You may have seen massage guns blow up on social media, thanks to mesmerizing slow-motion videos, or heard from your friends how much they help alleviate sore muscles after a hard workout. But if you think that they’re just the latest fitness trend that’s sure to blow by in a year or two, you’re wrong. Massage guns aren’t just great for viral videos; they’re an amazingly beneficial tool that helps recovery and injury prevention.
What do massage guns do?
Massages have long been known to be beneficial for recovery, but going to a massage therapist to get your knots and soreness released on a daily basis is unrealistic for most. That’s why massage guns and the percussive therapy they utilize have become wildly popular in recent years. These handheld devices pound your muscles in rapid succession, which essentially helps you recover faster. In fact, vibration therapy has been shown to help alleviate the soreness you get after working out so you can get back to exercising faster. Plus, there are even studies that show how vibration therapy also helps prevent muscle damage if you apply it before a workout.
However, Dr. Jason Wersland, founder and chief wellness officer of Therabody, points out that percussive therapy and vibration therapy aren’t the same. “It’s important for people to know there’s a difference between vibration and percussion. The body responds differently to each,” he says. “Theragun pioneered percussive therapy which is a deeper, more effective mode of recovery and body activation.”
Dr. Karena Wu, owner and clinical director at ActiveCare Physical Therapy in New York, explains how this therapy works. “The rapid percussion really pumps the area and promotes fluid circulation. Massage in and of itself is an ‘irritant’ to the muscle, designed to bring blood flow to an area,” she says. “If a patient requires a lot of surface area to cover in a session or they really need a quick warmup on the tissues, the massage gun gets used first.”
Do massage guns actually work?
Donald Zerio, a physical therapist at Spear Physical Therapy in New York, explains that massage guns work just like your tried-and-true foam roller. “They do work in the same sense that foam rolling works,” he says. “It is another method of soft tissue mobilization that provides the benefit of loosening up tight muscle tissue, which provides a feeling of relief and provides a short-term improvement in flexibility.”
Ashley Rozek, physical therapist and clinical director at Spear, also says massage guns are a great tool for both recovery and pre-workout. However, to get the best use of them, you might want to seek some professional help. “I think it is important to come see a physical therapist and learn how to safely and correctly use the gun on your body so you can effectively use it at home,” she says.
Zerio agrees with Rozek, saying it’s important to know exactly how to use your massage gun. “There is a certain amount of skill involved with it, and you can injure yourself if you are not careful,” he says. “We tell our patients to bring in their massage guns to a physical therapist so we can demonstrate how to use the different percussion heads and vary the depth and speed for specific muscle groups.”
Which massage gun should you buy?
There are tons of massage guns on the market, from a premium Theragun that goes for $600 to much, much cheaper ones on Amazon. To help you figure out which massage gun to buy, we asked our experts for some tips on what to look out for.
Wu says to find a device that is actually comfortable to hold. “Ergonomic design so that when you hold it, your arm doesn’t fatigue,” she says. “Weight of the massage gun is important so that you can again hold it against or to an area without straining your other arm.” She also recommends finding one that has multiple attachments so you can use it on different muscle groups all across your body.
Zerio points out that speed and noise are some more big factors to watch out for. “Common specs to pay attention to are the variety of percussion heads provided with the product, the noise level (some of them can sound like a jackhammer) and the number of speed options,” he says. “More expensive massage guns have up to five speed options, which isn’t really necessary, when two to three is all you really need.”
Zerio says it’s actually more important to pay attention to depth than speed. Wu explains the difference. “Different speeds will translate to being more gentle and calming versus faster and more stimulating,” she says. “Depth of percussion or amplitude will translate to more of a vibratory versus percussive feeling, which again would be applicable to more superficial areas versus deep areas.”
Below, we’ve listed out massage guns that fit our expert guidance, as well as the massage guns they use themselves in their practice.
Sonic Handheld Percussion Massage Gun ($99; amazon.com)
With eight interchangeable heads, five speeds and an ergonomic design, this massage gun is the cheapest on our list at $99. But don’t let the price tag fool you — the Sonic percussive gun still has everything you need for a thorough massage.
Vybe Pro Percussion Massage Gun ($149.99, originally $199.99; amazon.com)
Featuring nine speeds, eight attachments, a 12-millimeter amplitude and long, ergonomic handle, the Vybe Pro ticks all the boxes. Plus, three of this massager’s heads are made of metal to really dig into your deep tissues.
PureWave Gen II Dual Massager ($149.95; padousa.com)
“I use the PureWave Gen II Dual Massager because I find it is applicable to a broader population,” says Wu. “It has a long handle design, which is the only massage gun that can reach down to your lower legs and your entire backside without sacrificing your other body parts. The PureWave is great because it has more attachments (seven versus four typically) and a percussion (for larger muscle groups) and a vibration side (for smaller and more superficial areas). The PureWave also has 12 speeds, which means you can apply them on people who are more sensitive.”
Theragun Prime ($299; theragun.com)
“Our unique combination of amplitude, frequency and torque makes the Theragun more effective at improving movement and aiding in recovery than any other device available,” says Wersland. The Theragun Prime is the brand’s second-cheapest massage gun, and features a 16-millimeter amplitude, meaning it can get deeper into your muscles than most other massage guns you’ll find. Theragun also has an app that can pair with the Theragun Prime and walk you through recovery routines and more.
Sonic X Personal Percussion Massage Gun ($159.99; amazon.com)
Zerio uses the Pulse Fx massage gun from LifePro, which unfortunately isn’t available for purchase anymore. However, this massage gun from the same brand features six different attachments and has a curved, ergonomic handle for an easy massage.
Theragun Mini ($199; theragun.com)
The Theragun Mini is the brand’s lightest and most portable option, coming in at around 1.5 pounds. It’s got an amplitude of 12 millimeters and three speed settings, and when we tested it out ourselves, we loved its quiet and effective massaging experience. If you’re an athlete or physical trainer looking for a more powerful device, check out our full breakdown of Theragun’s latest line of massage guns here.
Hypervolt ($299, originally $349.99; amazon.com)
This popular massage gun comes with five attachments and three speed settings, and it weighs 2.5 pounds. Its high-torque motor ensures a powerful, effective massage no matter where you take it.
Opove Massage Gun ($199.99, originally $209.99; amazon.com)
This massage device from Opove has a deep, 15-millimeter amplitude, 50 pounds of stall force and five attachments to give you a deep and powerful massage. It’s also quite light, weighing in at just 2.3 pounds so your arm won’t get as tired when hitting those hard-to-reach spots.