In the past year, I have seen more and more massage therapists posting photos of their new percussion massage guns on Facebook. One person said it was a “Game changer”. Many others have shared their interest to use their new tool on their clients. But this article isn’t just for my fellow massage therapists.
Whether you are a massage therapist looking to use this tool in the office, an athlete interested in using these for injury prevention and recovery, or just someone looking for one of the best self-care massage tools available – then a percussion massage gun may be something that you need.
As 2020 continues to keep us on our toes and away from each other, many are in need of pain and stress relief. In this time of social and physical distancing, massage therapists and clients suddenly share an interest in buying a percussion massage gun. Not everyone is ready to go back to their massage therapist just yet. And that is more than okay. In the meantime you may still need some soft tissue pain relief. Does any of this sound like you?
If you are reluctant to buy this massage tool because of past “meh” experiences with massage tools, are concerned about the cost, or you are holding onto a notion that hands-on massage is your only option for deep tissue massage, I get it. Trust me.
A Short Story About the Reluctant Massage Therapist
For twenty years, I did not own or use an electric massage tool in my massage practice. My hands, feet, elbows, and forearms were the only tools I used and deemed appropriate and suitable for my paying clients. When I graduated from massage school, the only massage tools available looked like something you would use to buff a car.
But things have changed a lot in twenty years in the massage world, including tools. I touched a little on percussion massage guns in this article: 5 Self-Care Massage Tools Everybody Should Own. Massage therapists, athletes, and self-care enthusiasts wanted more information on this particular tool. Now that there are so many options on the market and self-care is so essential, it is time to talk more about percussion massage guns.
Let’s talk about why percussion massage guns are different, what the benefits are, and what to look for during your search.
How Percussion Massage Guns are Different
What makes percussion massage guns different than older massage tools? In my opinion, it comes down to percussion vs vibration. Percussion and vibration are both massage strokes that most massage therapists use daily.
Most older massage tools use vibration, or shaking. Vibration definitely has therapeutic value. But, most vibration massagers tend to work on a superficial level and do very little to manipulate deep muscle tissues. If you are constantly disappointed in a massage tool’s ability to work deeper muscle tissues, then you need to use percussion too.
Percussion massage guns to not only use vibration, they also use true percussion. Percussion is a form of tapotement (rapid and repeated striking of the body tissues). I promise it feels better than that sounds. But, yes, percussion massagers strike down on the surface of the body, sending rapid pulses of pressure deep into the muscle tissues.
If you search for more information on percussion massage guns, many massage gun makers tout percussion as a “breakthrough soft tissue treatment”. This isn’t really true. Massage therapists have been using percussion to resolve muscle pain and disfunction since the beginning of time. However, percussion massage guns can do a few things we massage therapists cannot do with our hands. They can provide extended and consistent percussion strokes.
Who should consider purchasing a percussion massage gun:?
Percussion tools can be used at home and professionally by massage therapists. If you are in the following groups, or work with the following clientele, you should consider a percussion massage gun.
- Athletes (Pre-workout and post-workout) (These are particularly popular in the Crossfit community)
- General pain, muscle tension, or soft tissue injury recovery
- Chair/table massage events, or any promotional events
- A massage therapist with pressure-loving clients
Who shouldn’t use a percussion massage gun?
These tools are not ideal for everyone. Some of these guns state that they can deliver up to 70 pounds of pressure, which is a lot of pressure. So frail individuals, or those that should not have a deep massage, should not use this tool. Who else should not use a percussion massage gun?
- Anyone who should not have a massage
- Anyone with a condition listed on the manufacturer’s instructions list
Here is an example of a manufacturer’s warning:
Three Things to Look for When Choosing a Percussion Massage Gun
The three most important things for me when choosing a percussion massage gun are noise, battery life, and additional options. Let’s explore why each of these is so important.
Some percussion massage guns are loud, like power tool loud. While this may not be important for home or personal use, I think we can all agree that loud sounds can kill the relaxing vibe in a massage room or spa.
Many “quiet” percussion massage guns produce about 60 decibels of noise.
- A conversation in restaurant or office
- Background music
- An air conditioning unit at 100 feet
That is tolerable. However, some massage guns produce nearly 100 decibels!
- An outboard motor, lawnmower, motorcycle, farm tractor, or jackhammer
- A Boeing 707 aircraft at one nautical mile before landing
It is going to be awfully hard to hear the music in the massage room over that. Few things will make your next client out in the waiting room wonder more than the sounds of a jackhammer coming from behind your door. If you are a massage therapist that does outdoor events, then noise really is not an issue.
I can confirm that massage tools dying in the middle of a session is frowned upon by clients. Look for a massage gun that quickly recharges and has at least a 2-3+ hour battery life. Some batteries can be changed out and recharged. This, of course, adds to the cost of the unit. However, if you plan to use this tool and an all-day massage event, go for the extra battery option.
Additional Percussion Massage Gun Options
Most percussion massage guns come with a few additional options you need to consider before purchase.
Most have one to six interchangeable heads that come standard. These heads have different uses. Here are some common attachments below and their suggestions for use.
- Ball: For me, this is the attachment I most commonly use. I find it is best for larger muscles, like the glutes or thighs (quads and hamstrings). But I also use it on the shoulders, between shoulder blades, and upper back.
- Flat: This attachment is versatile and can be used all over the body. I like it for work on the IT bands, pectoral muscles, and feet.
- Fork: Each side of the fork is able to work along the spine, shins, or Achilles.
- Point/Bullet: If you need to concentrate on one spot, use this attachment. It is like using your thumb to address specific areas of pain and tension. I also use it for some cross fiber work and scar tissue.
- Flathead Screwdriver/Spade: This attachment is ideal for stripping the calves and forearms. It also works well along the spine.
Most massage guns have variable speeds (some up to nine). Most measure their speeds in revolutions per minute, or RPMs. This refers to how many times the head of the massage gun can strike a surface. Most massage guns have sufficient RPMs.
Here is an example of the VYBE gun that has nine speeds and says it can “hit” 52 times a second.
A few massage guns have options for adjusting the angles. This is particularly helpful for therapist ergonomics or reaching difficult areas. Two examples of people that would benefit from this option are if you are a massage therapist using it for chair massage and need to work on the shoulders (this is not a problem with table massage) or if you are going to primarily use this on your own back or hard to reach areas. See the Theragun G3 or VYBE Pro for this option.
The average percussion tool looks to be around two pounds. This can be heavy for extended periods (mobile events). Especially since you are constantly holding onto a shaking power tool. If you are using these periodically during a session, you should be fine.
Amps or Pounds of Pressure
This refers to the pressure or force of the tool. Some will say “10mm amplitude” or “70 lbs of pressure”. I have not heard of anyone that has complained about a lack of pressure from their massage gun. Again, most deliver the necessary pressure.
Most companies use the handle to store and conceal the battery. And one complaint I have is that the handles are a little large and not really built with smaller hands in mind. To help make this issue a little less of a problem, most handles are covered with a silicone surface to help with maintaining a good grip.
This option isn’t a must, but it is helpful for carrying and storing your heads, chargers, and the actual tool.
Tips for Massage Therapists
Practice, Practice, Practice
If you find your ideal tool, practice – just like you would when starting to use any new modality. There is a definite learning curve with these tools. Holding the massage gun at a wrong angle can lead to the tool “jumping” on the client, which is uncomfortable. I have also found that keeping the tool moving is better than keeping it in one spot. But again, everyone has a different preference.
Communication is key. The vibration caused by this tool can make people nauseous. For some, it is painful, ticklish, or delivers far too much pressure (on any speed). It may also cause sensory overload, which may be temporary, or not. Remember, percussion has a tendency to stimulate the body when used briefly and relax the body when prolonged.
Check Liability Insurance and Scope/State Laws
Check with your professional liability insurance to see if these tools/devices are covered under your policy. I imagine most do.
State Laws, Rules, and Scope
Most states have vague definitions for massage that center around the manipulation of the soft tissues. I am not aware if there are state laws or rules that forbid the use of electric tools by massage professionals. Also, personal trainers, make sure you are staying within your scope.
Here is one example of a State’s definition of massage, Florida’s statute and definition of “massage” from the Massage Practice Act. Note the “electrical or mechanical device” inclusion.
480.033 Definitions.—As used in this act:
(3) “Massage” means the manipulation of the soft tissues of the human body with the hand, foot, arm, or elbow, whether or not such manipulation is aided by hydrotherapy, including colonic irrigation, or thermal therapy; any electrical or mechanical device; or the application to the human body of a chemical or herbal preparation.
Which Percussion Should I Buy?
And why are there eight hundred different options on Amazon that all look the same? Let’s tackle that question first, so we can move on. There are many companies have contacted a manufacturer (usually in China) and had them put their own name and label on a percussion tool. For home and professional use, some of these tools are really quite adequate.
In the professional realm, you will often see people talk about a Theragun (affiliate link). This tool comes in around $600. This may seem awfully steep when many other similar-looking percussion massage guns on Amazon are under $200. Even last month, my Costco flyer had the very popular Hypervolt by Hyperice (affiliate link) available for a short time for under $300.
Whichever you choose, do the homework. Check product reviews, customer support, return policies, and warranties during your research.
Once you get your hands on your very own, enjoy the benefits for you and your clients. Self-care has never been more important!
If you own a percussion massage gun, tell me about your experience either as an athlete, massage therapist, or person with acute/chronic pain. Your input will help others with their decision.
Some of the links are affiliate links, which means that if you choose to make a purchase, I will earn a commission. This commission comes at no additional cost to you. Please understand that I have owned or used all of these tools, and I recommend them because I believe they are helpful and useful, not because of the small commissions I earn if you decide to buy something.
Have a percussion massage gun that is different, or you think it should be added to this article? Contact me here at [email protected]