6 Instances To Avoid Using Percussion Massage Guns

All our injury and recovery resources are rigorously vetted by our expert team and adhere to our Injury Guidelines.

Massage guns are all the rage nowadays. Everywhere you look, a suave-looking athlete on Instagram is swearing by them.

There are many possible benefits of using a massage gun, such as increasing circulation, improving flexibility, and decreasing muscle soreness and stiffness.

If you run regularly, you may be tempted to pick one up yourself and enjoy the muscle-relieving benefits. Massage guns have become an increasingly popular workout recovery tool for recreational and competitive runners alike.

However, there are also times when massage guns are not appropriate and may cause more harm than good.

In this article, we will take a look at what massage guns have to offer, alongside highlighting the situations in which they should be avoided.

We will cover the following: 

  • What is a Massage Gun?
  • What Do Massage Guns Do?
  • When To Avoid Using Percussion Massage Guns
  • How To Use A Massage Gun
  • Summary

Let’s jump into it!

A massage gun.

What is a massage gun?

A percussion massage gun, alternatively known as a percussive therapy device or percussive therapy massager, is a compact handheld device resembling an electric drill.

It effectively applies concentrated pressure to specific muscles and tissues, providing an affordable means to replicate certain benefits of professional massages in the comfort of one’s own home.

These devices commonly feature adjustable speed settings, allowing users to customize the intensity of the percussive massage.

Additionally, some models offer interchangeable attachment heads to facilitate targeted treatment for various tissues.

Initially developed for athletes, massage guns aimed to support post-exercise recovery, enhance flexibility, improve circulation, and potentially optimize athletic performance.

However, they have gained widespread popularity among the general population for alleviating acute and chronic discomforts, whether arising from vigorous weightlifting, extensive running, or prolonged periods of poor posture.

A person using a massage gun on their thigh.

What do Massage guns do?

Massage guns utilize percussive therapy to target and massage various tissues in the body.

This therapy modality involves the application of repeated bursts of pressure to muscles, tendons, and fascia.

Similar to percussive musical instruments like drums and cymbals, massage guns deliver rhythmic impacts or pulses to the tissue, effectively providing a massaging effect.

By doing so, they aid in loosening soft tissues such as muscles, fascia, and tendons while simultaneously enhancing circulation in the area.

When muscles or fascia become tight, it can lead to pain and restricted mobility, limiting one’s range of motion.

Furthermore, the tight and inflamed fascia surrounding a stiff muscle group can cause other parts of the body to overcompensate, either by taking on an excessive workload or extending beyond their healthy range of motion, which increases the risk of injury.

Utilizing a massage gun can help alleviate these issues by loosening stiff soft tissues, restoring range of motion, and reducing pain.

Embedded within muscle fibers are specialized sensory organs, such as muscle spindles, which communicate with the nervous system regarding muscle tension and stretch.

By stimulating these sensory organs, a massage gun triggers the nervous system to induce muscle relaxation from a neurological standpoint.

A person using a massage gun on their shoulder.

When To Avoid Using Percussion Massage Guns

Although massage guns have great potential, there are times when they should be avoided. It is less about the specific body parts and more about the state of health of each body part.

While they are generally considered safe, there are certain situations in which using a massage gun may not be advisable, and consulting with a healthcare professional is recommended.

Here are a few areas and reasons to avoid using a massage gun:

#1: Muscle Strain

Muscle strains, commonly known as “pulled muscles,” occur when muscles are subjected to excessive force resulting in micro-tears. This can be the result of factors such as overuse, improper use (e.g., poor form), or sudden movements that cause muscle tears.

Given the painful nature of muscle strains, it is unlikely that you would consider using a percussion therapy device.

However, it is important to emphasize that doing so is not advisable. The vigorous hammering motion of percussion therapy can potentially exacerbate muscle damage.

However, this does not mean that massage guns should be completely avoided until the strain is fully healed. When massaging a strained muscle, it is advisable to apply gentle pressure and focus on massaging the area surrounding the injury rather than directly on it.

Limited research suggests that incorporating vibration therapy, including the use of massage guns, as part of an overall treatment plan can aid individuals in regaining strength and flexibility in strained muscles.

It is important to note that such therapy should be supervised by a medical professional to ensure safe and appropriate application.

A person using a massage gun on their thigh.

#2: Sprain

Distinguishing between sprains and strains is crucial, as they refer to distinct injuries.

While strains involve stretched or torn muscles, sprains specifically involve stretched or torn ligaments, which are responsible for connecting two bones.

Similar to muscle strains, sprains occur when a body part is forcefully extended beyond its normal range of motion, often resulting from sudden movements or overuse.

It is not uncommon to hear a “pop” sound in the joint during the occurrence of a sprain.

To prevent further damage, particularly in the immediate aftermath of the injury, it is advisable to refrain from using a massage gun on torn ligaments.

As your sprain gradually heals, it is important to consult with a medical professional regarding the appropriateness of massage and percussion therapy.

#3: Stress Fractures And Broken Bones

Now this one may sound obvious. But we’ll say it anyway.

Exercise caution and avoid using a massage gun in proximity to broken bones.

Even if you have received clearance for exercise and do not experience pain, it is important to note that a cast-free condition signifies that the bone has mended and is in a stable position.

However, applying significant force, such as that generated by a massage gun, can potentially lead to severe pain and, in worst-case scenarios, cause damage to the recently healed bone.

Therefore, it is advisable to refrain from using a massage gun near or directly on areas with broken bones or during the healing phase to prioritize your safety and allow for proper recovery.

A person using a massage gun on their back.

#4: Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)

Individuals with DVT or blood clotting disorders should avoid using a massage gun as it may dislodge blood clots or pose a risk of clot formation in certain cases.

#5: Medical Contraindications

Individuals with specific medical conditions, such as uncontrolled hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, or certain neurological conditions, should consult with a healthcare professional before using a massage gun to ensure its safety and appropriateness.

#6: Bony Prominences

Bony prominences, such as the spine, elbows, knees, and hip bones, have less soft tissue padding compared to other areas of the body. The intense percussive action of a massage gun directly on these bony areas can lead to discomfort, pain, and even bruising.

Bony areas typically have less muscle mass and may not benefit as much from percussive massage. The effectiveness of the massage gun’s action may be limited in these areas, as the primary targets of massage therapy are muscles, fascia, and soft tissues.

A massage gun and its different attachments.

How to use a massage gun

Here are a couple of tips that will help you get the most out of your massage gun.

#1: Utilize the different attachments.

Massage guns come with different attachment heads, each designed to target tissues in specific ways.

  • Round ball attachments, particularly when made of soft foam, are suitable for sensitive areas like the shins and neck.
  • Fork attachments work well for massaging the tissue surrounding the spine.
  • Broader, flat-head attachments provide a widespread massage for larger areas like the thigh.
  • Tapered bullet heads offer concentrated targeting for tight areas such as calf muscle knots.
  • Wedge attachments facilitate scraping movements, making them ideal for mobilizing the plantar fascia in the feet or the IT band along the thigh.

By utilizing the appropriate attachment head, massage guns offer versatility in addressing different tissue needs throughout the body, providing targeted and effective percussive therapy.

A person using a massage gun on their arm.

#2: Don’t use it for too long.

Allocate a range of 2 to 5 minutes for using the percussive massager after your workout. This post-exercise period helps in promoting recovery, reducing muscle soreness, and enhancing circulation.

While there is no universally defined “ideal” duration for percussive massager use, the clinical consensus suggests that adhering to these timeframes is generally sufficient to maximize the benefits without excessive application.

#3: Go Slow!

Begin by slowly covering the entire muscle while maintaining a relaxed state.

A recommended technique involves using a slow up-and-down motion with deliberate pauses over particularly tight areas.

This allows for comprehensive coverage and helps identify any tight or tender areas that require more attention.

A massage gun and a person in the grass.

Summary

Massage guns offer a great opportunity for regular, convenient, and sometimes low-cost soft tissue treatment. hat said, they are not a golden bullet and can sometimes cause more harm than good.

Make sure you are up to date on specific guidance on using a massage gun and to ensure its safe and appropriate use on different body parts.

A massage gun should be an accessory to our injury prevention routine rather than a focus.

If you want to know more about injury prevention, check out: 10 Strength Training Tips For Runners, By A Sports Therapist.

A person with a barbell on their back.
Photo of author
Ben is a qualified Personal Trainer and Sports Massage Therapist with a particular interest in running performance and injury. He has spent the last 9 years working with runners at his clinic in Brighton. Ben is a keen runner and avid cyclist. Evenly splitting his time between trail running, road biking, and MTB.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.