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Stressed-out muscles? Here’s how a massage gun can help

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A woman using the Therabody Theragun Elite massage gun on her calf muscle. Credit: Reviewed / Jackson Ruckar

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Whether you’re an avid runner, a dedicated yogi, or you spend most of your day sitting at a desk, you could use a massage. Massage therapy can reduce pain and muscle tension, improve exercise recovery, and help relieve stress.

If a weekly session with a pro isn’t an option, you may have considered a massage gun. But are these handheld devices as good as the real thing? Here’s how you can use a massage gun to relax your way to healthier muscles.

What are massage guns?

Massage guns are great tools for relieving muscle tension at home.

Massage guns are typically L-shaped devices, though some have triangular or curved handles, with a vibrating head on one end. They usually come with multiple attachments—some flat, some rounded, some soft, some firm—and have multiple speed settings so you can alter the sensation. Many also sync with companion apps that can guide you through massage sessions for easing out various muscle groups or as cool-downs for specific activities.

As the massage gun repeatedly pounds your muscles, it increases blood flow to the area which can speed up recovery and alleviate sore or stiff muscles post-workout. The speed of a massage gun is measured in percussions per minute (PPM)—the higher the PPM, the more intense the massage. Our favorite massage gun, the Theragun Elite, ranges from 1,750 to 2,400 PPM—though faster isn’t always better, especially for those with sensitive muscles.

What are the benefits of using a massage gun?

A woman connecting the Theragun Elite massage gun to the Therabody app.
Credit: Reviewed / Jackson Ruckar

Relaxed muscles can have additional benefits like reduced risk of injury.

Like using a foam roller, using a massage gun is a form of self-myofascial release, and can provide some of the same benefits, according to Kelsey Decker, NSCA certified personal trainer and "flexologist" at StretchLab in Irvine, California. Performing self-massage after exercising can help relieve sore muscles and improve mobility by getting you back to your full range of motion quicker.

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Massage guns in particular are a great tool for athletes looking to up their self-recovery, as the various attachments can better pinpoint areas that are difficult to target with a foam roller such as the traps or triceps. They may also be used before a dynamic warm-up to stimulate blood flow to your muscle groups, potentially reducing risk of an exercise-induced injury.

These tools can also provide muscle relief for non-athletes. Whether you find yourself struggling with tech neck, tight hips, or other muscle tension, regular massaging with a gun can help alleviate pain and stiffness from everyday stress.

How can I use a massage gun?

A woman using the Vybe Pro massage gun.
Credit: Reviewed / Jackson Ruckar

With massage guns, it's best to start slow and work your way up.

You’ll want to start by choosing the right attachment. Many massage guns come with a ball-shaped or “dampener” attachment, which are larger and displace the pressure more evenly for a gentler massage and are well suited for larger muscle groups. For smaller muscles and pinpointing knots, you may prefer a cone- or bullet-shaped attachment.

Start with the lowest speed setting to feel out the sensation, and increase the speed as is comfortable. Decker recommends spending 30 seconds to two minutes on each muscle group, holding over any knots you encounter, before moving on to the next.

Still, you’ll get more benefit when using a massage gun in addition to stretching, says Decker. This could mean massaging your muscles before a dynamic warmup, or after a cool-down stretch.

Is there anyone who shouldn’t use a massage gun?

A woman using a massage gun on her upper back muscles.
Credit: Getty Images / AndreyPopov

Avoid using a massage gun if you're dealing with an injury.

Almost anybody can use a massage gun, but if you are dealing with a musculoskeletal injury (such as a muscle sprain or strain), consult with a doctor, trainer, or physical therapist first. Additionally, the vibrations could disrupt the rhythm of pacemakers, so anyone with one should avoid massaging the upper body too close to the heart.

Finally, it’s best to avoid massaging directly on bones, tendons, ligaments, and joint capsules (like your spine, knees, or shoulder blades), and instead focus on massaging your muscles—this way, you won’t risk injury to more delicate tissues and sensitive areas.

What massage gun should you buy?

An array of massage guns on a white background.
Credit: Reviewed / Jackson Ruckar

With all the massage guns out there, which is best?

We’ve tested some of the best massage guns out there and think the Therabody Theragun Elite tops them all. It’s comfortable to use and comes with five speed settings and five attachments. The Elite also pairs via Bluetooth with the Therabody app, which offers guided massage sessions for various activities and muscle groups and makes it easy to get the most out of the Elite.

For a less expensive option, we recommend the Vybe Pro, which rings up at just over half that of the Theragun. This massage gun has nine speed settings and eight attachments, plus a helpful “memory” setting that keeps the gun on whatever speed you were last using. However, the Vybe Pro is one of the largest and heaviest massage guns we tested, so may not be well suited for all.

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