive massager is pretty effective for treating back and neck pain at home.

Summary

Massage guns can indeed help ease tightness or pain in your back.

Although there are many causes of back pain, massage guns can be very effective for treating muscle problems.

We recommend talking to your doctor first to identify the cause of your discomfort. Once you know what it is, you can read our recommendation on which gun is the best.

Related Buyer’s Guide: Best Massage Guns for Back Pain
In another post, we discussed how percussive massagers can help with neck pain. We also made one about choosing the best device for neck and shoulder pain.

RELATED: In another post, we discussed how percussive massagers can help with neck pain. We also made one about choosing the best device for neck and shoulder pain


References

  1. Brent A. Bauer, M.D. (2019). Myofascial release therapy: Can it relieve back pain?
    Link: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/back-pain/expert-answers/myofascial-release/faq-20058136
  2. Lisa M. Doherty, NP (2012). Back Pain in a Patient With Lung Cancer. Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, Massachusetts. doi:10.6004/jadpro.2012.3.3.10
    Link: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4093317/
  3. Castro-Sánchez AM, Matarán-Peñarrocha GA, Granero-Molina J, et al. Benefits of massage-myofascial release therapy on pain, anxiety, quality of sleep, depression, and quality of life in patients with fibromyalgia. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2011;2011:1-9. doi:10.1155/2011/561753
    Link: https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2011/561753/

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luke massagegunadvice

Luke Deszczulka

luke massagegunadvice
Luke Deszczulka

Hi! I'm Luke, a Biomedical Engineer with a passion for sports. I'm a lead reviewer for massage guns and wellness tech products at Massage Gun Advice. Alongside a dedicated Experts Board, I ensures each review is the result of thorough testing, in-depth research, and rigorous fact-checking, providing our readers with reliable and comprehensive insights.

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