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You’ve probably heard of massage guns by now, whether it’s been through your favorite fitness influencer, mesmerizing slow-motion videos on social media or your friend who’s always trying the latest and greatest recovery tools. 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. Muscle massager 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.

“Massage guns are best for anyone who needs tight tissues loosened up, warmed up, relaxed after a workout or stimulated for sport. These items are great for at home or on the go use and don’t require extra work from your own hands or a schedule/cost for a massage,” says Dr. Karena Wu, Owner of ActiveCare Physical Therapy, NYC and Mumbai. “They are meant to loosen up muscle tissue faster by moving the soft tissues rapidly with a lot less effort.” Though she does point out that these tools are not for everyone, especially children and the elderly, who may have minimal muscle mass or significant tenderness.

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.”

Jimmy Minardi, Founder of Minardi Training in East Hampton, NY, believes real hands always trump a device, though most of his clients rely on massage guns for extra relief. “However, I cannot emphasize, regardless of which brand, that it’s not how much power it has or how many fancy attachments — it’s really not even about battery life or if it’s heated or not — it’s all about proper technique and good massage architecture that’s the most important,” he says.

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.

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 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.”

However, 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.”

To help you get your self-massage on properly, we spoke to an array of experts and asked for their picks on the best portable massage guns.

Best for power users

The Theragun Pro Gen 5 is the best of the best when it comes to an at-home massage gun. It has excellent battery life and comes with four guided routines to help you use it correctly.

At this point, the name “Theragun” is basically synonymous with “massage gun.” Last fall, Therabody launched the expensive, more powerful Theragun Pro Gen 5, an updated version of their OG massage gun which is easy to use and perfect for athletes and office warriors alike. Plus, it has a built-in OLED screen, five pre-programmed speeds and is even quieter than its predecessor.

“The battery life is awesome, not to mention, it has a second battery that can be instantly installed,” says Minardi. “But my favorite part, especially with this particular massager, is that it comes with a tutorial on the correct way to use it and make sure you have the proper technique.”

Best lightweight option

A less expensive iteration of Theragun’s more powerful massage guns, this mighty mini model is smaller and lighter than its previous iteration — making it easier to pack up and take with you anywhere. It also comes with three pre-programmed speeds and a quieter motor.

At $199, the Theragun Mini has a 12 millimeter amplitude, which means it won’t penetrate your muscles quite as deeply as the Theragun PRO (which has an amplitude of 16 millimeters), but the QX35 motor delivers the same revolutions per minute (a range of 1750 to 2400) with three pre-programmed speeds instead of five.

“The Theragun Mini is the best option for travel due to its small size and light (1lb) weight,” says Wu. “This is also beneficial for those who find the larger massage guns a little heavy to hold during the application of treatment.”

Minardi loves how small and inexpensive the Theragun Mini is. “It’s powerful enough to get the job done, but not over the top. Sometimes the simplest is the best, because it’s not how much power it has but how you use it.”

Best battery life

The Roll Recovery R1 massage gun is small, light and powerful. And because it lasts nearly seven hours, you’ll also be able to better harness the 50W of power for longer than its direct competitors.

Tough and tiny, the Roll Recover R1 is easy to carry around, making it easy to use anytime you may need it. “Massage guns are a perfect tool for your warm-up routine,” says says Heather Jeffcoat, a doctor of physical therapy and the owner of Fusion Wellness & Physical Therapy in Los Angeles, California. “An improved tolerance to stretch, improved dynamic balance and increased joint range of motion translates to less resistance through movement, which is vital for reducing injury.”

Wu also likes how hearty the Roll Recovery R1 is. “It is made with aircraft grade aluminum which means it should deflect any dings if the unit it dropped or misplaced,” she says.

Best for heated massage

With a fantastic combination of heat and massage, this portable massage gun is the perfect companion for faster relief after long runs or the gym, days on the slope or even for deep relaxation after hours in your office chair.

The Gravity Relax uses heat as an easy, accessible way to self-treat a variety of issues. A 2021 study published in the journal Life acknowledges that continuous, low-level heat therapy provides pain relief, improves muscular strength and increases flexibility — while localized heat therapy has also been shown to increase blood flow, supplying tissues with fresh blood and oxygen while flushing out waste to aid recovery.

Wu thinks the Gravity Relax heated massager helps to make the self massage experience more comfortable and relaxing. “This would be ideal for those who want the added comfort of the heated attachment (possibly for those with more tender to the touch issues) as well as a faster increase in blood flow to the tissues which means an increase in tissue tightness relief,” she adds.