How to Use a Massage Gun: A Hinge Health Guide

Learn how to use a massage gun and how massage guns can provide do-it-yourself relief for muscle soreness.

Published Date: Apr 2, 2024
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When your muscles are sore and you’re looking for instant relief, you have a range of options, from ice packs and hot water bottles to foam rollers and massage guns. “All of these techniques have the same goal — to relieve muscle tension and improve mobility and circulation,” says Jillian Aeder, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Hinge Health. “Massage guns go a bit further because they provide a different level of stimulation to muscles that you can’t get with foam rolling, stretching, or ice or heat.”

In recent years, massage guns have grown in popularity as a type of do-it-yourself massage to ease sore muscles and work out any knots. This can be beneficial if soreness is keeping you from staying active. With relief, you can get back to all the activities you enjoy.

Read on to learn more about massage guns, their benefits, and how to use them to relieve muscle soreness. 

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Our Hinge Health Experts

Jillian Aeder, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist
Dr. Aeder is a Hinge Health physical therapist and a board-certified athletic trainer.
Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Peterson is a Hinge Health physical therapist who focuses on developing clinical exercise therapy programs and member education.

What Is a Massage Gun?

A massage gun is a handheld device that uses percussive therapy, which relies on repetitive pressure and vibrations to boost circulation, stimulate muscles, relieve tension, and improve range of motion. Massage guns can be used all over the body to target specific areas of muscle pain, including pain in the back, legs, and neck. (Note: You shouldn’t use a massage gun directly on the front or sides of the neck or over the bones of the cervical spine, but you can use it on supporting neck muscles, including the traps, rhomboids, and levator scapula, to help ease neck pain.)

Massage guns can offer on-the-spot relief similar to what you might expect during a traditional massage, but the key difference is that a massage gun provides rapid, repeated pressure that a massage therapist usually can’t mimic. 

Massage guns often come with a range of different attachments, or heads, to help treat different parts of the body. For instance, you may use a larger head on tight hamstrings in your legs, while a smaller or more angled head may be better for the smaller muscles in your sore shoulders

You can use a massage gun whenever you need relief, but people often use them before or after exercise. “Before a workout, stimulating a muscle with a massage gun can help with muscle activation during exercise, which can improve performance,” says Dr. Aeder. “After exercise, a massage gun can help relieve muscle tension and boost circulation.”

How to Use a Massage Gun: A Physical Therapist’s Guide

You can use a massage gun every day but there are some things to keep in mind to make sure you’re doing so safely, says Dr. Aeder. Here are a few things to consider:

Watch the clock. Dr. Aeder recommends using a massage gun for no more than 10 to 20 seconds in one specific area and up to two minutes or so to work across an entire muscle. “You can move the massage gun around a muscle until you hit all the spots, but I wouldn’t keep it in the exact same spot for more than 20 seconds,” says Dr. Aeder. “Total time will vary depending on the muscle’s size, so you may need to do it closer to two minutes on large muscles like the quads or hamstrings, but only a minute on the triceps or biceps. After a certain point, a massage gun stops being helpful.” 

Massage only on muscle. No matter what part of the body you’re working, avoid massaging over bone, like the spine or the kneecap. If you’re not sure what areas to target, work with a physical therapist to get guidance on using a massage gun properly. You can see a physical therapist in person or use a program like Hinge Health to access a PT via telehealth/video visit.

Listen to your body. The level of pressure and the type of massage head you use can vary day to day, depending on how you feel. “With larger muscles, you may want to use a higher level on the massage gun or apply a little more pressure,” points out Dr. Aeder. “But if, on another day, you’re experiencing more soreness in an area, you may not be able to tolerate as much pressure or you may need to use a lower setting. Adapt to what your body needs in the moment.” 

Try different massage gun heads. In order to figure out what feels best to you when using a massage gun, try out different attachments to see which ones provide you with the most comfortable relief. “For larger muscle groups, I would use a larger head, but for smaller muscle groups or more sensitive areas, I would use a smaller head,” advises Dr. Aeder. “If you're treating a more specific area, having more control with a smaller head can be helpful and also improve safety with its use.”

Manage frequency. While you can use a massage gun daily, Dr. Aeder recommends limiting use to two to three times per day. That should give you enough relief to help you stay active and ease sore muscles with movement throughout the day.  

When Not to Use a Massage Gun

If you have an acute injury, like a sprain or strain, avoid using a massage gun on that area until it’s healed otherwise you may exacerbate the injury, cause more pain, and prolong recovery, says Dr. Aeder. “A massage gun is not a healing agent, it's an adjunct to therapy for pain relief, recovery, or muscle performance,” she adds. “You don't want to use a massage gun on torn muscles, ligaments, or tendons, or on new injuries. And you want to make sure that those injuries have healed before you use a massage gun.”

Massage Gun Benefits

Massage guns can provide a range of benefits to ease muscle soreness and pain, including:

  • Reduced pain and muscle tension. Massage guns can ease muscle tension by gently working out kinks or tight spots in a muscle that may be causing tightness, pain, or cramping

  • Better circulation. The pressure and vibrations of a massage gun can bring blood flow and healing nutrients to the targeted muscles. This boost in blood flow can help reduce any swelling that may accompany your sore muscles. 

  • More muscle stimulation. When you stimulate muscles before activity with a massage gun, you’re basically giving them a little warm-up. This brings more oxygen to the muscle groups you’re preparing to work, which allows them to contract and relax more easily. 

  • Increased range of motion. Stiff, tight muscles can limit your range of motion. Massage guns can help relieve some of this tension, which can help muscles move more easily through their full range of motion. Think about what happens when your calf muscles are tight, for instance. You may notice less flexibility in your lower legs as you sit, stand, or walk. A 2023 study in the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine found that when study participants used a massage gun on their calves for five minutes they reported greater range of motion afterward. 

  • Stronger muscles. A report in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy that reviewed the results of 13 studies on massage guns found that using a massage gun can help improve muscle strength, including explosive muscle strength, which is needed when you increase speed rapidly, like when you sprint to catch a train or bus.

PT Tip: Use Massage Guns to Stay Active 

If you’re dealing with muscle pain or soreness, you may think you need to hold off on exercise and focus on resting and massaging the area until you feel better. But movement is medicine for sore muscles. “Movement is key, and sometimes people need a little assistance to feel comfortable exercising," says Dr. Aeder. “A massage gun is great to use in addition to exercise and movement, but not in place of it. It can help to simulate muscles and improve mobility, so that you have better performance and less pain when you do exercise.”

How Hinge Health Can Help You

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you. 

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you. 

See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

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  1. Sams, L., Langdown, B. L., Simons, J., & Vseteckova, J. (2023). The Effect Of Percussive Therapy On Musculoskeletal Performance And Experiences Of Pain: A Systematic Literature Review. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, 18(2). doi:10.26603/001c.73795

  2. Driller, M., & Leabeater, A. (2023). Fundamentals or Icing on Top of the Cake? A Narrative Review of Recovery Strategies and Devices for Athletes. Sports, 11(11), 213–213. doi:10.3390/sports11110213

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