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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 with an A.A.S. degree from St. Louis Community College – Meramec. Liz has advanced training in orthopedic physical therapy through NextGen PT and 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 for Lower Back Pain

Have you ever wondered how to use a massage gun for lower back pain properly and effectively? Obviously, we assume you have, but if you’re here, chances are you didn’t find the answer. So, we will do our best to bring them to you in the simplest possible way.

Here is what you will learn:


Vibration and Percussion Therapy: Understanding the Differences

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

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

Massage Gun on a person's back/shoulder
Deep tissue therapy.

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

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 and highly-ranked celebrities? But even if you think 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 relieve the delayed pain and keep you strong enough for the next session.
  • Improve blood flow in the muscles. This helps the body relax and activates 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 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 instruction 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 recently, the price of one item 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 must pay at least $150. 
Massage Gun used on man's neck
It’s important to use a massage gun properly.

How To Use A Theragun on Your Back – Technique

Got Theragun, or are you thinking about getting one? If so, make sure to read our dedicated post on how to use Theragun.

Having seen why it’s important to use a massage gun properly, we’ll now look at how actually to 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 the device to turn it on. 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 is gentler than the other attachments. 
  • Choose the desired intensity.
    We advise you to start with the lowest speed and gradually increase the level as you go. For a lighter massage, we recommend the first speed if you just want to relax and get the blood moving within the muscle. Now, most devices start low enough (we like the ones that start at about 1200 RPM), while others may start with higher percussions. If you are using a Theragun, you may have to bear with a little more intensity at the start. The first rpm range there is about 1750 RPM. 
  • Point the head at the muscle.
    Let the gun do its thing. If you’re using a high-end gun like the Theragun or Ekrin, you’ll immediately 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, you may want something a little more intense if you have bigger muscles.
    This is probably a good time to remind you that different guns have different stall forces. You may want to pick a high-end gun like an 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 later in our article.
  • To avoid injuring yourself:
    It’s not recommended to use a massage gun over bony areas. You may want to massage the joint areas, but be careful when doing this as well.
  • You should use the percussion massager on a particular muscle for 1-2 minutes.
    Aim for one minute for smaller muscle groups. You may massage larger muscle groups for two 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 many people in the fitness industry have touted these gadgets as recovery tools, 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 about 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 to 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 straight away. Let your body rest for a few hours, and then get to work. Use different heads for different parts for better results. 
  4. After a long day in the 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.
a man using A Massage Gun on calf After Workout Session
Target tensed muscles and get them 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, you won’t be limited by anything. Use them as often as necessary

However, don’t get too excited and go overboard with it. Here’s a summary of 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: Use this during exercises when muscle spasms hit or fatigue threatens to derail your workout. The maximum duration is 15 seconds.
  • Recovery and relieving pain: After exercises, a massage gun will aid the recovery process. You can also use it to relieve pain. 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 and other modes. A heated massage gun comes with a special ceramic head for this function. 

How Long to Use a Massage Gun on Muscle?

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 a massage gun on yourself?

It Band Massage We Recommend Ekrin B37

Most massage guns are T-shaped. This means that the handle is straight. Massaging yourself may not be as smooth as if the handle were 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 your back and traps.

How about using it on a neck?

Theragun Mini For Neck And Shoulder Pain

Never massage the front part of your neck. Focus only on the back part. Depending on the area around the neck you are trying to massage, use 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 pain?

Back Pain Massage With Achedaway Pro

If you’re using a massage gun to relieve 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 a massage gun on the upper back?

Upper Back Pain Massager

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, they can use the flat head for maximum results.

How to use a massage gun on the legs?

Ekrin B37s Tibialis Anterior Gastrocnemius Massager

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 your legs, make sure you read this post: Can a massage gun help with cellulite?

How to use a massage gun on your feet?

Massage Gun For Plantar Fasciitis

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 for a good position. Start at low intensity. If you want to focus on particular spots, use the bullet head here. For a more generalized massage, you can use the ball head. In our post, we write more about the topic of the best massage guns for plantar fasciitis and foot pain.

How to use a massage gun on calves?

Ekrin B37s Calf Massage Gun

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 the spot for 10 seconds before moving along. Massage one leg for 1-2 minutes, then move on to the other. You can use the flat head for better results. Check out our post on Best Massage Gun for Runners, where we give tips on using a massage gun on calves to ease Achilles tendon pain.

How to use a massage gun for knots?

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 focus on the knotty area with the bullet head. Hover the gun over the knot for a minute or two.


Summary

So now, we hope you have all the answers to your questions about how to use a massage gun properly. These trendy gadgets have created quite a stir in the fitness industry, and it doesn’t look like they’re going away anytime soon. Learning how to use them properly is important.

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.

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Post Update History

Here's a quick rundown of all the tweaks and edits we've made to this article to keep it accurate and up-to-date!

Current version.

February 15, 2024 Some text changes and corrections for content clarity and improved readability. Enhanced linking and improved navigation. (Author: Greg)

September 22, 2021 Medically reviewed by Elizabeth Falk, PTA, OPTA, NASM-PES.

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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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One comment

  1. Use recommended by my chiropractor, but instruction booklet with the gun was only about the buttons and heads, nothing about how to use, or how long for, or how often, so your article has been very helpful. Thank you.

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