Elizabeth Falk, PTA, OPTA, NASM-PES

Expert Board Member

Education: Saint Louis Community College, Webster University

Expertise: Physical Therapy, Performance Enhancement, Fitness


Bio:
Liz lives and works in the Inland Empire of CA. She was a multi-sport athlete in her youth, competing in softball, basketball, volleyball, soccer, and swimming. Liz swam collegiately at Webster University where she earned her B.A. degree in Communications. She is a licensed Physical Therapist Assistant in which she holds an A.A.S. degree from St. Louis Community College – Meramec. Liz has advanced training in orthopedic physical therapy through NextGen PT and in movement analysis through Movement Links. She is also a certified NASM-Performance Enhancement Specialist. Liz is passionate about providing parents and coaches with the knowledge and resources necessary to create a safe and enjoyable environment for young athletes.

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how to use a massage gun

How to Use a Massage Gun – Properly and Effectively

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Have you ever wondered how to use a massage gun properly and effectively? Obviously we assume you’ve heard about these famous tools and the wonders it’s doing for the fitness and wellness industry.

Massage guns are the best alternative to massage therapists. Well, they can never replace the experience you get in a spa, but you know you can never carry your spa around with you.

In this post, we will tell you all the nitty-gritty on how to use percussion massagers effectively.


The Evolution of Percussion Massagers 

Before we even learn how to use a percussion massager, let’s first learn how these celebrated tools got here. After all, you’ve got to start from somewhere, right?

Before we even got here (in fitness and wellness), muscle recovery was something only better addressed in massage parlors and spas. You’d go to a professional (therapist, chiropractor) and they’d chop away at your muscles to ease the pain, improve blood flow, and loosen the muscle knots. 

This chopping away at your muscles is often painful to say the least. But the kind of “painful” that’s actually helpful. But some techies in the industry thought of a better way to make things easier.

After all, hacking away at your muscles may have been, and is probably still effective, but it takes time and can be tiresome especially to the therapist. In stepped vibration therapy.


Vibration and Percussion Therapy

Vibration therapy has for a long time been associated with the foam roller, another tool for the wellness industry. That idea was borrowed by the first massage gun.

how to use deep tissue massage gun
Deep tissue therapy.

The first guns were vibrating tools. We’ll call them vibrating jackhammers, because that’s what they were.

However, the vibration only worked if you needed quick relaxation and blood-flow stimulation to get you up and running.

There was nothing to really go deeper into the muscles and get more done. Bodybuilders and pro athletes still had to rely on their therapists pounding away at their muscles.

Necessity bore invention and in came percussion therapy.  The massage gun was revamped and could now be used to punch the muscle and not just rattle on your skin.

We’re not insinuating that all massage guns can deliver deeper, intense stimulation of the muscles – some still vibrate as before. However, it’s important to note that manufacturers are producing more percussive guns than vibrating ones. 

That means that you might also want to learn how to use deep tissue massage gun. We’ll talk about that later.

For now, it’s important to note that different guns will serve different needs. This is crucial if you want to know how to properly use a massage gun.

Have you seen a chiropractor or a physical therapist using massage guns on patients, and wondered what devices they were using? We have those covered. Learn more about Physical Therapist Massage Guns and Chiropractor Massage Guns.


What a Massage Gun Does To Your Body? 

So what, are massage guns really that useful? We believe the answer here is “yes”. Massage guns are really that useful.

Why do you think they’re so trendy and even endorsed by big names in the fitness industry as well as highly ranked celebrities? But even if you think that celebrity hype is all talk and no game, we’ve seen these devices being recommended by doctors and therapists. Those guys don’t just hype.

This is what they say a massage gun will do for you:

  • Prevent DOMS: Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness can be tough on you especially when you want to keep pushing in the gym. Massage guns will save you the delayed pain and keep you strong enough for the next session.
  • Improve blood flow in the muscles. This helps the body relax and will even activate the muscles before a workout.
  • Dispel toxic blood and liquid from the muscle after a workout. 
  • Massage guns will save you money. Compared to the cost of visiting a professional therapist, a massage gun will save you a couple hundred bucks if not more.

Why It’s Important To Use A Massage Gun Properly   

Like everything else, and especially electronic devices, proper use can never be emphasized enough. It’s never a good idea to assume that you know everything about a device and therefore don’t need to pay attention to proper use.

The manufacturers know this and that’s why most massage guns come with a well written instructions manual.

Here are some reasons why you should use a massage gun properly:

  • Effective muscle therapy: When used right, a massage gun can be as effective as visiting a massage therapist. 
  • To avoid injury: It’s not unheard of for massage guns to cause injury especially when used without proper care. We’ll take a look at how this can happen later in the article.
  • To avoid damage to the gun: Massage guns are not cheap little toys. Until only recently the price of one was over $500. The market has been flooded with many guns and as a result the prices have gone down. Even so, if you want a good massage gun you’ll have to part with at least $150. 
how to properly use a massage gun
It’s important to use a massage gun properly.

How To Use A Massage Gun – Technique

Having seen why it’s important to properly use a massage gun, we’ll now look at how to actually use one.

Now, we’ve seen articles on the internet saying that there’s no specific way to use these devices, and that all you have to do is fidget with the settings until something finally clicks for you. While this may be true, it may not apply to everyone.

So here’s our step by step on how to actually use a percussion massager:  

  • Turn on the device. Most guns have a single-button use. Most work by long-pressing to turn on the device. The device will then start whirring. Make sure you have your desired massage head attached. We will talk about massage heads later. However, we’ll recommend (if you’re a beginner), to start with the squishy ball head. It targets most body parts and it’s actually gentle compared to the other attachments. 
  • Choose the desired intensity: We advise you start with the lowest speed and gradually increase the level as you go. For a lighter massage, if you just want to relax and get the blood moving within the muscle, we recommend the first speed. Now, most devices start low enough (we like the ones that start with about 1200rpm), while others may start with higher percussions. If you are using a Theragun you may have to bear with a little more intensity for a start. The first rpm range there is about 1750. 
  • Point the head at the muscle and let the gun do its thing. If you’re using a high-end gun like the Theragun or Ekrin, you’ll right away feel the punchy effect on your skin because of the long amplitude. If you’re using a smaller gun, like the Ekrin Bantam, the immediate feeling may not be punchy but it should feel intense enough. 
  • Move the head along the muscle slowly. Do not rush through the massage. Enjoy the process while at it. If you encounter an area of pain, hover around that part a little longer. Do not press the gun hard on a painful area because chances are you may actually be making things worse. 
  • For areas that don’t have a lot of muscles, like your wrists, it’s recommended that you simply brush the massage gun head over them. Don’t press too hard against these areas. Make it simple for effective results.
  • However, if you have bigger muscles, you may want something a little more intense. This is probably a good time to remind you that different guns have different stall force. You may want to pick a high-end gun like a Ekrin B37s or the Achedaway Pro. These guns not only have a better stall force, but both are high amplitude massage guns as well. We also recommend a slightly higher intensity even as you start. This is because most guns have progressive stall force and will stall easily at lower speeds. For you, try using different massage heads to massage different body parts. Again we will talk about massage heads a bit later in our article.
  • It’s not recommended to use a massage gun over bony areas to avoid injuring yourself. You may want to massage the joint areas, but be careful when doing this as well.
  • It’s recommended that you use the percussion massager on a particular muscle for 1-2 minutes. For smaller muscle groups, aim for one minute. You may massage larger muscle groups for 2 minutes. More isn’t better. Be kind to your body.

When to Use a Massage Gun    

So when will you need to use a massage gun? Is there a specific time to use a percussion massager? Well, here are times you may need to use a massage gun;

  1. Before a workout: Even though these gadgets have been touted as recovery tools by many people in the fitness industry, you can use them before a workout session. This ensures that you’re not only getting blood to flow well within your body, but it also prepares your muscles for the workout – activates the “fight-or-flight system that prepares your body for activity. For better results, aim for the parts you’re going to train. For instance, if you’re going to do a bench press, make sure you massage the pecs. Aim for the belly of the muscle. Massage the target muscle for about 30 seconds. Don’t overdo it!
  2. During your workout session: You can use a massage gun between sets. This may happen when you feel tension within the muscle group you’re working out. In this case, instead of opting for a stretch, use your massage gun. However, do not get too excited with this – 15 seconds is enough. What you’re aiming for is to excite the muscle. 
  3. After a workout session: Your body is in a heightened condition and the best thing you can do is get it relaxed. That’s where a massage gun comes in. Target the tensed muscles and massage for about 1-2 minutes. Again it’s important to aim for the belly of the muscle and avoid joints and bony areas. It’s recommended that you do not massage your muscles straightaway. Let your body rest for a couple of hours and then get to work. Use different heads for different parts for better results. 
  4. After a long day in office when you need to relax: We have talked about massage guns aiding in relaxing your body and this is when you need them. Sometimes you just need to relax after an eventful day. Take about 10 minutes using a massage gun on your body. Do not go too intense and don’t spend more than a minute on a particular muscle group.
When to Use a Massage Gun after workout
Target the tensed muscles get it relaxed just after your workout.

How Often Should You Use a Massage Gun?  

This section should be similar to the last section on “when to use a massage gun”. However, we’ll mention one or two things that may be important as you explore how to use a percussion massager.

Massage guns are exciting devices and we actually think that as long as you enjoy having them, don’t be limited by anything. Use them as often as it feels necessary

However, don’t get too excited and go overboard with it. Here’s a summary on how often you should use them and how.

  • Muscle activation: When you need to get the body ready for a workout or an activity. Don’t do it for over 30 seconds.
  • Muscle Reactivation: During exercises when muscle spasms hit or when fatigue threatens to derail your workout session. 15 seconds max here.
  • Recovery and relieving pain: After exercises a massage gun will aid the recovery process. You can also use it to relieve pains. Here it works as a temporary pain reliever gadget. Use it here for 1-2minutes. Be careful not to hit nerves or go too hard on painful areas. Another super useful aspect of the massage gun is the heated massage mode. Heated massages are very crucial in relieving pain. Guns like the Urikar Pro 2 have a heated mode as well as other modes. A heated massage gun comes with a special ceramic head for this function. 

How Long Should You Use a Massage Gun?

Massage guns are equipped with rechargeable batteries. When used over a long period, the batteries may overheat. This overheating may cause discomfort while using them.

However, the geniuses who manufacture these devices figured this out and built a shut-off system into them. Most devices will automatically shut off after about 10 minutes of continuous use.

However, because 10 minutes may sometimes not be enough, better devices will automatically shut off after 20 minutes.


FAQs

Here are some questions answered for you. We have addressed massage gun attachments in this section.

How to use massage gun on yourself?

Most massage guns are T-shaped. This means that the handle is straight. Massaging yourself may not be as smooth compared to if the handle was a little more ergonomic. However, some guns like the Ekrin B37 have an angled handle. This means you can reach the difficult body spots. However, you may need someone to help you massage you back and traps.

How about using it on a neck?

Never massage the front part of your neck. Focus only on the back part. Depending on what area around the neck you are trying to massage, try using an appropriate massage gun attachment. Please refer to our dedicated post for more details: How to Use Massage Gun on Neck. For device recommendations, check out our post on choosing the Best Massage Gun For Neck Pain.

How to use massage gun on lower back?

If you’re using a massage gun to try and get rid of lower back pain, we suggest you tread carefully. Use a lower setting and slowly massage away. We recommend the ball head here as well.

How to use massage gun on upper back?

Run the massage gun back and forth along the muscle fibers in your upper back. Do it for 10 seconds per section of your back. Again we’ll mention here that a gun with better ergonomics will do a good job. The Ekrin B37 is a good example (long, angled handle). If you’re doing it yourself, then use the round attachment head. If you have a buddy helping you then they can use the flat head for maximum results.

How to use massage gun on legs?

use massage gun on legs

With legs you want to target the quads and the calves. We recommend the flat head here because with legs you may need something a little more intense – especially the quads. Stay in an area for about 30 seconds before moving along. If your concern is cellulite on legs, make sure you read this post: can a massage gun help with cellulite.

How to use massage gun on feet?

You can massage the soles of your feet, especially if you’ve been running and need a bit of relief in your soles. You can cross one foot over the opposite knee to get a good position. Start at low intensity. If you want to focus on particular spots try using the bullet head here. For a more generalized massage, you can use the ball head. We write more about the topic in our post about best massage guns for plantar fasciitis and foot pain.

How to use massage gun on calves?

You can massage your calves after a leg workout session or after running. Move the massage gun along the calves feeling each time for sensitive spots. Stay on a spot for 10 seconds before moving along. Massage one leg for 1-2 minutes and then move on to the other leg. You can use the flat head for better results. Check out our post on Best Massage Gun for Runners, where we give tips on how to use massage gun on calves in order to ease the achilles tendon pain.

How to use massage gun for knots?

Muscle knots can be painful and can last longer if not taken care of soon enough. A massage gun can help ease them away. Massage the knotty area carefully and slowly as you feel it. Start at a lower intensity and use the bullet head to focus on the knotty area. Hover the gun over the knot for a minute or two.


How To Use A Massage Gun – Conclusion

So now you know how to use a massage gun. These trendy gadgets have created a hullabaloo in the fitness industry and they don’t look like they are going away soon. It’s important to learn how to use them properly.

However, do not neglect other principles of good training and recovery like healthy eating, proper technique and enough sleep.

Article Sources
  1. Barbara Alcaraz, M.A., B.A., L.M.T. Massage Therapy Program Chair M. A. Organizational Management, University of Phoenix B.A. University of Minnesota, American Studies L.M.T. Northwest Health Careers. Do Massage Guns Really Work?. Northwest Career College, August 6, 2020.
  2. Konrad A, Glashüttner C, Reiner MM, Bernsteiner D, Tilp M. The Acute Effects of a Percussive Massage Treatment with a Hypervolt Device on Plantar Flexor Muscles’ Range of Motion and PerformanceJ Sports Sci Med. 2020;19(4):690-694. Published 2020 Nov 19.
  3. Zubia Veqar, Shagufta Imtiyaz. Vibration Therapy in Management of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). National Library of Medicine, Epub 2014 Jun 20.
luke massagegunadvice
Luke

Luke is a Biomedical Engineer, an entrepreneur and an avid sportsman. On this blog, he personally reviews the devices, does tons of research and plans the content roadmap. He also works with our Experts and Fact-Checkers to ensure that we only publish thorough, verified information.

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